Friday, February 12, 2016

Jungalbook: Rudyard Kipling in America

The first writer in English to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular and internationally famous British authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But he wrote the tales collected in The Jungle Book while living as a young married man in the United States.

 Kipling was born in India of English parents, and spent the first five years of his childhood there. He was then sent to relatives in England for his education, where he experienced “a certain amount of bullying,” as he later wrote.

 In an historical oddity, Kipling spent this part of his childhood in the nondescript town of Southsea, where in just a few years the teenage H.G. Wells and the young doctor Arthur Conan Doyle would briefly live. All three would become major writers whose work lives on in contemporary culture.

 At 16, Kipling returned to India to work for a newspaper. He spent seven years or so in that vast country as a writer and editor. Some of his newspaper stories were collected in a book, and with the money it earned he decided to return to London.

 But he did so by way of North America. Kipling sailed to San Francisco and eventually took a train to Portland, Oregon on a route apparently a bit inland from the North Coast. He later traveled to Seattle and British Columbia, then through the Midwestern US to Pennsylvania and New York (where he met and befriended Mark Twain) before crossing the Atlantic to England.
The Twain-Kipling meeting was so famous that it
became the subject of this Old Crown Whiskey ad.

But he must have liked what he saw, because after a few years as a budding author in England, he got married and selected the United States for his honeymoon. And it turned out to be a long one—about four years. He and his wife remained in Vermont, and had two daughters there. (By this time he was friends with Conan Doyle, who visited him in Vermont and taught him to play golf. Though he hadn’t met H.G. Wells, they had the same London editor.)

 During those Vermont years, Kipling wrote some of his most famous works, including the poem “Gunga Din,” the novel Captains Courageous, and the tales set in the jungles of India, collected in two volumes of The Jungle Book.

Josephine Kipling
 He wrote these tales for young readers, and enjoyed letters from children responding to their publication in periodicals. In 2010, a note in his hand found on a first edition indicates that Kipling wrote the tales expressly for his first daughter, Josephine, who died at the age of 6.

His work following his U.S. stay in particular became controversial, and marked him as an apologist for imperialism and militarism. But at least in his early work, he was an intuitive writer. His motto for writing was “drift, wait and obey.”

Kipling is not much known in the United States today, except through The Jungle Book. Its influence also lives on in the Cub Scouts. Robert-Baden Powell, founder of the Scouts, deliberately adopted elements from Kipling’s jungle tales (with the author’s permission.) That the Cub Scouts are organized in “dens”, and the dens in “packs” as well as other elements, are all directly from The Jungle Book. Even the name of the den leader—Akela—is the name of the wolf leader in The Jungle Book-- and Jungalbook.

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