|First appearance "Mowgli's Brothers"|
Created by Rudyard Kipling
Species Bengal tiger
|Last appearance "Tiger! Tiger!"|
Nickname(s) The Lame One
Similar Bagheera, Baloo, Mowgli
Shere Khan /ˈʃɪər ˈkɑːn/ (Hindi: शेर खान; Urdu: شیر خان ) is a fictional character who appears in two of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories featuring Mowgli and their adaptations. According to The Kipling Society, the word Shere (or "shir") translates as "tiger" and Khan is a title of distinction, used together "to show that he is chief among tigers." Other sources indicate Shere may mean "tiger" or "lion" in Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi, and that Khan translates as "king", or "leader", in a number of languages influenced by the Mongols, including Pashto and Urdu. The name may have originated from the nickname of the Afghan warlord who once ruled in India, Sher Shah Suri.
The original Jungle Book stories
Shere Khan was depicted by Kipling as being born with a crippled leg and derisively nicknamed Lungri (The Lame One) by his mother. Despite this setback, the Shere Khan character is arrogant and regards himself as the rightful lord of the jungle. The only creature who looks up to him is Tabaqui, the cowardly, despised golden jackal.
In "Mowgli's Brothers", Shere Khan's failed attempt to hunt humans causes a human "cub" to stray from his parents. When Shere Khan discovers the infant, it has been adopted by Indian wolves, Raksha and Father Wolf, who have named the child Mowgli. Mowgli is accepted into Akela's wolf pack and protected by Bagheera and Baloo. Furious at losing his kill, the tiger swears that the boy will be his some day. While Mowgli is growing up, Shere Khan infiltrates the wolf pack by promising the younger wolves rich rewards once Akela is deposed. When the young wolves maneuver Akela into missing his kill, the pack council meets to expel him. Shere Khan threatens to take over their hunting territory if the wolves do not give him Mowgli. Having been warned by Bagheera, Mowgli attacks Shere Khan and his allies with a burning branch and drives them away. Akela leaves the pack to become a lone hunter. Mowgli goes to the human village, but swears that he will return one day with Shere Khan's skin.
Shere Khan also appears in the story "How Fear Came", which is set between the first and second halves of "Mowgli's Brothers," and probably some time after "Kaa's Hunting". In this story the tiger comes to drink from the river just after having killed a human purely for sport, prompting Hathi the elephant to tell the story of why tigers, out of all the animals in the jungle, are allowed to hunt humans for pleasure at certain times. This story, in which Mowgli appears mainly as an observer, may be seen as a direct ancestor of Kipling's Just So Stories.
In "Tiger! Tiger!", Mowgli is adopted by Messua and her husband and learns human ways. In this short story, Mowgli learns the villagers have heard of the lame tiger, which has a price on its head, but believe it is lame because it is the reincarnation of a money-lender who was injured in a riot. When Mowgli scoffs at these fanciful tales, the villagers decide to put him to work herding buffalo. He then meets his wolf friend Grey Brother, who tells him that Shere Khan is still planning to kill him. Grey Brother forces Tabaqui to tell him where and when Shere Khan is planning to strike; he then kills the jackal. With the help of Akela, Grey Brother and Mowgli trap Shere Khan in a narrow canyon and incite the buffalo to stampede him to death. Mowgli then sets out to fulfil his promise by skinning Shere Khan, but he is interrupted by the village's elderly chief hunter Buldeo, who wants the tiger's hide for the reward. Mowgli calls Akela, who pins Buldeo down while Mowgli finishes removing the hide.
Mowgli believes this will end the matter, since in the jungle, quarrels are usually settled quickly, but when he returns to the village with the hide and the buffalo, the villagers drive him away, accusing him of witchcraft. Furious at being driven out of two 'packs', Mowgli leaves. That night he fulfills his pledge by laying Shere Khan's hide upon the wolf pack's council rock and then dances upon the hide, singing. However, the consequences of Mowgli's actions in defeating Shere Khan continue to affect Mowgli and his adoptive parents. In the story "Letting In the Jungle" in The Second Jungle Book, Mowgli discovers that the villagers are preparing to burn to death Messua and her husband for harbouring a witch-boy, so Mowgli prepares to rescue them and take revenge on Buldeo and the villagers.
The Jungle Book and The Jungle Book 2
In Disney's 1967 animated adaptation of The Jungle Book, Shere Khan's voice was performed by George Sanders, while his singing voice was provided by Bill Lee. He was designed and animated by animator Milt Kahl. The inhabitants of the jungle fear him greatly; mere news of his being in the vicinity compels the wolf pack to send Mowgli away. Man-made fire and guns are the only things Shere Khan fears, and he therefore kills Man at every opportunity. Shere Khan first appears about two-thirds of the way through the film, where he eavesdrops on Bagheera asking Colonel Hathi to help search for a now-lost Mowgli, and sets out to find and kill the boy. He later encounters Kaa just as he was going to eat Mowgli, but the snake denies any knowledge of the man-cub. Doubting Kaa's honesty, Shere Khan threatens Kaa into showing his middle by loosening his coils, inadvertently allowing Mowgli to escape after the tiger resumes his search.
In the climax, Shere Khan finds Mowgli, who refuses to run and instead stands up against Shere Khan, saying that he is not afraid. Impressed, Shere Khan, for his own amusement, gives him a ten-second head start to run away, but Mowgli still refuses and grabs a stick, intent on fighting the tiger. Shere Khan becomes annoyed and immediately attempts to attack Mowgli, who flinches in fear, finally understanding the true danger of the ferocious beast. Fortunately, Baloo arrives just in time and grabs Shere Khan by the tail. Mowgli then hits Shere Khan with his stick. Enraged, he chases Mowgli while dragging Baloo behind him, but the vultures manage to fly Mowgli to safety. Baloo proves such a strong opponent to Shere Khan that he decides to savage the bear, nearly killing him. Upon learning that Shere Khan is scared of fire, Mowgli grabs a burning branch from a lightning-struck tree, and the vultures distract Shere Khan long enough for Mowgli to tie the branch to his tail. Shere Khan panics and flees.
Shere Khan returned (and had more on-screen time) in The Jungle Book 2, humiliated his tail was tied to a burning branch in the original film. He has sworn to kill Mowgli for revenge. He first searches the Man Village, being chased off by the villagers, and then the jungle for Mowgli, being lied to by Kaa, who tells him that Mowgli is at the swamp out of fear, and being teased by Lucky (voiced by Phil Collins), a new member of the vultures, who reveals Mowgli's whereabouts before Shere Khan viciously mauls him for his provocations, causing the other four vultures to fly away in fear. Shere Khan and Mowgli ultimately meet again as Mowgli tries to reconcile with Shanti and Ranjan, who, unbeknownst to him, were cornered by the tiger at that very moment. Barely escaping, Mowgli hides in an ancient temple surrounded by lava. Shanti, Ranjan, Baloo, and Bagheera hurry to save Mowgli. After Baloo and Shanti team up, they, along with Mowgli, confuse Shere Khan by banging three different gongs. Eventually, Shanti's gong collapses, giving away her hiding place. Shere Khan threatens to kill Shanti instead unless Mowgli comes out of hiding, forcing Mowgli to reveal himself. Shere Khan then chases the two of them, despite Baloo's efforts to slow him down. Mowgli and Shanti jump over a pit of molten lava and grab onto the head of a tiger statue. Shere Khan leaps across and corners the children. Before he can kill them, his weight causes the statue to fall with the three of them on it. Shanti and Mowgli are saved by Baloo while Shere Khan falls onto a stone slab in the lava pit, and the statue lands on top of him, trapping him inside its mouth. Lucky (who survived Shere Khan's attack) then shows up and torments him again. In The Jungle Book 2, Shere Khan was voiced by Tony Jay, who reprised his role for the Disney Afternoon series TaleSpin.
Shere Khan's character was included in the 1990 Disney Afternoon series TaleSpin, cast as the wealthy mogul of a company called Khan Industries in the harbour city of Cape Suzette. He was a nominal villain who occasionally took enjoyment in driving small companies out of business to expand his own enterprise, but sometimes allied with the heroes when it suited him.
1994 live-action film
In the 1994 live-action film The Jungle Book, Shere Khan is presented as a more sympathetic character. In the film, Shere Khan does not kill for sport, and his sole goal is to protect the jungle from those who break "the laws of the jungle" (the most basic of which are killing to eat or to keep from being eaten), including humans who trespass with guns and kill animals for fun instead of food. At the beginning of the film, he sees two British guards and a hunter named Buldeo shooting animals for sport, and becomes enraged at this. That night, he attacks the humans' camp in revenge for the animals' death, and kills Mowgli's father, who was defending Buldeo, in the process. Shere Khan also kills a guard and a British sergeant named Claiborne, both of whom were responsible for the jungle law being broken alongside Buldeo. This event is what led Mowgli to be separated from civilization and to live in the jungle to survive for all these years.
Shere Khan is not seen again until the second half of the film, when he spots several hunters (led by Captain William Boone). He goes on to maul Lieutenant Wilkins (a henchman of Boone) to death. Following Boone's death by Kaa, Shere Khan and Mowgli meet face to face for the first time. Shere Khan is obviously distrusting of Mowgli and humans. He attempts to scare Mowgli away by roaring in his face, but Mowgli stubbornly roars back and stares Shere Khan down. Seeing Mowgli's courage, Shere Khan develops a new found respect for him, and begins to see him as a fellow "creature of the jungle". Because of this, Shere Khan spares Mowgli and allows him and his friend Katherine Brydon to leave peacefully.
Shere Khan also appears in the 1996 Disney animated series Jungle Cubs, where he is a tiger cub. He is more a bully than a predator, but is friends with the other characters. Shere Khan is voiced by Jason Marsden. The producers originally wanted Shere Khan to keep his British accent for the show, but later changed their mind, and Shere Khan ended up with an American accent, completely different from that of his adult version. The adult version of himself appears in the Jungle Cubs: Born to be Wild video (again voiced by Tony Jay), and in these cut scenes, he attempts to kill Mowgli when Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera walk into his part of the jungle. Baloo and Bagheera try to reason with Shere Khan by recounting the "Red Dogs" story, in which they and the other animals saved Shere Khan's life, but Shere Khan refuses to listen and says to them. Baloo then throws a stone at a beehive and grabs Shere Khan by the head, letting go only when the beehive falls on his head. Shere Khan, with the beehive still on his head, runs away from the angry bees.
The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story
Shere Khan appears once again as a villain in the 1998 film The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story, where he is voiced by Sherman Howard and accompanied by his sidekick Tabaqui, who in this version is a spotted hyena.
2016 live-action film
Idris Elba voices Shere Khan in the 2016 live-action film The Jungle Book. In this incarnation, Shere Khan has several noticeable scars (sustained from fights with humans) including a blinded left eye. He also hates humans and views them all as a threat, much as his previous Disney incarnation does. When interviewed regarding the character, Elba described Shere Khan as a creature "that reigns with fear" and that he "terrorizes everyone he encounters because he comes from a place of fear."
Shere Khan first appears during the drought, when the animals gather to drink at Peace Rock, a watering hole where the animals maintain a water truce not to devour each other while quenching their thirst. Upon scenting Mowgli, he threatens to kill him as man is not allowed to live in the jungle. This causes Akela and his wolf pack to debate whether to have Mowgli leave. When Mowgli leaves the wolf pack with Bagheera, Shere Khan ambushes him en route and fights with Bagheera. Though Shere Khan beats and mildly injures Bagheera, Mowgli escapes with the aid of a herd of buffalo. During Kaa's attempt to hypnotize Mowgli, she reveals that Shere Khan himself is responsible for Mowgli being found by Bagheera, as he killed Mowgli's father (an event that left him with his facial scars and passionate hatred for humans). He later returns to confront Akela's pack and demand Mowgli be turned over to him, killing Akela by throwing him off a cliff when he learns Mowgli is on his way to the Man-village. He then assumes control of the wolves, confident that Mowgli will return. When Mowgli hears of Akela's death, he returns to face Shere Khan with a burning torch stolen from the Man-village; Shere Khan points out that he has accidentally started a wildfire in the process, and that the animals now have more reason to fear Mowgli than Shere Khan. When Mowgli throws away the torch, Shere Khan attacks Mowgli, but the combined efforts of Baloo, Bagheera and the wolf pack keep him distracted long enough for Mowgli to set a trap in the burning jungle nearby. During their battle, Mowgli lures Shere Khan onto a dead strangler fig tree and eventually defeats him by causing him to fall into a pit of fire to his death, ending his tyranny once and for all.