Posted in Short Stories

Saki’s “The Recessional”

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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.


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.

Posted in Short Stories

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.

Posted in Fiction

“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.

Posted in Non Fiction

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.

Posted in Books in General

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.

Posted in Short Stories

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.

Posted in Short Stories

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.


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.

Posted in Short Stories

“Bees are not men.”

Since I’ve been reading the works of Jack London and Rudyard Kipling, I’ve wondered whether they knew each other and what they may have thought of each other’s work.  As they lived and wrote during approximately the same time period (turn of the twentieth century), I’d be curious as to whether they would have anything to say to each other.  After reading London’s short story, “The Strength of the Strong”, I have an inkling of what might have taken place if they had met.

The anthology I’ve been using to read London’s short stories has been Jack London: Short Stories edited by Earle Labor; Robert C. Leitz III; I. Milo Shepard.  The notes for this short story indicate that London wrote this as a reply to a short story that Kipling wrote called “The Adventures of Melissa” (originally published as “The Mother Hive”) in which Kipling attacked Socialism.  According to these notes, London also told a fellow writer that “No one was in the slightest way aware of the point of my story”.

Short stories of Jack London: Authorized one-volume edition

“The Strength of the Strong” is told by a prehistoric grandfather to his prehistoric grandsons.  The grandfather explains that people used to live in trees by themselves and they only had the strength of “one”.  When they realized that together, they might have the strength of “ten”, people moved from the trees to caves.  Then they discovered that some of them could hunt, some could protect, some could cook.  After a while, some of the people became stronger than others and took all the land.  Some of the people learned how to hunt better and took all the food.  Eventually, the majority worked very hard for very little, while a select few didn’t work at all and had tons of food and land.  At one point, someone decides they need “money”, so they string sea shells together and call it “money”.  For some, all they did all day was (literally) make “money”.  After reading the story, I had to agree with London’s own assessment.  I’m not really sure what point he was trying to make.  It was difficult to figure out which political and economic ideals he was satirizing and which ones he was embracing.

However, London brilliantly satirizes Kipling’s writing style and story-telling methods.  All the characters in London’s story have Kipling style names with a slight twist that pokes fun of them.  The grandfather’s name is Long-Beard while his grandsons are Deer-Runner, Yellow-Head, and Afraid-of-the-Dark.  Other characters had names like Strong-Arm, Three-Clams, One-Eye, Little-Belly, Dog-Tooth, Pig-Jaw, Big-Fat, Twisted-Lip.  My favorite was The Bug.  He went around making up songs and stories about bees to calm people down whenever anyone got too riled up and distraught over their circumstances.  I have a hunch that The Bug was supposed to be Kipling.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that, while both London and Kipling extensively used animals in their stories, London’s animals were more like animals whereas Kipling’s animals were more like humans (anthropomorphic – there’s that word again).   London seems to make a very clear point in what he thinks of this aspect of Kipling’s writing when, in the last line of “The Strength of the Strong”, he states “all that will come to pass in the time when the fools are dead, and when there will be no more singers to stand still and sing the ‘Song of the Bees.’  Bees are not men.”

Tune in next week when I’ll let you know what this story of Kipling’s, “The Mother Hive”, is all about.

Posted in Fiction

“O Little Friend of All the World!”

After reading Rudyard Kipling’s novel, Kim, I’ve come to the conclusion that I think I enjoy his short stories more than his novels.  Aspects of the story certainly are beautiful and I could rank the character of Kimball O’Hara up there with some of my favorites.  However, my lack of knowledge of the historical details of Kim’s timeperiod made for some tedious reading.

Kim (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Publisher: Penguin Classics

Kim is an orphan of British descent who lives alone on the streets of Lahore in India.  He’s taken on a dark complexion so is, therefore, considered a low-caste Indian native.  Like most street orphans, he’s considered lovable by some and a nuisance by others who live in his community.

One afternoon a Buddhist lama finds Kim sitting by a large gun at a museum, referred to by the lama as the Wonder House.  I found this introduction both brilliant and comical as the lama and Kim join “forces” both for Holy aspirations and for political intrigue.

The entire novel is the journey on which Kim embarks with the lama.  The lama is looking for The River of the Arrow in which to cleanse himself of his sins  and Kim becomes his disciple.  However,  Kim’s streetwise abilities pull him into “The Great Game” of spying for the British during their conflict with the Russians over Central Asia, a skill in which he is quite adept.

Kipling depicts India as a picaresque land of many races and religions.  Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant) and Islam all meld together in both conflict and friendship.  Having grown up alone in this land, Kim is given the title “Little Friend of All the World” by a Muslim acquaintence.

In spite of Kiplings seeming fascination with India, the British Empire is never portrayed as “the bad guy” and even on a few occasions, Kipling slips in his own imperialistic point of view.  This has given the novel a certain amount of controversy in the century-plus since it was written.  In spite of this “political incorrectness”, it still captures the mystery and beauty of both India and Kim.

As I mentioned, I was unfamiliar with much of the historical details described in the novel.  If I had a considerable amount of time, perhaps I could have researched all of the names and places and conflicts that were dropped in just the normal everyday conversation of Kim and the friends and enemies he meets along his journey.  I’m not sure when I would have the time and even if I did, I would end up having to dedicate an entire blog to this novel – which doesn’t sound very appealing.

However, I do have on my list to read in the near future a book called Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.  Maybe this book will give me some factual understanding of the history of India as well as shed some light on modern elements of this country.

Posted in Short Stories

“A brave heart and a courteous tongue…”

The next story in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is “Kaa’s Hunting”.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I have difficulty separating the stories from the Disney movie in my imagination.  I don’t know whether this should be considered good or bad, but either way, I’m not sure I can do anything about it!  So even before reading the story, I knew that Kaa was a snake.

The movie doesn’t stray very far from the story, surprisingly.  This time, though warned by his friends Bagheera and Baloo, Mowgli fraternizes with the Monkey-People and gets captured by them.  The description of Mowgli’s capture and his subsequent “swing” through the upper echelons of the jungle (literally) made for a great section of the story and could very well be the next ride at Disney World.  As in the movie, the Monkey-People want Mowgli for his “man” abilities such as building huts.  They take him to a ruined city where they proceed to party into the wee hours of the night, something they tend to do every night – and day.  Their attention span doesn’t really lend itself to building huts.

Bagheera and Baloo, not being able to fight the Monkey-People by themselves, call on the services of one of the few members of the Jungle feared by the Monkey-People, Kaa, the Python:

Generations of monkeys had been scared into good behaviour by the stories their elders told them of Kaa, the night-thief, who could slip along the branches as quietly as moss grows, and steal away the strongest monkey that ever lived.

The Law of the Jungle allowed Bagheer and Baloo to join forces with Kaa and rescue Mowgli from the monkeys.  After Mowgli’s friends battle the monkeys and Kaa puts them in a trance with his “Dance of Hunger”, Kaa and Mowgli exchange pleasantries with Kaa telling the “manling” that he has “a brave heart and a courteous tongue”.  And while they part ways as friends of sorts, the reader gets the idea that Mowgli might be wise not to keep his back turned on Kaa for very long.

What I find interesting about these stories is the relationships between the various creatures of the jungle.  The alliances and enmities do not always keep with those of the natural world.  They also can change on a moment’s notice- possibly, more like humanity than the animal kingdom.