Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Kipling, Rudyard

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(1865-1936) UK author and poet, in 1907 the first Briton to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature; he was regarded as unofficial Poet Laureate. His vivid, sometimes harshly over-brilliant short stories cross genre boundaries to explore fantasy, sf and Supernatural Fiction; those of fantasy interest are scattered through RK's many collections. Early childhood and adult journalism in India coloured all RK's life: his masterpiece, Kim (1901), is not fantasy, despite its subplot of religious Quest for a kind of Grail, but lovingly paints the subcontinent as an almost enchanted Land.

Plain Tales from the Hills (coll 1888 India) contains the Rationalized Fantasies "In the House of Sudhoo", featuring a lurid fake-magical Ritual, and "The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows", with its opium dreams. The Phantom 'Rickshaw, and Other Tales (coll 1888 India; rev 1890 UK) takes its title from a Ghost Story and also includes the hallucinated "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" (1885), set in a rationalized Afterlife – a nightmarish "Village of the Dead" where officially dead Indians are exiled; this collection was incorporated into Wee Willie Winkie (coll 1889). Soldiers Three and Other Stories (coll 1888) includes the minor ghost story "The Solid Muldoon". Life's Handicap, Being Stories of Mine Own People (coll 1891) contains "At the End of the Passage", whose distanced Haunting by a blind, weeping face culminates in the photographing of the now-dead victim's eyes (see Urban Legends) to reveal some fearful but undisclosed image; in "The Mark of the Beast", insulting the monkey God Hanuman brings Possession by a Wolf's spirit. Many Inventions (1893) contains: "The Finest Story in the World" (1891), a teasing tale of Reincarnation and elusive, fading past-life memories; "A Matter of Fact" (1892), an atmospherically plausible Travellers' Tale of a sea-serpent (see Sea Monsters); "The Lost Legion" (1892), with its ghost army almost unnoticed by the English as it terrifies their Afghan foes (see Perception); and "The Children of the Zodiac", a powerfully symbolic Fabulation personifying the Zodiac creatures as Gods of life and death.

RK's best-known fantasy comprises the powerfully imagined Animal-Fantasy stories in The Jungle Book (coll of linked and other stories 1894) and The Second Jungle Book (coll of linked and other stories 1895). The growing-up of the boy Mowgli, reared by wolf foster-parents and with a bear and panther as Mentors (see also Talking Animals), subject to the Law of the Jungle which is RK's strongest statement of Balance, is a new-created Myth. Mowgli's Rites of Passage from "cub" to full human include mastering the "Red Flower" of fire which even the wolves fear, proving immune to the Mesmerism of the Serpent Kaa, destroying the tiger Shere Khan that laid claim to his life, pronouncing a sentence of bloodless oblivion on a village that maltreated his (adoptive) parents and which is memorably swallowed by the jungle, and organizing wolves and other animals in bloody resistance to an oncoming horde of devouring dhole-dogs. The Disney animated movie The Jungle Book (1967) is a feeble travesty of the original stories' sometimes shocking intensity.

The Day's Work (coll 1898) includes: "The Bridge-Builders", in which a doped and delirious European civil engineer overhears the gods of India debating his blasphemy (or otherwise) in imposing the Bondage of a bridge on the sacred River Ganges; "The Ship that Found Herself" (1895) and ".007" (1897), eccentric anthropomorphic tales of a ship's component parts and of railway engines (see Trains); and The Brushwood Boy (1895; 1899 chap), with its vivid and plausibly irrational geographies of recurring, shared Dreams. Just So Stories for Little Children (coll 1902; cut vt How The Leopard Got His Spots and Other Just So Stories 1993) contains Tall Tales meant to be read aloud to children, many being humorously bizarre Myths of Origin for the elephant's trunk, camel's hump, leopard's spots, etc.; RK's own unpolished but meticulous illustrations complement the stories. Traffics and Discoveries (coll 1904) includes: the well known "Wireless" (1902), where experiments in telegraphy seem to facilitate a resonance across time (see Time Fantasies) between a tubercular chemist's assistant and John Keats, with the former's stumbling efforts at poetry unknowingly echoing "The Eve of St Agnes" and "Ode to a Nightingale"; and They (1905 chap), which elusively and sentimentally tells of a blind woman whose home has become a refuge for children's Ghosts.

Puck of Pook's Hill (coll 1906) and Rewards and Fairies (coll 1910) are fantasy chiefly for their Frame Story, in which Puck introduces children to characters from history whose finely told personal sagas touch on the Matter of Britain – a teaching which for some reason Puck promptly erases via Memory Wipe. In the first book, "'Dymchurch Flit'" reports the departure of the Fairies; in the second, the eponymous Cold Iron of "Cold Iron" is forged by Thor and its touch ends a boy's adoption into Faerie, substituting human Bondage; the prehistoric hero of "The Knife and the Naked Chalk" trades an eye (see Odin) for the secret of metal knives, and pays the harsh price of being thought a god; and "A Doctor of Medicine" is a tour de force of medical reasoning based on Astrology.

Actions and Reactions (coll 1909) contains one of RK's subtlest ghost stories, "The House Surgeon", with its twofold haunting as a live person's morbid obsession oppresses the house and even troubles its dead. A Diversity of Creatures (coll 1917) has "In the Same Boat" (1911), another story of psychic horrors which becomes Rationalized Fantasy with the discovery that they reflect prenatal trauma, and "Swept and Garnished" (1915), RK's grimmest supernatural fiction, personifying German World War I guilt in the figures of children dead from shelling who bloodily appear to a Berlin widow, but to her alone (see Perception). In Debits and Credits (coll 1926), "The Enemies to Each Other" retells Adam and Eve in Arabian-Fantasy mode; "A Madonna of the Trenches" (1924) is another interesting ghost story; "The Wish House" (1924) is a sombre tale of what Charles Williams later called Substitution, with an ageing woman taking on herself (or believing she does so) the malign ulcer that would have afflicted the man who, unrequitedly, she loved; "The Gardener" unobtrusively features Christ; "On the Gate: A Tale of '16" presents the machinery of Afterlife as a benign bureaucracy where Angels, Death, Satan, the Wandering Jew and others all work together – like friendly Army quartermasters – to wangle Souls into Heaven even when the rules consign them to Hell (see As Above, So Below); a similar story in this vein is "Uncovenanted Mercies" in Limits and Renewals (coll 1932). Thy Servant a Dog (1930), told with relentless sentimentality from an adoring dog's viewpoint, is not highly regarded.

Many relevant RK stories are usefully assembled in The Complete Supernatural Stories of Rudyard Kipling (coll 1987) ed Peter Haining. This overlaps with two volumes ed John Brunner: Kipling's Fantasy (coll 1992) and Kipling's Science Fiction (coll 1992; vt The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling 1994 US).

RK is a major figure of English literature who used the full power and intensity at his command during excursions into fantasy. Sometimes he seems wilfully obscure; a master of "less is more" narration, he recommended a repeated cutting of inessentials from stories, and occasionally cut too much – while his phonetic reproductions of lower-class and Irish accents can be embarrassing. But his works repay close attention. [DRL]

further reading: Something of Myself (1937), a taciturn and unreliable fragment of autobiography; Rudyard Kipling by Charles Carrington (1955); The Art of Rudyard Kipling (1959) by J M S Tompkins; Kipling and the Children (1965) by Roger Lancelyn Green; Rudyard Kipling (1966) by J I M Stewart (1906-1994); The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling (1977) by Angus Wilson (1913-1991); Rudyard Kipling and His World (1977) by Kingsley Amis; Rudyard Kipling (written 1948 but suppressed; 1978) by Lord Birkenhead (1907-1975).

Joseph Rudyard Kipling


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.