Children’s writer Rosemary Sutcliff on Kipling | Sutcliff Discovery of the Day

Picture of Rudyard Kipling writer of children's and adults fiction, and a favourite of Rosemary SucliffRosemary Sutcliff always acknowledged a debt to and love for Rudyard Kipling. She wrote a small book, a monograph, about him. I have just discovered this article in the journal of the Kipling Society, The Kipling Journal, in 1965. She wrote:

” … other people write about things from the outside in, but Kipling writes about them from the inside out.”

see re-post here or

 December 1965                 THE KIPLING JOURNAL                                     25


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-

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

 December 1965                THE KIPLING JOURNAL                                   27

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-

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.

Source: here, used with permission.

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