I was drawn to my bookshelves almost immediately. There was a small matter of coffee to be made, and drunk, first, and the dog to be cared for. But once I’d completed the short morning routine, I started to pull a few books from behind the glass doors. I have rather a lot of Kipling’s work, having admired him since I was a girl. But among the books that I will read are the ones that I won’t – the old ones. Over a hundred years of age have left them brittle, so I prefer the modern paperbacks, or online versions. They are beautiful, in their own way, even the ones that came to my hands much read and battered.
I think the first story of his I read was most likely Captains Courageous. A redemption story, it follows a spoiled brat who learns what being a man is about, and along the way learns more about fish than he thought possible. I sometimes wonder about Kipling’s home life, as another one of his poems I found much later in life dealt with a father whose son disappointed him. But I digress.
I have – that third book down on the stack – Kim. I first read Kim when I was 11 or 12, and I think it formed my perception of what human is. Human is what human does – and Kim is an extraordinary story when you take it in the culture of the time. And you must. Taking Kipling, who was a liberal and progressive thinker for his time, and attempting to plaster modern morals on his work will not work.
Kipling is perhaps best known for, and rightly so, his grasp of the soldier’s plight. The mentality of the British fighting men is not that much different from the modern warriors and I strongly suspect a Roman munifex hearing him in Latin would be nodding in agreement. The above stanza from Tommy captures in poetic verse the blight that lay over armies from time immemorial until Florence Nightingale bent her considerable mind to epidemiology and nursing.
Did you know that Kipling wrote science fiction? I was rather surprised to discover it myself a few years back, after I’d begun reading SF extensively and purposely. But here is is, written in 1912 and positing a near future of 2065 that is nearer to now than it was to then. From my copy of A Diversity of Creatures, As Easy as ABC is a sociopolitical exploration of a world which has rejected democracy as mob rule, and a world that is ruled by a singular government.
I do hope I have given you some reasons to read Kipling today. You can find more than you wanted to know at the Kipling Society, including a poem of the week. Kipling’s work is so much more than the Jungle Book, or Rikki-tikki-tavi, although those are the children’s stories most are familiar with.
And because I know my readers like book porn as much as I do!