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Peter the flautist

I'll start my comments on Kipling by saying that my university library copy of "Short Stories", also a Penguin Modern Classic, has little overlap in contents with the volume read by Cornflower. I read the following: "A Sahibs' War", "Below the Mill Dam", "An Habitation Enforced", "The Mother Hive", Mrs Bathurst" and "As Easy as A.B.C."
I do not feel as won over as Cornflower (probably because I lack the "gene" for emotion) but I was similarly struck by the range of his writing. "A Sahibs' War", probably my least favourite of the stories I read is the one that would perhaps reinforce my prejudiced view of Kipling as a writer rather stuck in his era. On the other hand the plea for modernity in "Below the Mill Dam" where the ancient mill-wheel and overshot water-wheel are finally replaced by a turbine driving an electric generator and the spirit of the wheel rejoices reminded me not to judge an author too early. This story and "The Mother Hive", a fable on decadence, are both told through the medium of animals and animate objects. In "Below the Mill Dam" the mill cat, rat and the variety of streams that fill the lade carry on a discussion about the historic past. In the latter book the bees and the parasitic wax moth are the narrators. "An Habitation Enforced" is a story about the assimilation of outsiders into an ancient community. In this case the outsiders are US Americans and the community is rural England. Gradually all of the independence of thought and action of the outsiders is smoothed and diminished by the customs and traditions of their new home to the happiness and satisfaction of all.
The most surprising of the stories that I read was "As Easy as A.B.C." since I had no idea at all that Kipling had written any "Science Fiction" (horrible term, but you will all understand it I feel) at all. This story, written in 1912 is concerned with an ambiguous Utopia where all are overseen by the Aerial Board of Control and as I read it I wondered if Kipling had been influenced by Futurists such as Marinetti. Although I don't think as a story "As Easy as A.B.C." is all that good I do think it is much more in the style of modern SF that the works of HG Wells and Jules Verne; thus I suspect that Kipling was something of an innovator in the genre.
My overall response is to echo some of Cornflower and Lindsay's enthusiasm for a great writer, but also to say that for me only a few of the stories enthused me and some I really didn't warm to at all. As usual my thanks to the CBG for ensuring that my reading is never comfortable!

Dark Puss


I didn't get Kipling's "Selected Stories", but my library had "Best Short Stories". I only read a few as I had to return the book before I'd finished it. One story called "Wireless", written in 1902, is about the early days of radio and experimenting with sending transmissions over the ether. At the same time one of the characters is suffering from TB and whilst unconscious appears to be receiving messages from the other ether in the form of lines of Keats' poetry. A mix of scientific advancement and the supernatural.

Interesting but not really gripping and it didn't make me want to read any more of the stories.

Brian Barker

The fact that a French-man won the Nobel Prize for Literature will certainly annoy the anglophiles. After all, everyone now accepts that English is the international language.

I apologise for the satire, but speak as a native English speaker. Then, if English is unacceptable, on grounds of linguistic imperialism, what about Esperanto?

Yes Esperanto was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, in the name of Icelandic poet Baldur Ragnarrson.

This is true. Esperanto does have its own original literature. Please check to confirm.

Barbara MacLeod

I borrowed a copy of the Oxford World's Classics 'Rudyard Kipling - The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories" to read. Well actually, it was more a case of dipping into it. I enjoyed one very short story called In Flood Time. It involves an inner story of a native man recounting a tale while he and the narrator wait to ford a swollen river. It reminded me of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner manner of story-telling. I liked Kipling's opening line: "There's no getting over the river tonight, Sahib."

The things one learns (!):
[1] When sharing a hookah (pipe) the river man states that to take it 'like a Mussulman' is to inhale through a clenched fist, so that the lips do not touch the mouthpiece. I had often wondered about that. I wonder if North American Indians' shared peace pipes were smoked in the same way?

[2] It had a most interesting epigraph "attributed to an old Scottish poem"
Says Tweed tae Till, 
Whit gars ye rin still? 
Says Till tae Tweed, 
Though ye rin wi' speed, and I rin slaw; 
When ye drown ane man 
I drown twa'.

[3] Last night I was listening to a radio programme 'The Palace and the Beeb' which traced 75 years of the BBC's relationship with the Royal Family. I learned that in 1932 when King George V made the first royal Christmas BBC broadcast to the British Empire, it was transmitted live from his small study at Sandringham, in Norfolk, where the Royal Family always spent their Christmas holidays. The speech was scripted by Rudyard Kipling and began with the words: "I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all."

Mr Cornflower

Perhaps a valid lateral comparison is with his near-contemporary HG Wells, who despite coming at the world from a radically different political perspective shares much of Kipling's prolific vigour - they both wrote - at their best - direct and vivid prose aimed at the broad audience created by the age of mass literacy.
Like Cornflower I found the later stories on the whole richer and more satisfying and I particularly enjoyed "The Gardener" - although 'enjoyed' isn't perhaps the best word for a story that left me feeling as if I'd walked into a lamp-post. But some of the earlier stories were equally well-crafted, like "William the Conqueror", set against the background of famine relief in India.
You can't really get away from the politics in Kipling; he did wave the Imperial flag with great vigour, but reading his poem "Recessional" makes his views absolutely plain - one day the Empire will be gone, "at one/With Nineveh and Tyre", but meanwhile we must do our best to make these countries better for our having been there.
Kipling is one of those writers everyone knows so well they feel no need to read him - part of the furniture - and I am grateful to both Lindsay and Cornflower for putting him forward.


Well, I'm pleased that some readers - though it seems a small sample so far - enjoyed Kipling. For me, he is quite simply the best short story writer in English - and as far as I can judge from translations, as good as anyone writing in other languages. This is a big claim, and I know that there is a traditional English (sorry, fellow Britons)antipathy to short stories.
But short stories are immensely difficult to bring off: everything needs to have its full weight and to be expressed very concisely - but too obvious an effort to achieve this can make the story either superficial or abrupt. And in return for their brevity, short stories have to offer us something else as well - they can not just be short novels - they need to be complete, satisfying, rich and deep -a mouthful of fine claret, not a gallon of ale.
Kipling's greatness for me is in in three things:
1. Range, as Cornflower says. He wrote everything - comedy, horror, ghost stories, comedies of manners, war stories, stories of all social classes and all races. I can hardly think of a genre he did not pull off triumphantly, including childrens' stories for all ages.
2. Depth and complexity. All Kipling's stories have multiple themes,often immensely cleverly handled (and I think this is something you can easily miss on a first reading, especially if you come with too many precomceptions). So William the Conqueror is a love story - and a story about the ethic of work (he wrote a whole, wonderful collection on this - The Days Work) but its full of acerbic comment about the Anglo-Indian way off life, the weakness (and sterength) of the government - the foolishness of women who will not eat strange food and the whole goat theme - the love and grief of his boss and his wife - and some fine observations on the interaction of Moslem and Hindu. All his stories have three or four themes, and he twirls them into such a unity that you never notice.
3. He sees - to use his own phrase - further through a millstone than most. He sees through petty pride and understands every weakness and every motivation - and he knows he too is one of us, full of faults and lovable still. And in a cause he cares about, he has untterable passion and joy.
I would encourage everyone to read more - when you have read them all, you will have, sure, favourites and less loved ones - but you will be richer and warmer, and you will have been taught and loved by one of the lords of language. A wonderful way into Kipling is through Puck of Pook's Hill, suitable for readers from 9 to 100!! And don't worry about his politics - he is as generous and as liberal a man as you will meet in a hundred years of reading:and if one of you will read him in future who hasn't before I am well pleased!


Wow! I love what Lindsay wrote. I've recently bought the biography, I own some books, and will buy the short stories, for at some soon point I am going to immerse myself in the man. He's been on my mind for a few years now, and it's really time to get going.


Oh, and I really want to read about those women!!

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  • Sidebar book cover thumbnail pictures are affiliate links to Amazon, and the storefront links to Blackwell's and The Book Depository are also affiliated; should you purchase a book directly through those links, I will receive a small commission. Older posts may also contain affiliate links to one of those bookshops. I am not paid to produce content and all opinions are my own.


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