‘They’ – Rudyard Kipling

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Rudyard Kipling is one of those authors I felt I should have read, but hadn’t until now. ‘They‘ is a collection of three of his short stories. The blurb states that they are very different from his novels and poems, being more sinister and macabre. This darker element really appealed to me, but unfortunately I didn’t find any of the stories particularly chilling – early 20th century fear is very different to that of the modern day!

They is the first story in the collection and it reminded me of The Turn of The Screw; or at least a shorter, more easy to follow version. The writing was of a very high quality and contained vivid imagery, but glimpses of ghostly children did nothing for me. 

‘I heard that,’ she cried triumphantly. ‘Did you? Children, oh, children! Where are you?’

The voice filled the walls that held it lovingly to the last perfect note, but there came no answering shout such as I had heard in the garden. We hurried on from room to oak-floored room; up a step here, down three steps there; among a maze of passages; always mocked by our quarry. One might as well have tried to work an unstopped warren with a single ferret.

The rest of the stories were equally well written, but all succumbed to the problem I have with short stories – they were too short! I longed for some plot, instead of just brief scenes.

The second story in the collection is Mary Postgate. It was written during WWI and it has been suggested that it is anti-German propaganda, but this is a disputed topic among Kipling scholars. It should have been a disturbing tale, but I remained unmoved. The subtlety of the words meant that I appreciated it much more on a second reading, but this appears to be one of those stories which benefits from being studied and discussed rather than just read once for pleasure.

The third story is called The Gardener and I have to admit that on completing it I had no idea what the point was. I didn’t understand what had happened until I found these notes on a Kipling site. Even this insight didn’t help me to appreciate the story. It is another story that needs to be studied to be enjoyed and I’m afraid that I just like to read a story without having to tease the significance out of individual sentences.

Overall I can see why these stories are significant, but they were too subtle for me.

Have you read anything written by Rudyard Kipling?

His novels are supposed to be very different. Do you think I’d enjoy them?

They is one of the Penguin Mini Modern Classics (a series of 50 books launched on 15th February). They can be bought individually for £3 each or as the beautiful Penguin Mini Modern Classics Box Set

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  1. Alison says:

    I’ve never read any Rudyard Kipling, but like you I really feel that I should! I think I am put off by some of the things I have read about him as a person – that he was very opinionated and self-absorbed. Would be interested to see what Kipling books other bloggers recommend!

    1. Jackie says:

      Alison, One of the benefits of reading nothing about authors is that I’m unaware of these things – some of the best writers are really evil!! I try to ignore these things and just enjoy the words. I hope you get some great Kipling recommendations from this post :-)

  2. JoV says:

    Jackie, did you buy the whole collection of mini penguin classics? What else have you got in your bag? I love to read Chess by Zweig, there are a few I saw in Waterstones yesterday but yet to come across all 50 of them. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I was one of 25 book blogs given two mini classics by a PR company. The full list of blogs involved is here: http://www.curiousbookfans.co.uk/creative/penguin-mini-moderns

      So I’m afraid this is the last one I have. I will be seeking out more – they are a wonderful selection. :-)

  3. cbjames says:

    I have read quite a bit by Kipling. Short stories, poetry (some of which I can still quote from memory) and one novel, Kim. Kim is probably his masterwork. But I’m not sure you’d like it. Kipling is very much of his time. Some of his poetry is still fun, if you read it in the right frame of mind.

    I think the Jungle Book and the Just So Stories are his best work. I you can see the Mowgli tales as part of one longer narrative, you might be able to overcome the fact that they are short stories. Those along with Rikki-tikki-tavi are his best work in my view.

    1. Jackie says:

      cbjames, Thank you for the explanation. It sounds as though he isn’t going to be for me, but is one of those authors I should probably try anyway – just because he is so important in the literary world.

  4. Sandy says:

    I’ve not read Kipling, but here is the problem that I have with some classics. I just don’t think I’m smart enough for them, and I need someone to explain them to me. I’m not really good with subtle.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I agree. These stories made me feel a bit stupid. I don’t enjoy books that require a reading guide to make sense. :-(

  5. I can’t advise having only listened to one or two of the Just So stories when I was a kid and only having seen the Disney Jungle Book! I love the story of the Jungle Book, but I’m not sure that I would be a big Kipling fan – my impression of the Just So stories as a child were that they were a little trite. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, and as CB says it’s probably because he Kipling is very of his time. I should probably really reserve judgement until I’ve read more but sometimes you just have a hunch…

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Insights, Well that is more than me – I don’t think I’ve seen The Jungle Book and can’t remember reading Just So stories either :-(

      I think hunches are normally right though – sometimes those little signals are worth listening to. I seem to prefer authors that are ahead of their time ;-)

  6. Beth F says:

    I’ve read a few things by Kipling and I happen to like what I’ve read: Kim, the Jungle Books, and the story “The Man Who Would Be King” among them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, The Jungle Book is one of those classics that I feel I should read. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy somewhere and give it a try….

  7. RossBD says:

    Funnily enough I have just today finished reading Kim. Kipling is not a master of plot so his books are disappointing if that is what you like.
    What he does do superbly is to show a vision of colonial India from the eyes of an Englishman who loved the country. His short stories such as those in Plain Tales from the Hills are far less about a cleverly worked story and more sketches of place and people and all of it written with a great deal of affection.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ross, I can see that he is a master of scene setting, but I’m afraid I’m one of those people who loves a good plot. Very few books without one can excite me, but saying that, it has happened before. Some amazing writers are able to captivate me without needing a plot. I wonder if Kipling will be one of them?

  8. Jenny says:

    I have read nothing by Kipling apart from the Just So Stories, which I am a hundred percent crazy about. As an adult, I think I’ve been deterred from reading more of his work by knowing how much of a product of his time Kipling was, in terms of race and gender prejudices. But I should probably get over it. I know he is supposed to be a cracking good writer.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I don’t know anything about his race/gender prejudices, but I think most people living in that age had them and so it shouldn’t really put you off reading his work. Give him a try!

  9. Kailana says:

    I read ‘Just So Stories’ a few years ago, but I haven’t even heard of this one before. I should see about reading more from him at some point…

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, I hadn’t heard of this one before either. I’m pleased I could bring something new to your attention :-)

  10. I’ve never read any Kipling. I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book as I’m not keen on short stories either! Well, you gave it a go and it was a reading experience. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I’m not disappointed that I read it. Sometimes it is nice to have a book that I didn’t like to talk about. I wish I had a book group to discuss this book with – I have a feeling the discussion would be very interesting!

  11. Helen says:

    The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were two of my childhood favourites. It would be interesting to read them again as an adult to see if I still like them. I’ve never tried to read anything else by Kipling and these short stories don’t sound very appealing to me. Like you, I prefer stories that I can enjoy without having to study them!

    1. Jackie says:

      Helen, It sounds as though I missed out by not reading them as a child. I’ll have to find copies and see if they are the sort of thing my boys would like.

  12. Jeane says:

    I’ve read a bit of Kipling- the Jungle Books, Just So Stories, Kim, etc.- and liked all of them. I’m not as keen on his poetry, and had no idea he wrote darker stuff! Not sure if I’d like it, either.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, I’m not convinced he did write darker stuff :-) It sounds as though you might like these ones.

  13. Alex says:

    One always sees “Kim” is all the Best-Books list, but I never got around to it. I’ve also read somewhere that his short-stories were mostly famous for their portray of “Anglo-Indian culture”. Maybe you were just unlucky in these three one. Better luck next time?

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, There wasn’t any evidence of Anglo-Indian culture in these stories, but that is something that interests me. I think I’ll have to try Kim at some point, just to satisfy my curiosity.

  14. Susan E says:

    I’m a little surprised at the labeling of these stories as “sinister and macabre” because I agree they’re not — If I had to find a commonality, I would have said they are all stories about loss/grief especially since they draw from losses that occurred in Kipling’s own life. If you want to try more Kipling, Kim is my favorite of his books, or you might like some of his earlier short stories which are very clever but not so much of a puzzle.

    1. Jackie says:

      Susan, It is good to know that I’m not alone in thinking that these aren’t sinister. I agree that grief is a good word to group these by.

      Thanks for recommending his earlier short stories – “clever” is something I always like :-)

  15. Steph says:

    I haven’t read anything by Rudyard Kipling either (I may have read some of his stuff as a child, but I have no memory of this), though I have felt like I should. Nothing of his established work has really seemed like it appealed, but I admit that your review of this collection certainly piqued my interest. I love The Turn of the Screw, so this might work for me. I admit that I covet Penguin boxset of these novellas!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I assume that They was strongly influenced by The Turn of the Screw. I think you’ll appreciate seeing the connections even if you don’t love the story :-)

  16. I just saw this article about an author-blogger meet up in the guardian and you’re in it. You’ve probably already seen it, but here’s the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/feb/21/writers-met-bloggers-lunch

    1. Jackie says:

      Helen, Thank you for letting me know about the link. :-) I had seen it, but that is the sort of thing I like to know about so I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  17. Nishita says:

    Rudyard Kipling’s writing is considered rather racist in today’s times, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the adventures in Kim. I also enjoyed one of his short stories called Riki Tiki Tavi – it’s a story about a mongoose. I haven’t read They, but it sounds like I might like it as well.

  18. Brian Harris says:

    A new anthology of Kipling’s verse argues that the poet, far from being the stuffy Victorian imperialist he is sometimes depicted, was a man of fine sensibilities who dealt with the timeless themes of pain and suffering, forgiveness and redemption, love and hate. Concerned with ‘the mere uncounted folk/Of whose life and death is none/Report or lamentation’, he dragged the dirt and squalor of the battlefield into England’s elegant parlours, spoke in the voice of ordinary men and women and berated officialdom for ignoring the poor and hungry peasantry of India.
    Familiarity, the author argues, has dulled the effect of the poet’s most well known pieces, like ‘If-‘ and ‘Mandalay’, while other, equally fine, poems have been neglected. The Surprising Mr Kipling offers, not another selection of the poet’s ‘best’ poems, but one which demonstrates the extraordinary width and depth of his talents and the light which they throw on their great but enigmatic author. The author admits that it is a risky strategy, but it is one that, if judged correctly, could introduce many new readers to the full splendour of Kipling’s verse.

    THE SURPRISING MR KIPLING by Brian Harris, OBE is Available from Amazon and leading bookshops.


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