Rosemary Sutcliff, historical writer and children’s story-teller, author of The Eagle of the Ninth and some sixty other books, always acknowledged her love of Rudyard Kipling. She wrote a small monograph about him. She wrote in 1965 in The Kipling Journal of the Kipling Society:
… other people write about things from the outside in, but Kipling writes about them from the inside out … I was something under six when my mother first read The Jungle Books to me. They were my first introduction to Kipling, and perhaps for that reason, they have an especial potency for me. From the first, I had an extraordinary sense of familiarity in the jungle; I was not discovering a new world but returning to a world I knew; and the closest contact I ever made with a “Story book Character”, I made with Bagheera, the black panther with the voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree and the little bald spot that told of a collar, under his chin.
December 1965 THE KIPLING JOURNAL 25 KIPLING FOR CHILDREN by Rosemary Sutcliff When I was eight or nine, I tried to explain to my mother what I felt most strongly about the stories of Rudyard Kipling: "Well you see, other people write about things from the outside in, but Kipling writes about them from the inside out." That seems to get fairly well to the heart of the matter, and I don't think I can do very much better now. This gift for self-identification with whatever and whoever he wrote about, which Kipling possessed to such an extraordinary degree, is apparent in almost all his work whether for children or grown-ups. It is hard to imagine how a man who had not himself pulled at an oar as a galley slave for five years or so could have written "The Finest Story in the World"; how anyone who had not himself run on four paws inside a lithe ebony velvet skin, could know so surely what it feels like to be a black panther. Even into the world of inanimate things, he carried the same gift, writing of a ship's engine or a big gun so that one knows to one's finger tips that if a ship's engine or a big gun could give consciousness, this is what they would feel, this is how they would be aware, and how they would express their awareness. It is this gift, above all others, that makes Kipling what he is, to the readers of all ages who love his work. But it is a gift that, however, much it adds to the depth and quality of an adult reader's enjoyment, finds its greatest fulfilment when the reader is a child. It is through empathy the minor miracle of self-identification with the characters and events of a story, that a child does much of his learning — not only the learning of the mind, but of the emotions, even, maybe, of the spirit. And the more personally and painfully the author has become involved in his characters, the more completely he gets inside their skins, the deeper and more vivid will be the response of the child reading what he has written. But before going further with this somewhat random 'piece' on Kipling for Children, it might be as well to try to decide which of his books are in fact for children, and the moment one begins, it becomes perfectly obvious that the thing can't be done. There is no clear demarcation line. All one can do is to make a personal choice and give personal reasons and opinions, and apologise in advance to anyone who disagrees. The Jungle Books, The Just So Stories, Stalky and Co., Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies immediately leap to mind. But of the Puck books, Kipling himself says in his Autobiography, "I worked the material in three or four overlaid tints and textures, which might or might not reveal themselves according to the shifting light of sex, youth and experience. The tales had to be read by children before people realised that they were meant for grown-ups". On the other hand, two of his full length novels, Kim and Captains Courageous originally intended for grown-ups, have always been read and loved by children, for, at least so far as these two books are concerned, Kipling belongs to the select company of writers — R. L. Stevenson, Rider Haggard and John Buchan are three more — whose books, written for adults, have been taken over by the young. How and why this happens to some writers is a mystery. I have seen it attributed in a recent T.L.S. article, to "A pocket of unlived childhood" some- where in the innermost recesses of the author's being, and if, as seems quite possible, this is the answer, odd to think how much we who loved Kipling's adult books when we were children, and love his children's books still, may owe to the six miserable years of unlived childhood he survived under the shadow of The Woman, in the House of Desolation at Southsea. So, The Jungle Books and Stalky, the Just So Stories and both Puck books; add Kim and Captains Courageous and the list, my own personal list at all events, is complete. It is interesting to note that they were all written in the eighteen years or so between the time when the author's first child was on the way, and the time when the last was too old to have stories made for him any longer — as though it took the nearness of a child to tap that pocket of unlived childhood in Rudyard Kipling. I was something under six when my mother first read The Jungle Books to me. They were my first introduction to Kipling, and perhaps for that reason, they have an especial potency for me. From the first, I had an extraordinary sense of familiarity in the jungle; I was not discovering a new world but returning to a world I knew; and the closest contact I ever made with a "Story book Character", I made with Bagheera, the black panther with the voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree and the little bald spot that told of a collar, under his chin. The Just So Stories, Kim, and Puck of Pook's Hill, must all have followed soon after; at all events I have no clear memory of first meeting them, nor of a time before they were there, a time without the crowding delights and many-coloured over-spilling riches of Kim, on which one can get drunk as a bee among horse chestnut blossom; without the strong magic of The Just So Stories (no one understands better than Kipling did, the importance of incantation, the exact re- petition of the word pattern until it becomes ritual "You must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved" to all primitive peoples, including children); without Sir Richard Dalyngridge, that Very Perfect Gentle Knight, and the three magnificent "Roman Wall" stories of Puck of Pook's Hill which first, as it were, planted Roman Britain in my blood- stream. I did not in the early days, of course, see what any of these books were really about. I did not see that under the superb tale of adventure, Kim told basically the same story as The Jungle Books — of a boy belonging to one world, thrown into and accepted by another, and faced in the end by the same unbearable choice to be made between world and world, nor how much the story had to tell about the nature of love and the soul of Man. I did not for a moment realise the brilliant playing with word-patterns and rhythms and intricate arabesques of sound that give The Just So Stones their peculiar magic (but I did feel the loving delight that had gone into their fashioning, for an especially beloved child, and from the first I knew that the two stories of Taffy and her father were the most 'real' in the whole book). Most certainly I had no idea that the true hero of Puck and Rewards, alike, was Old Hobden, typifying as he does, the People and the Land that endure while Kingdoms and Civilisations come and go. But the fact that I understood roughly a quarter of what I was reading — or rather having read to me — for until I was nine I set my face resolutely against the whole distasteful idea of learning to read to myself —made no difference whatever to my love for the books and my delight in them. And indeed, looking back, I think that I absorbed far more of all this, as it were through the pores of my skin, than my head could cope with. Children do have this trick of taking in intuitively, things still beyond their mental powers, far more than grown-ups realise. I loved certain of the stories from Rewards and Fairies quite as much as anything in Puck of Pook's Hill, but the book as a whole, I have never found so satisfying, and this seems to be the case with others I have asked. There is an uneven brilliance about Rewards. It was the last book Kipling ever wrote for children, and maybe his power to do so was flaring and guttering like a candle before it goes out. Some of the stories, The Wrong Thing with its glorious irony, The Tree of Justice, and that most vast and terrible and piteous of stories The Knife and the Naked Chalk are finer than anything in Puck of Pook's Hill, but save for The Tree of Justice one does not grow to know their people so well. And some of the other stories, especially the American ones, I have even been bored by. I was considerably older, at least ten, when I came to Stalky and Co. and at first time of reading I did not much enjoy it. Maybe it was too masculine. It is, of course, extremely masculine in its psychology, and having no brothers, I may have found its complicated male ethics and alien thought processes beyond my powers to cope with. Kipling himself says somewhere (I quote from memory, and therefore prob- ably inaccurately) "The reserve of a boy is ten times deeper than the reserve of a maid, woman being made for one purpose, and man for several". Be that as it may, a year or two later I gave Stalky and Co. a second chance, and suddenly bells rang and pennies dropped in all directions. I must have re-read it at least a dozen times since then, and it remains one of the very few books that can reduce me to helpless gigglement when reading in bed at 2 a.m. And that leaves only Captains Courageous. I never met Captains Courageous until I myself had joined the ranks of the grown-ups, but I do not think that was the reason why it failed me; it was, after all, originally intended for grown-ups. I enjoyed it hugely, and was gripped by it from start to finish, but once finished, it was over; and it is the only one of Kipling's books that I have never wanted to read again. I know perfectly well that it is as good as the others, but knowing is not enough. It is not for me, in the way that Kipling's other books — that I have mentioned here — are for me. Rudyard Kipling died just when the old order was dying, and many of the things that he believed in were falling into disrepute; when Britain was beginning to be ashamed of having — or ever having had — an Empire. And so the charge of Jingoism was levelled at him, and has been levelled at him off and on ever since, by people who have never troubled to read his books with an open mind. I have even heard conscientious parents and school teachers doubting the rightness of giving certain of his books to their children, lest they should imbibe jingoistic ideas from them — particularly from Stalky and Co., the very book which contains, had those conscientious parents and teachers noticed it, the unforgettable portrait of the Jelly-Bellied Flag- flapper. Empire had not become a dirty word to Kipling, but he saw it in terms, not of dominion but of service. One of the extremely sound lessons he has for the child of to-day is that service is not something to be ashamed of. Another is that history is something to do with oneself. Most children tend to grow up seeing history in a series of small static pictures, all belonging to the past and with no communicating door between them and the present. The two Puck books, with their mingling of past and present in one corner of England must help them to feel it as a living and continuous process of which they them- selves are a part, and so see their own times in better perspective than they might otherwise have done. Yes, Rudyard Kipling still has an honourable place to fill in the ranks of children's writers, and it is a place which, without him, must remain empty, for nobody else can fill it.