Think about it: The Literary Craftsmanship of Rudyard Kipling

“After you have read Kipling fifty or seventy-five best stories you realize that few men have written this many stories of this much merit, and that very few have written more or better stories.” -- Randall Jarrell

Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers in the British Kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said, “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius, as distinct from intelligence, that I have ever known.”

Born in Bombay (Mumbai), India on December 30, 1865, Kipling lived a rather tragic and unhappy life. He was starved for love and attention and sent away by his parents to be educated in England, beaten and abused by his foster mother, and frustrated at a public school. In later life, Kipling was deeply affected by the death of his six-year old daughter, and the death of his son, John, during World War I.

Fame came quickly for Kipling. He turned down many honors offered to him including Knighthood, Poet Laureate and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Although Kipling is best known for “The Jungle Book” (1894), the novel “Kim” (1901) and “Just So Stories” (1902), there are three other works which I would like to reference here.

“The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). Kipling was 23 years old when he wrote this short story about two men, Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravot, who decided after half a year to leave India for Kafiristan because they “…decided that India isn’t big enough for such as us…Therefore, we are going away to be kings, kings in our own right.”

The story captures the adventures of how they became kings and what happened once they had gold crowns on their heads. In time their fortunes changed. One of them was thrown to his death off a high rope bridge. And though the other one was eventually crucified, he did not die and, after his release, he returned to India to tell their story.

Some literary critics have called the story is an “imperial allegory.” Others claim it is about a person who “must learn to rule himself.” One of the great lines in the story is said, “…if a king couldn’t sing it wasn’t worth being a king.”

“Recessional” (1897). This deeply moving poem is a prayer describing two fates that befall even the most powerful people, armies and nations which threatened the British Empire at that time: passing out of existence, and lapsing from Christian faith into profanity.

“If” (1909). Kipling was 44 years old when he wrote this inspirational and motivational poem. Ever since I first read it many years ago I have loved the life maxims and advice for personal integrity and behavior. Lines from “If” appear over the player’s entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court, giving further evidence to the poem’s timeless and inspiring quality.

Here are just a few of the lines:

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too.”

And…

“If, you can dream — and not make dreams your master,

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and disaster

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son.”

T.S. Eliot said of Kipling, “An immense gift of using words, an amazing curiosity and power of observation with his mind and with all his senses, the mask of an entertainer, and beyond that a queer gift of second sight, of transmitting messages from elsewhere, a gift so disconcerting when we are made aware of it that henceforth we are never sure when it is NOT present; all this makes Kipling a writer impossible to understand and quite impossible to belittle.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is president emeritus of the University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville. Connect via dgmeyer@valleyforge.edu, Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer, www.DrDonMeyer.com, Twitter and Instagram: @DrDonMeyer.