I don’t know, I’ve never kippled
There’s a classic old joke. I remember it as a 1920s style comic postcard. A well-dressed young man is trying to spark a young lady…perhaps on a picnic.
He: “Do you like Kipling?”
She: “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled.”
So, have you Kippled?
If not, you can get all of the major works for free.
That’s not a good enough reason all on its own, of course, but it’s not a bad one, either.
When you hear Kipling you may think of stiff-upper lip British soldiers in India. But there’s a lot more to him than that.
For me, part of the magic of Kipling is the animal stories. What I love about them is that, although they express their thoughts in human language, and may even have human plans, each species is true to itself.
Take this paragraph from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi:
“It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity. The motto of all the mongoose family is “Run and find out,” and Rikki-tikki was a true mongoose. He looked at the cotton wool, decided that it was not good to eat, ran all round the table, sat up and put his fur in order, scratched himself, and jumped on the small boy’s shoulder.”
If you’ve ever seen a mongoose (I have), you know that “run and find out” is exactly what their motto would be. You may have seen a ferret, and that’s a similar energy…but there is something bolder about a mongoose. A ferret is a thief: a mongoose is a knight, but a knight charging up to the dragon, diving and rolling between its crushing talons, climbing up a leg, running up the spines, somersaulting off the head…to be right back where he started.
Then doing it all over again.
Rikki himself says:
“There are more things to find out about in this house,” he said to himself, “than all my family could find out in all their lives. I shall certainly stay and find out.”
Contrast that with the thoughts of Kaa, the rock snake:
“They fear me alone. They have good reason,” said Kaa. “Chattering, foolish, vain—vain, foolish, and chattering, are the monkeys. But a man-thing in their hands is in no good luck. They grow tired of the nuts they pick, and throw them down. They carry a branch half a day, meaning to do great things with it, and then they snap it in two. “
Kaa is disdainful of anything that thinks or moves quickly, for there is nothing quite so patient as a constrictor (and I have known those as well). They may take days to execute a plan, and even in battle, there are no surprises…just a slow, inevitable tightening until the frenetic pray can fight no more.
As an animal lover, those stories may be the Kipling I like best.
But there is also the poetry. Poetry? In a manly-man like Rudyard Kipling?
Yes…poetry soldiers read without shame.
Cheer! An’ we’ll never march to victory.
Cheer! An’ we’ll never live to ‘ear the cannon roar!
The Large Birds o’ Prey
They will carry us away,
An’ you’ll never see your soldiers any more!
–Birds of Prey March
That’s the death through duty kind of thing you run into with Imperial England. One of the most misquoted lines of that era is from another poet, Lord Tennyson…his Charge of the Light Brigade is often quoted as “Do or die” but the line is actually “Do and die”…they knew that many of them would not survive.
Kipling, in fact, answers Tennyson’s poem of glory with his own version decades later…and it tells more of the reality of the old soldier:
“They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!”
–The Last of the Light Brigade
So, although they had been made famous by Tennyson as being of relentless nobility, Kipling shows the irony of the reality…even those celebrated as heroes need to eat.
Lest you think it’s all about war, there are subtler tones in the poetry as well:
Give me back one day in England, for it’s Spring in England now!
Through the pines the gusts are booming, o’er the brown fields
From the furrow of the plough-share streams the fragrance of the
And the hawk nests on the cliffside and the jackdaw in the hill,
And my heart is back in England ‘mid the sights and sounds of Home.
–In Spring Time
While he is considered to have greatly advanced the art of the short story (especially in works like The Man Who Would Be King), there is Captains Courageous, a novel featuring a 15-year old protagonist, and a few other novels (Kim is well-known).
Considering Kipling? You will find a world of adventure, but one with hardships as well. Life isn’t fair in Kipling’s world, and that’s worth knowing.
I’ll also point out that these are works of a different era, and there certainly may be things in them that offend modern sensibilities (the use of the “n word” in Captains Courageous, for example).
I’d consider starting with The Jungle Book or Just So Stories, if you are fine with animals as main characters. If you want something a bit more human and scary, consider The Phantom Rickshaw. Eventually, you may move on to Kim and If and maybe even The Light That Failed.
E-books make classics like these free, since it costs almost nothing to distribute the electronic versions, and there are no royalties to be paid and contracts to arrange.
I’m going to list some links for some of the books, both at the Kindle store and at FeedBooks.com, where you can get them in unprotected EPUB and PDF. You can read those on your Sony Reader, your iPad, your nook, your OpenBook, and so on.
The simple option in the Kindle store:
Works of Rudyard Kipling (500+ works), $4.79 (at time of writing)
This is from MobileReference, and I find there works tend to be pretty well formatted (with a clickable table of contents, for example). This has the advantage of one download, and one slot in your homepage/archives.
You can get the same one (although it’s $5.99) directly from their website in more formats:
You can also get works for free from the Kindle store:
and free in other formats from FeedBooks.com
So, you can sample a few, and then let me know…”Do you like Kipling?”
Tip of the day: when you are sorted by author on your Kindle’s homescreen, you can type the first letter of an author’s name (like “K” for Kipling”) and click to that part of the alphabet.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.