Kipling - A Worthy Read

Nearly hidden behind overgrown shrubbery, to my 11-year-old delight, was my own secret doorway. It drew me from the hot sun, into a cool entry where I’d momentarily pause, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. Three steps forward, my foot knew to find the first step leading to my very own private hideaway – my grandparent’s attic. While everyone else toured the garden, commenting on the beauty of the heritage tomatoes, relaxing in the shade of the apple tree, or gathering armfuls of delicate, fragrant French lilacs, I was drawn to the company of Kipling, always to be found in the same corner of the bookcase I’d last tucked him away. No matter how many times I read his stories, the magic of the adventure was as good as the first. While I appreciated the beauty and companionship of my grandparent’s yard, it was too well known – too comfortable for my adventurer’s heart which was drawn to distant lands – no competition for Kipling’s exotic India.

To my delight, during a trip to the library last week with my children, I found a beautifully illustrated, Riki Tiki Tavi, one of my favorite reads. I felt doubly-blessed – it came with an audio cassette narrative. I enjoy reading out loud to my children, although I find it distracting. The tape provided an opportunity for me to return to my own childhood, sharing in the moment of losing myself to a finely crafted story.

We’ve listened half a dozen times, the children transfixed. Their response to Kipling is intelligent and thoughtful, using the words, “brave”, “courageous”, “sacrifice”, “protective” and “love”. These stand in stark contrast to modern stories contrived to illicit emotional responses of “sweet, “nice”, “scary”, or “fun”.

Kipling’s presentation is everything modern literature is not. It’s real life, not neutralized or feminized. The snake and mongoose are similar – predators, killers – but with completely different purposes. One is destined to destroy, the other to save. It’s the timeless tale of good vs evil, life vs death, morality vs immorality, each character played true to their God-given nature. Good deeds are appreciated and respected, while bad deeds are not rewarded, unlike modern children’s literature, steeped in relativistic humanism.

In a modern writer’s hands, the moongoose and snake would have become bosom buddies, getting in touch with their inner feelings. Perhaps Darzee and Nag’s babies would play together, socializing in ways God never intended for birds and snakes to interact. In the spirit of conservation, Teddy and his father would re-locate Nag, the huge black cobra, to a more snake-friendly environment. We know for certain, Teddy’s father would never have discharged a rifle – not in a modern version. The humanist possibilities of playing god, twisting nature, whether man or beast, are endless. My 10-year-old’s summation was brilliant – “It is fascinating, Mommy to see evil shown for what it is. I was worried the mongoose and snake would become friends, sharing a nice cup of tea in the garden.” Yes, darling, there is justice.

Bravo, Mr. Kipling, for having written with a voice of truth that is hard-wired to be heard by children – a voice which speaks to virtue and morality. – Sharon (Lovely English-countryside painting located at Chichester Web

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