Kipling, is he over-rated?

Please help! I’ve read a number of poems by Kipling and have to admire his rhythm and meter, especially with a fake accent they seem to make sense to me.

However, I have been reading some of his prose. I like 'The Man Who Would Be King" (TMWWBK). However, most of the rest of the short stories in that anthology seem to be completely awful. The stories seem to get bogged down in trivial details (most of TMWWBK) or details of a life (the occupation period of India) that are not current and difficult to understand. There’s a lot of racism but I can get past that.

I enjoyed “Kim,” when I read it years ago, my recollection is that he stuck to the adventures in the story, this makes it successful.

Am I missing something? Can you recommend some prose that you enjoy.

You don’t mention The Jungle Book or Just So Stories. Have yoy tried those?

I was surprised to learn that Kipling wrote Science Fiction, as well. Although for a lot of it your have to stretch the definition of “science Fiction”

How good are his ratings, really?

I don’t know, I’ve never kippled.

According to the Amazon review of the Kipling science fiction Kipling is getting 4 out of 5 stars.

I’m waiting for the scores of the other judges.

Do you own a hamster named Albert Schweitzer?

He’s brilliant! Short stories like “The Eye of Allah” or “The Church That Was At Antioch” show a depth of insight and compassion.

Yes, his poetry is forced, heavy on meter and rhyme – but he intended a kind of “ballad” tone. He’s in the same category as, say, A.B. Banjo Paterson (if you haven’t read “The Man From Snowy River,” you ought to! The movie was good, too!)

Kipling, like G.K. Chesterton, was a product of his time, and there are some flaws we can identify in hindsight. Both are still great writers; we just have to read them with modern reservations.

To answer the question in the OP, actually, at this point in time, Kipling is under-rated. There was a heavy kick against him in the latter half of the twentieth century, during the devolution of the British Empire and the erosion of the Commonwealth. He was persona non grata on many college campuses, both in the English-speaking countries and in countries formerly part of the Empire.

Kipling is neglected, today, but retains the greatness of, say, Robert Louis Stevenson or Arthur Conan Doyle: a writer of great contemporary popularity, who’s still pretty hot beans even today.

Sure, I’ll eat anything.

I’ve found Kipling’s prose to be kind of hit and miss.

I’ve read quite a bit of 19th century literature, so the details are a pro to me, not a con.

When you say “that anthology”, are you talking about “The Phantom 'Rickshaw and Other Tales”? Because I thought “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes” was a nice creepy tale.

I’ve read “Kim”, “Captains Courageous” and “The Light That Failed”. I thought Kim was kind of a “Mary Sue” character, which was a turn-off for me. I liked “Captains Courageous” as a kid, but I don’t remember much of it now. “The Light That Failed” was interesting, but I suspect it would fall into the category of “too many details” for you.

I also think he is under-rated. He is a bit verbose for modern tastes, but compared to some of his contemporaries, he is not all that bad.

“White Man’s Burden” is cringeworthy, of course, but I don’t think he is as racist as his critics claim. He writes about colonial subjects, and working-class Britons, with more sympathy than many of his contemporaries.

I’m not a fan of his poetry. He does, however, make exceedingly good cakes.

I like his Soldiers Three stories.

The poem he wrote for his son, who was killed in the First World War, gets under my skin every time I read it.

“Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.”

I don’t have strong feelings about him one way or the other. I liked the Just so stories very much as a kid, remember liking Jungle Book, didn’t think much of Kim (never got through it). Liked some of his poetry, thought others were a bit…overwritten.

I think that Kipling more than almost any other writer was victimized, so to speak, by abrupt changes in the way people perceived literature and people perceived the world. Soon after he was done writing, possibly even before, long stanza-based poetry began to go out of style; he seemed old fashioned, the kiss of death for many literary critics. Same with his prose, with its emphasis on detail and some other storytelling quirks that were rapidly going out of fashion. His imperialistic/colonialist themes and his focus on things like honor and courage began likewise to seem outdated in a world that was rethinking a lot of stuff…

Whether it was fair or not, he soon seemed a bit of an embarrassment in some circles, a relic of an earlier age–not one we wished to look at nostalgically.

I love his dog poems. “His Apologies”, “The Power of the Dog”, and “Supplication of the Black Aberdeen” are wonerful. The latter is funny, the first two, if you are a dog lover, can make you cry. When my dog Nathan passes I plan on having a stone make for him, carved with the first line from “His Apologies”.

I enjoyed The Jungle Book and Just So Stories as a child, but I don’t think they have aged well, and as a children’s librarian I simply wouldn’t recommend them today.
The White Man’s Burden, though is a brilliant poem that perfectly captures the casual racism and condescending attitude of its day. Kipling did not write it as satire, but seen through modern eyes, as a historical document, it’s illuminating and worth a read. I sent a copy to my parents, as a joke, when they were Peace Corps volunteers in the outback of Paraguay.

I admit that I don’t really know where Kipling’s reputation stands today in the academic world. We didn’t read him much when I was in college. I do remember reading “The White Man’s Burden” at that time, not in a literature class, but rather in a course called “Cultures and Traditions,” as an example of 19th century colonialist attitudes. That in itself, I imagine, says a lot about his status. Even though I was an English major, and took more than one class on Victorian literature, Kipling never got more than a passing mention.

I know him mainly through his children’s stories–namely “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and the Mowgli stories in The Jungle Book. And frankly, I know those stories more through their animated adaptations than by reading the stories themselves. “Rikki Tikki Tavi,” at least, is a cracking good yarn which I still enjoy today. For whatever reason, unlike a lot of people I never read Just So Stories as a kid, so I don’t really know them as well. I haven’t read any of his adult work. But if nothing else, he created that brave little mongoose, and that’s good enough for me. :slight_smile:

One poem of Kipling’s that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is If–, whose opening lines are still frequently quoted today.

Chip McGrath covered Kipling in his essay on “Which Books have been Unfairly Maligned,” in last Sunday’s (3/20/16) New York Times Book Review.

McGrath is often a doofus, but this was an uncharacteristically interesting piece. He recommended several short stories I’m considering looking up.

The War – and the disappearance of his son, I remember that the body was never located – seems to have humanized Kipling a bit. His writing became less bombastic after Armistice.

Kim is one of the greatest novels of all time IMHO. He has a lot of good stories from India. However, most were written from the colonial point of view.

The thing to remember about Kipling is that in his career as a newspaperman in India, he was paid by volume, and he was prolific. Some great stuff, and more mediocre in there.

Although it drives me crazy that he had the Lama intoning in Chinese, which is simply factually incorrect (Kipling must have heard this from someone and then took it as fact)

Sad to say that when I dug deep into his writings in America, I had to come to the conclusion that he was pretty racist overall. For years, I thought he was an English colonial product of his time in India, but now believe that despite speaking Hindi that he was a bigot. Sigh. i still think Kim is one of the greatest novels ever. I have several very worn copies. It is my travel book - in my carry on and comes out whenever I have nothing else, or just feel like transporting to Kim his lama and the Himalayan foothills.

As one who am certainly no professor of literature, and with pretty simple tastes in reading matter; a couple of comments for what they’re worth –

I loved Captains Courageous – set among Massachusetts deep-sea fishermen, his only novel with an American setting (he lived in the US – Vermont – for several years in the 1890s).

For me, his stuff supposedly for kids has had a lot of appeal – IMO potentially worthwhile for adults too. I enjoyed the two books of short stories Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies: “vicarious time-travel” involving a brother-and-sister duo, throughout English history starting at the time of the ancient Britons. (The appeal of those to me, could be to do with my being British.)

I love his Just So Stories, and their accompanying verse: find them wildly absurd and funny, in a splendidly deadpan way – they absolutley crack me up.

His son was aged only eighteen when killed. Kipling doesn’t seem to have had a lot of luck with his kids: son, and two daughters, one of whom fell ill and died at the age of six.