As a young writer living in Lahore during the time of the British Raj, Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) was possessed by an enormous subject—India—and his genius for rendering its beauty and strangeness was even then so fully formed that we have to look to the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens to find writers equally precocious. What is even more astonishing, and what this selection of stories from across his entire career reveals, is the way that his talent grew and developed over time. The work he did toward the end of his long writing life is even better than that which marked its splendid beginnings.
The forty stories collected here range across a surprising variety of subjects and techniques. Here are his superb war stories, “Mary Postgate,” “The Gardener,” and “The Drums of the Fore and Aft,” as well as his famous forays into horror in “The Mark of the Beast,” science fiction in “With the Night Mail,” and the ghost story in “The House Surgeon.” “The Man Who Would Be King” is an unforgettable adventure tale, “‘Love-o’-Women’” and “Without Benefit of Clergy” reveal his insight into love and passion, and “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” is a searing revisiting of Kipling’s childhood trauma. From the nightmarish allegory of “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes” and the mystical visions in “The Bridge-Builders” to the brilliant portrait of obsession and sacrifice in his masterpiece, “The Wish House,” these stories showcase Kipling’s remarkable narrative gifts.
About Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India to British parents on December 30, 1865. In 1871, Rudyard and his sister, Trix, aged three, were left to be cared for by a couple in Southsea, England. Five years passed before he saw his parents again. His sense of desertion and despair were later expressed in his story “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” (1888), in his novel The Light that failed (1890), and his autobiography, Something of Myself (1937). As late as 1935 Kipling still spoke bitterly of the “House of Desolation” at Southsea: “I should like to burn it down and plough the place with salt.”
At twelve he entered a minor public school, the United Services College at Westward Ho, North Devon. In Stalky and CO. (1899) the myopic Beetle is a self-caricature, and the days at Westward Ho are recalled with mixed feelings. At sixteen, eccentric and literary, Kipling sailed to India to become a journalist. His Indian experiences led to seven volumes of stories, including Soldiers Three (1888) and Wee Willie Winkie (1888).
At twenty-four he returned to England and quickly tuned into a literary celebrity. In London he became close friends with an American, (Charles) Wolcott Balestier, with whom he collaborated on what critics called a “dime store novel.” Wolcott died suddenly in 1891, and a few weeks later Kipling married Wolcott’s sister, Caroline. The newlyweds settled in Brattleboro, Vermont, where Kipling wrote The Jungle Book (1895), and most of Captains Courageous (1897). By this time Kipling’s popularity and financial success were enormous.
In 1899 the Kiplings settled in Sussex, England, where he wrote some of his best books: Kim (1901), Just So Stories (1902), and Puck of Pooks Hill (1906). In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize for literature. By the time he died, on January 18 1936, critical opinion was deeply divided about his writings, but his books continued to be read by thousands, and such unforgettable poems and stories as ”Gunga Din,” “If,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” have lived on in the consciousness of succeeding generations.