Wastrel's Reviews > The Man Who Would Be King & Other Stories

The Man Who Would Be King & Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling
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really liked it
bookshelves: z-2014, mundane-fiction, short_stories

A peculiarly mixed collection of stories (it's a collection of three smaller collections, each originally with a general theme of its own). This represents almost the beginning of Kipling's career - having returned to his homeland in India at the age of 16 after an abusive childhood, he became a newspaperman, and eventually started writing short stories for his papers, before publishing them in collections.

In 1888, Kipling published eighty short stories in book form, of which a few dozen had previously been published in newspapers in the previous year and a half or so. This collection brings together 14 of those stories. These include the classic colonialism story, "The Man Who would be King", as well as probably the most important story for understanding the author, "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", a fictionalisation of his own childhood.

These stories would have been written when Kipling was 22 or 23.

Both the content and the quality of these stories is variable, as might be expected of such a young and inexperienced author, but there are clear signs here of the genius that would be seen in his later, more famous works, and some of these stories are, or should be, classics.

More generally, they are a fascinating insight into Kipling's world - the world of British India in the later decades of the 19th century, roaming from the Afghan wars to the indolent hill station resorts to the domestic homes and nurseries of Mumbai, taking in a couple of ghost stories along the way. Throughout, Kipling employs a sharp, sometimes even brutal, ironic tone to deconstruct the failures and insanities of the society around him, from the level of government policy down to the relationships between lovers, or between parents and children - Wilde and Saki spring to mind as comparisons, although to be honest Kipling works best in these stories when he leaves the satire to the background and gives himself a proper plot to focus on.

Anyone interested in Britain or India in the 1880's (or thereabouts) should probably read these stories.

However, I can't give it full marks. Some stories are not as good as others; particularly in the early stories he can be too blunt and obvious (Wilde and Saki are both better at the satire side); and even when the stories are good, they are generally cool and distant, more to be admired than to be invested in (though there are exceptions).

In short, there's enough evidence in this collection that I'm sure you could compile a Kipling short story collection that was truly excellent, even if you confined yourself to those eighty stories from 1888; this isn't that collection, I'm afraid, but it's still well worth the £2 cost and 200 pages of reading, for its value both as a literary product and as a historical artifact.

Above all, I think I've come out of this with a much more well-rounded and interesting view of Kipling - many of these stories are nothing like his more famous works.

Anyway, my titanically (I'm not joking) lengthy full review (in five parts!) is over here on my blog if anyone can possibly sit through it all.
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Reading Progress

September 3, 2013 – Shelved
November 11, 2013 – Started Reading
November 11, 2013 –
0.0% "At the Pit's Mouth:\n Woah. That wasn't what I was expecting. No plot, just most barbed satire you could imagine. Like a psychotic 'Just So' story. \n "The Dead have no friends - only acquaintances who are far too busy amusing themselves up the hill to attend to old partners.""
November 11, 2013 –
0.0% "Each cemetary: "keeps half-a-dozen graves permanently open for contingencies and incidental wear and tear. In the Hills these are more usually baby's size... in Cantonments, of course, the man's size is more in request; these arrangements varying with the climate and population."\n \n "I don't think I shall come to the Cemetary any more. I don't think grave-digging is cheerful""
November 11, 2013 –
0.0% ""Men are occasionally particular; and the least particular men are always the most exacting""
November 14, 2013 –
0.0% "Ugliest word ever used by a Nobel Laureate for Literature: "deadlily"."
December 5, 2013 –
0.0% "OK, who stole the 'Just-So Stories' guy, and what did they do to him?\n THIS Kipling is... merciless. It's like he takes everyone's hopes and dreams and crushes them one by one. It's to sociology and psychology what flaying a man alive is to anatomy..."
December 6, 2013 –
0.0% ""Why do you trouble yourself about mere human beings?"\n \n "Because in the absence of angels, who I'm sure would be horribly dull, men and women are the most fascinating things in the whole wide world, lazy one."\n \n ^--- possibly (both lines together) encapsulates Kipling's whole approach in these satirical stories."
December 6, 2013 –
0.0% ""Her dress betrays her. How can a Thing who wears her supplément under her left arm have any notion of the fitness of things - much less their folly?"\n \n Later, after comments on the Thing's hat: "I felt almost too well content to take the trouble to despise her."\n \n ^--- it suddenly occurs to me what Kipling reminds me of: American high school films/TV. Only without the excuse of innocence or the hope of growth..."
December 6, 2013 –
0.0% ""I took the Hawley Boy to a kala jugga."\n "Did he want much taking?"\n "Lots! There was an arrangement of looseboxes in kanats."\n \n ^--- this probably means something, and once upon a time some people might have understood it. Possibly?"
December 18, 2013 –
January 17, 2014 –
54.0% "I'm reading 'The Man Who Would Be King' itself now. \n I was going to quote a bit, but it turned out long. And then I was going to quote the next paragraph, but it was long too. And the next paragraph was quite quote-worthy too...can I quote the whole story?\n Seriously, whatever ideological problems you might have with Kipling, you can really seewhy he wasso incredibly popular withboth the intelligensia andthepublic"
January 23, 2014 –
61.0% "My review of this is now officially the longest review I've done since I started blogging. And I'm less than two-thirds of the way through.\n \n This is one reason I'm so bad at short story collections - I feel I need to stop and write about each story before I can move on..."
January 28, 2014 –
January 28, 2014 –
73.0% "Explaining the birds and the bees (and the British caste system) to a young boy in British India:\n "You see, one of these days Miss Allardyce will belong to me, but you'll grow up and command the Regiment." \n \n How simple life used to be!"
February 17, 2014 – Finished Reading

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