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Posted October 25, 2011
Let's assume that we are just beginning to read systematically into the vast writings of Nobel Prize winner Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936). What should we read first? What do experts consider of permanent value in his work? Which are better: Kipling's short stories, novels, poems, travel narratives? Who will enlighten us? Beginners could do worse than tackle RUDYARD KIPLING: WITH 114 ILLUSTRATIONS (1975) by Sir Kingsley Amis (1922 - 1995). *** Novelist, poet and literary critic Sir Kingsley Amis was commissioned by the innovative publisher Thames and Hudson to relate Kipling's works to his life. In his Preface Amis writes, "I have not been concerned to find and reveal new facts, though several unregarded ones have come my way." Other authors of brief Kipling biographies might not have showcased Rudyard Kipling as father of modern science fiction or perhaps the greatest travel writer in the English language. But Kingsley Amis does. *** Kipling's core value, for Amis, is work, everything to do with work. Sounding rather like medieval Christian philosophers, not very conventionally religious Kipling believes that a power higher than man has created him particularly meant for some line of work. Man's destiny consists in identifying that proper work and dedicating himself to it to the best of his ability. *** In CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, fishing boat captain Disko Troop seems to agree: it is important, he says, to know how the next man earns his "vittles." In the LIGHT THAT FAILS, successful painter Dick Heldar is master of his craft, one whose essence he penetrates only when he learns that he will go blind within a year. Kipling himself in his very last autobiographical work, SOMETHING OF MYSELF, dwells lovingly on the tools of writing: selection of writing paper, ink, pens. He lived to work with his hands, Amis tells us. Whenever amateur theatricals were afoot, Kipling was the man to go to for costumes and bling bling. In the great poem introducing STALKY & CO., Rudyard Kipling praises his teachers at United Services College for the sheer example in their "daily work" that "Man must finish off his work --/Right or wrong, his daily work --/And without excuses." *** Amis uses Kipling's belief that his work defines a man, his rights and his duties, to explain the famous, ostensibly politically incorrect exhortation, "Take up the white man's burden." This was addressed to the USA after it had decided to relieve Spain of the Philippine Islands. There was a time when one set of humans were clearly better at ruling places like Manila Bay or the Indian Raj. Around 1900 those men happened to be white and English speaking. But it was their duty to apprentice the less prepared to replace them in "the work" and in adhering to "the Law." *** As expected of any Thames and Hudson publication of anything on any subject, RUDYARD KIPLING is lavishly, brilliantly and aptly illustrated (114 photos, cartoons, reproductions of newspaper items, and on and on). Each illustration is carefully identified and sourced in seven pages at book's end. If Kingsley Amis's RUDYARD KIPLING has one obvious weakness, it is in its two-page "General Index." You won't find "science fiction" or "travel writings" mentioned there. There is, alas, worse: this book is no longer mentioned in the on line catalog of Thames and Hudson. -OOO-Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.