Short story by Rudyard Kipling
“Do you like Kipling?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never kippled.”
Now that we have that out of the way…
As mentioned a mere one blog ago, my early exposure to Kipling was Walt Disney’s Jungle Book. I had an edition of Just So Stories which I devoured with interest. I assumed that they were actual folk tales, which was the conceit. It’s remarkable I ever took notice of natural selection.
If you were the sort of person who noticed what people read and spent time around people born in the early bits of the twentieth century, then the males tended to reference Tom Swift and his ilk, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling. Mark Twain and others came up, but not nearly as frequently. Perhaps that’s the nature of my small sample.
On the other hand, that top tier really does encompass a lot of rip-roaring adventure. It is remarkable to skim the collected stories of someone as prolific as Kipling. He clearly developed the habit of getting the work out there. Having a small sense of the faucet myself that Kipling tried to manage, it is hard to know if the journalistic demands placed on him early in his career or the natural inclination drove him harder to produce a truly stunning output of words. How could I not like someone who wrote so well and so much?
Why did I wonder if I should even bring him up? Two reasons, I think,…
First,sadly, I am a product of the cultural criticism that surrounds me. While I struggle to ignore opinions and like what I like, I do think about why certain ideas are held. Reevaluation is one of our better characteristics, in my opinion. Kipling is often lopped in with Stevenson, Welles, Burroughs and other “popular” writers. They can’t be taken seriously and they just don’t match with Henry James and Edith Wharton and such.
I guess it feels like admitting you watch Falcon Crest instead of Masterpiece Theater. In a sense, it’s as though we are diminished somehow by appreciating art that just doesn’t add up. I mean really, would you rather sit next to someone reading Tarzan or Wuthering Heights on the bus? Eventually, sanity returns and I have to admit that I’d be happy sitting next to anyone reading an actual book.
Second, I wonder if Kipling as a person is a problem. A while ago, I wrote about the composer Carl Orff and ruminated on his problematic history. When I start writing that, I had no idea about those issues and I was basically dealing with them in real time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to eat breakfast in India while perusing the morning newspaper. If you do this enough and linger over breakfast, you end up reading the entire paper. Every now and then, someone references Kipling and not always in a good way. He was British and painted a picture of India that has stayed in the mind of his readers for over a century.
Kipling was born in Mumbai and he trained as a journalist. Much of his early art rose out of that experience. It helps if we consume art with a sense of the perspective brought by the artist. No one sees all sides. The artist may possess wisdom, but they do not need to be our only source of information on any topic.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 22 more to go.
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