Saki’s “The Recessional”

A♦  A♦  A♦  A♦  A♦  A♦  A♦  A♦

For my first short story in my Deal Me In: 2014 project, I picked the Ace of Diamonds which corresponds to Saki’s short story, “The Recessional”.

According to Wikipedia, Saki is the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, a British author who lived and wrote around the turn of the Twentieth Century.  Wikipedia also mentioned that Rudyard Kipling (among others) influenced Saki’s writing and I would add that “The Recessional” shows the Kipling influence in a big way.

Saki

Clovis Sangrail is the author of the poem referenced in the story’s title.  The bulk of the story consists of some rather humorous critique of the poem by Bertie van Tahn.  The names of the two characters are Kipling-esque as well as the poem itself: much ado about elephants and the Himalayas.  I enjoyed the witty banter between Bertie and Clovis but that’s the extent of the story.  No real resolution occurs.

This may not be my favorite story but I would be willing to give Saki another try.  In my research, I realized that he wrote a story called “The Interlopers”.  I have a vague recollection of reading this story when I was in sixth grade.  If my memory serves me right, “The Interlopers” has a Jack London feel to it along with a surprise ending – which could warrant a re-read in the near future.

Four stories from The Jungle Book

A long time ago, prior to my blogging, I started reading the stories in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  Over the last few days, I read the last four.

“Tiger, Tiger” presented another adventure for Mowgli.  After being cast out of the wolf pack because of the tiger Shera Khan’s threat to take revenge on Mowgli and his adopted family, he goes to live with humans in the man village.  Using his skills and instincts he has learned from the wolves in addition to his responsibilities among the humans, Mowgli ingeniously traps and kills Shera Khan.  Mowgli casts the tiger’s hide onto the floor of the wolves’ meeting place in what I thought was an incredible image.  One gets the idea that Mowgli doesn’t completely fit in with the jungle or the humans and finds himself having to stand alone many times, but this lonesomeness gives him a strength and wisdom that he wouldn’t otherwise have obtained.

“The White Seal” doesn’t take place in the jungle but in the Bering Sea.  Kipling’s descriptions of the thousands of seals on the beach of an island brings to mind numerous National Geographic nature specials I watched as a kid.  This story involves Kotick, a white seal that saves much of his fellow animals from human destruction by scouting out the ocean for a safer place to reside.  He ends up being a sort of “Seal Messiah” – having a white coat adds to this effect.

“Toomai of the Elephants” could be called my favorite of these four stories.  Little Toomai is the fourth generation of elephant keepers for the British army in India.  He is eight years old and has a special relationship with Kala Nag (which means Black Snake), the oldest elephant in the army.  Little Toomai doesn’t want to wait until he grows up to work among the elephants, but the adult men tell him that he won’t be working with the elephants until he sees them dance.  This is similar to telling somebody they won’t do something until “pigs fly”.  But one dark night, Kala Nag uses his large trunk to lift Little Toomai onto his back and takes him deep into the dark jungle.  Toomai witnesses what the other men think is only a legend.  What made this story unusual from Kipling’s other stories in this collection is that the animals don’t talk or take on human characterisitics.  This gives the final scene with the elephants a powerful, almost sinister, feel.  It gives the sense that Toomai’s experience is truly special.

The final story is “Servants of the Queen”.  While it might not be my favorite of these stories, it was probably the most humorous.  The camels, horses, elephants and cows in the Queen’s army in India all chit-chat with each other about military life.  Some of them fight with each other some of them laugh with each other.  One of the funnier moments is when the cows indicate to the other animals that they don’t like working with the British as well as they do the Indians – the British eat them, the Indians don’t.

I highly recommend these stories and the other ones included in The Jungle Book.  I probably recommend Kipling’s short stories more than I recommend his novels.

“It takes a ‘Graveyard’ to raise a child…”

I’ve seen several bloggers describe Neil Gaiman’s  2009 Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book as “whimsical”.  I’ve heard this word now and again but have never been sure about what it means.  So I looked it up.  It means “quaintly humorous, odd”, the perfect description for this book.

In his afterword, Gaiman gives a nod to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as some similarities between the two books exist, though differences put each book on its own pedestal.  A baby boy wanders into a graveyard after his family is brutally murdered.  The boy spends his childhood being raised by the ghostly inhabitants.  As the graveyard’s existence reaches back a thousand years, each ghost contributes something different in terms of history and human nature to the unusual education of the boy referred to as Nobody Owens, or Bod for short.

Bod’s guardian, Silas, provides him with the wisdom of someone who is neither dead or alive, who travels by night, who does not eat real food, and who has no reflection in mirrors.  The reader can make a good guess as to what sort of being Silas is, though, in an intelligent move, Gaiman never comes right out and says it.

Each of the eight chapters in the book tells a separate story, though they all come together at the end.  The mystery of Bod’s human family slowly unravels and he learns lessons about revenge and friendship from his dealings with his family’s enemies.  In spite of Bod’s adventures with monsters and scary beings, Gaiman maintains the subtlety and quiet that a whimsical story would provide, right down to its last whimsical line:

But between now and then, there was Life, and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.

The Long Recessional by David Gilmour

The first book on my summer reading list that I’ve finished is David Gilmour’s The Long Recessional:  The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling.  Knowing very little about Kipling’s life, it was interesting to put the man with the writing.  At the turn of the twentieth century, much of his writing took the form of political analysis and opinion, even many of his stories and poems.  Being British, but living in India as a child, gave him a somewhat “unique” perspective on the world.  He could be a hateful person and knew it; he was even proud of it at times.

His imperialistic beliefs would make him controversial by today’s standards.  In spite of being a staunch supporter of the British empire, he leveled much of his hatred and political criticism at the British government itself when he felt they were not bettering the world and the lives of those living in their colonies.  At the same time, he frequently referred to those native to the empire’s colonies as though they were children who did not know any better and needed the empire to bring “civilization” to their countries.  Gilmour does an outstanding job at presenting Kipling as the complex person that he was as opposed to presenting him as either all good or all bad.

Kipling and his wife, Carrie, lived in Vermont for a number of years when their children were born.  He was a friend of and greatly respected by Mark Twain.  In addition,they “hung out” with Thomas Hardy and his wife when they lived in England.  When Kipling won the Nobel Prize, many thought Thomas Hardy should have received it.  Gilmour does not say whether this caused any “bad blood” between the two authors.  If I was to award the Nobel to one of these men, I probably would have given it to Hardy, also.

Kipling’s knowledge of world politics led him to predict in the 1890’s that Germany would rise up to cause problems and start a Great War sometime around 1914.  His son, John, died fighting in the Battle of Loos during World War I.   He railed against the United States for not getting into the war sooner.  He personally knew Theodore Roosevelt, whom he admired greatly and Woodrow Wilson, whom he did not.  What came as a surprise to me was his great dislike for Winston Churchill.  Kipling lived to see Hitler come to power, but died before Germany’s European invasions.

His daughter Josephine died at the age of 6 of pneumonia.  His only surviving child, Elsie, never had children.  Kipling seemed to very much enjoy children and would play endlessly with his own and the children of friends and neighbors.  Not having any grandchildren was a huge disappointment to him.

The book concentrated mostly on Kipling’s involvement in politics, discussing his literary work as it related to world events occuring during his life and his opinions thereof.  I realize that literature and history go hand in hand, but I would guess that history buffs would find the book more intriguing than literary buffs.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Summer Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  It’s a fun an interesting way to get to know other book bloggers and what they are reading.

This week the topic is “books on my summer reading list”.  Here it is and its subject to change without notice.

1.  Calico Joe by John Grisham: I’m not a huge Grisham fan and I think I’ve only read one of his books, The Innocent Man.  As this one is about baseball and it seems baseball stories are difficult to come by, I thought I’d give it a try.  Besides, it’s short.

2.  The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling by David Gilmour:  As I’ve been reading Kipling as a part of my 2012 reading project, I wanted to read a biography.  I’m in the middle of this one right now and so far he strikes me as a complicated person.

3.  City of Bones by Cassandra Clare:  Not my usual genre but Daughter, The Eldest highly recommends it so I thought I would see what its all about.

4.  Hard Times by Charles Dickens:  The second part of the year will include works by Charles Dickens.  I’m starting with this one.

5.  Bleak House by Charles Dickens:  This one has been on my shelf for a while.  I’ve read the more “popular” works by Dickens so I’ll read some of his lesser known works this year.

6.  Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein:  Last year I read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress  and enjoyed it.  I’ve gotten several high recommendations for this novel.

7.  I, Robot by Isaac Asimov:  Isaac Asimov is another one of my reading project authors for 2012.  I’ve read absolutely nothing by him, so this will be the first unless I read one of his short stories before this one.

8.  For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway:  This will be a re-read, but it’s been a long time.  I re-read The Sun Also Rises last year and it was as great as it was when I was in high school – which was a little while ago.  Looking forward to this one.

9. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: This will round out Brooks’ novels for me.

10.  Sign Talker by James Alexander Thom:  As I’ve come to appreciate the effort that goes into good historical fiction with the works of Geraldine Brooks, I thought I’d give Thom a try as he comes highly recommended.

A Kipling re-read I almost forgot…

So thoroughly had he come to know the place of his dreams that even waking he accepted it as a real country, and made a rough sketch of it.

In a previous post, I had mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Mother Hive” was my favorite Kipling short story that I had read so far.   I may have spoken too soon as I had somehow forgotten about his fantastic story “The Brushwood Boy”.  I read this one a few years ago for my former book club’s short story month (we always did this in July) and decided to read it again this weekend.

How I could have forgotten about this, I don’t know, but at least it was only temporary!  I think what makes this story so great is that Kipling turns conventional wisdom upside down and makes it work.  George (Georgie when he’s young) Cottar, though not lazy, does not strive after success; however, in education, the military, and life in general, “success” finds him.  He becomes the youngest major in the British Army and serves in India.

George is also a dreamer and even maps out his dreams, not dreams in the sense of aspirations in which he sets down a five-year plan with goals and milestones.  No, his dreams are the regular kind that he has when he’s sleeping.  From the time he is young, many of his dreams have their own geography.  They center around a pile of brushwood on a seashore and the surrounding area is explored by himself and Princess Annieanlouise.  One dream contains the Thirty-Mile Ride, in another one, they save “It” from dying.

The beautiful ending is another example of a reader (at least this reader) having a good idea about where the story is headed but still being truly amazed when he gets there.

The Buzz About “The Mother Hive”

Last week I read Jack London’s short story, “The Strength of the Strong”, which was a reply to Rudyard Kipling’s attack on Socialism in the form of his short story, “The Mother Hive”.  This week I read “The Mother Hive” and liked it just as well as London’s story.

As the title would suggest, the story’s setting is a bee hive with a certain working order that maintains the life of each individual bee.  One day, a negligent guard bee lets in a dreaded Wax Moth.  Throughout the hive’s existence, the bees have been warned that a Wax Moth that infiltrates their world will destroy their working order and eventually will destroy their world.  The Wax Moth begins to tell the bees that their work and order isn’t necessary, that the traditions of the hive are simply outdated and that the bees could have just as much of a good life by rejecting the traditions with which they have been living.  One bee, Melissa, sees the error of the Wax Moth’s ideas but is unable to prevent the majority of the hive from buying into them.  As a result, the bees end up eating parts of the hive that are not meant to be eaten and giving birth to strangely shaped baby bees which continue to eat the hive.  Melissa is able to persuade only a few bees to secretly raise up a Princess Bee to replace the current corrupted Queen Bee.  As the hive becomes increasingly decayed, the Bee Master eventually burns it while Melissa, the Princess and the few bees in Melissa’s camp “swarm” to the Oak Tree to start a new hive and a new life.

The story is written as a fable, almost a fairy tale, and stands up with the best of them.  It’s beautifully written and is probably one of the best stories by Kipling that I’ve read.  The way he is able to take the natural world and infuse it with a battle for good and evil is amazing.  The burning of the hive by the Bee Master is painted brilliantly in sweeping apocalyptic prose.  I have a feeling that perhaps the politics involved may have in some way kept it from being thought of as a great story in some circles.  I have not done exhaustive research as to the specific circumstances or events that may have prompted Kipling to write this story.  The only information I could come up with was that the story was his attack on Socialistic ideas that he thought were infiltrating his society.  The story itself does not specify the Wax Moth as a Socialist; it simply shows the Wax Moth undermining the traditions that have kept the hive going.

21446038

If I would recommend these two stories to anyone, I would probably suggest reading “The Mother Hive” first and then read London’s “The Strength of the Strong”.  The idea that Jack London would stand up for socialism was a little surprising to me.  His characters all seem to be rugged individualists that pull themselves up by their boot straps.  It’s difficult to imagine Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf as a socialist.  At the same time, I’m reminded that many of London’s rugged individualists end up dead.  I plan on reading biographies of London and of Kipling in the near future, perhaps this will shed some light on their lives and political beliefs.