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A Diversity of Creatures

Rudyard Kipling

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    When I first chose this collection to read, I, silly me, thought it was about animals. I mean, that is one of Kipling's specialties. Except for one story about a dog, these stories have nothing to do with animals, and their subject matter, I guess you could say, is diverse. First published in 1917, the individual stories range from 1911 to 1917. Quite of few are war stories, from various wars, and we know how Great Britain always seemed to be fighting with, or invading some country or other. Those were very difficult to understand, mostly because the jargon Kipling used was so unfamiliar to me. This collection is quite a challenge! And on top of that, there is very little written about these works. I was glad to find a page of Goodreads reviews which, first, assured me I was not alone in my struggle to understand them, and that those who did interpret them assured me that I perhaps understood them better than I thought. One of the readers commented that the theme that ran through most of the stories was one of revenge. I would not have noticed that, but keeping it in mind as I read, it turned out to be quite true.
    Most of the stories were meant to be funny (although I wasn't always sure!). And if the characters represented Kipling (certainly in the days of his youth), then he must have been an ornery rascal. Much of the revenge is funny, to hysterically funny. But in a few stories, it is dead serious. There are fourteen stories interspersed with fourteen poems. Because there are so many stories and poems, I will only mention a few, beginning with the first.
    As Easy As ABC is a sequel to With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D, the only science fiction story in the collection. Where With the Night Mail is a benign story of a super-powered mail delivery blimp that crosses the Atlantic from England to America, helping everyone in distress along the way, this one was more like H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, a future where the world was ruled by the air traffic controllers, in this case the ABC standing for Aerial Board of Control. And way out in Northern Illinois—Chicago to be exact—there was a bit of rebellion going on and London wasn't happy. So they take a ride over, and "convince" the Chicagoans to behave. OK, so, for those of us that are aware of the scary things going on in our skies right here in 2019, this is a rather uncomfortable story, using crowd control technology that I would bet, we are now capable of using or soon will be. And it is not pretty. If you do not read any other story in this collection, please read this one. You can read it online at Project Gutenberg without even downloading the whole book.
    The next story, Friendly Brook, is one of two flood stories, which we in the U.S. really don't need to deal with. The other one is humorous and romantic, but this one is creepy. It takes place in the English countryside, and two men, Jesse and Jabez, are discussing Jim Wickenden's daughter Mary. His wife, now deceased, had no children, so they adopted Mary. Jim and Mary live with Jim's mother. Well, one day a drunk begins hounding them, saying he is Mary's rightful father. They pay him to leave, but he becomes a pest, wanting more and more money each time he shows up. And yes, this is one of the revenge tales, and it is not a nice revenge.
    In the next story—In the Same Boat, one of my favorites that I completely understood—we meet a man speaking to Dr. Gilbert about a mental or psychological ailment, which is at first a mystery. The mental aspect of the ailment, a terrifying one, is affecting Conroy's ability to carry on normal functions, and he had become addicted to Najdolene tablets, (which is a fictional drug, I believe). Anyways, the doctor has another patient— a woman—going through the same hell. He suggests a train trip for Conroy, who at first can't understand how that would help, but finally agrees to go.
    He finds himself seated with the woman patient, Miss Henschil, who recognizes the Najdolene container, and the two of them begin speaking, then supporting each other, and agreeing to not take the pills. Together they resist their drug urge, and gradually the light dawns, with the help of Miss Henschil's Nurse Blaber. This is a great story, and right up my line of thinking.
    The Dog Hervey is an example of that rather flippant and smart-ass humor typically associated with the British. The narrator is visiting his friend Attley, with his dog Malachi, brother of Bettina, whose puppies are now up for grabs. One certain wealthy woman, Miss Sichliffe, chooses a clumsy puppy with a squint, and despite efforts to dissuade her, she insists, and names him Harvey. Incidentally, she is clumsy and unattractive herself, and past the age when most ladies of the era should be married.
    Anyway, this is a romance, or sorts, where, in a roundabout way, ugly puppy plays matchmaker.
    The Village That Voted the Earth Was Flat, is by far the most hysterically funny story in the bunch. The motto could be, "Never mess with the press, especially when your messing is illegal." And so we find the narrator, Woodhouse, Ollyett, and the M.P. Pallant driving along a country road where they are stopped for a traffic violation, then taken to court and basically framed by the corrupt judge, Sir Thomas Ingell. At the same time, an impresario of a traveling troupe is also in the same court, Bat Masquerier, whom the judge insults and calls "Mr. Masquerader," and accuses him of being from Jerusalem. Hmm. OK.
    So, the first group has to their advantage that they own newspapers, plus one is an M. P., and the second, well, he's got a whole shitload of friends, both performers and followers. Let us just say that this is the ultimate story of revenge in the entire collection, and let us further say that the judge's judgment was greatly in error. And the poor village of Huckley becomes ridiculous!
    The next piece I will mention is a poem, Jobson's Amen, which follows the story, In the Presence, which I believe takes place in India, one of Britain's many claims to control, and where Kipling was born. It does not speak highly of British invasions. Here it is in its entirety.

JOBSON'S AMEN

'Blessed be the English and all their ways and works.
Cursed be the Infidels, Hereticks, and Turks!'
'Amen,' quo' Jobson, 'but where I used to lie
Was neither Candle, Bell nor Book to curse my brethren by:

'But a palm-tree in full bearing, bowing down, bowing down,
To a surf that drove unsparing at the brown-walled town—
Conches in a temple, oil-lamps in a dome—
And a low moon out of Africa said: "This way home!"'

'Blessed be the English and all that they profess.
Cursed be the Savages that prance in nakedness!'
'Amen,' quo' Jobson, 'but where I used to lie
Was neither shirt nor pantaloons to catch my brethren by:

'But a well-wheel slowly creaking, going round, going round,
By a water-channel leaking over drowned, warm ground—
Parrots very busy in the trellised pepper-vine—
And a high sun over Asia shouting: "Rise and shine!"'

'Blessed be the English and everything they own.
Cursed be the Infidels that bow to wood and stone!'
'Amen,' quo' Jobson, 'but where I used to lie
Was neither pew nor Gospelleer to save my brethren by:

'But a desert stretched and stricken, left and right, left and right,
Where the piled mirages thicken under white-hot light—
A skull beneath a sand-hill and a viper coiled inside—
And a red wind out of Libya roaring: "Run and hide!"'

'Blessed be the English and all they make or do.
Cursed be the Hereticks who doubt that this is true!'
'Amen,' quo' Jobson, 'but where I mean to die
Is neither rule nor calliper to judge the matter by:

'But Himalaya heavenward-heading, sheer and vast, sheer and vast,
In a million summits bedding on the last world's past;
A certain sacred mountain where the scented cedars climb,
And—the feet of my Beloved hurrying back through Time!'

    I think My Son's Wife is my favorite story of all! A young, arrogant society man of London, Frankwell Midmore, suddenly finds that his aunt has died and left him a large country estate. His mother does not attend the funeral, but he must. Wanting to get it all over with, he orders the executor of the will, Mr. Sperrit, to sell the property and also believes he can find a way out of that part of the will which promises Rhoda Dolbie, Mrs. Werf's maid, thirty pounds a year. Thinking his business done, Midmore returns to London, expecting to find the woman with whom he has plans, awaiting him.
    But as it turns out, she had quickly found another in his absence. Crestfallen, he returns to his estate, which he suddenly realizes is now all his. As it turns out, he really likes Rhoda, and soon likes the locals, too. That arrogance soon fades into the desire to be part of their society, and, as owner of the estate, to do everything in his power, to serve the people. It also helps that Sperrit has a beautiful and intelligent daughter. This is the second of the flood stories.
    The last story I will mention is Swept and Garnished. Written in 1915, we are now involved in WWI, and this story is about a German woman, Frau Ebermann, who has come down with the flu. As she lies in her bed in a feverish state, she begins to hallucinate and her hallucinations are bloody children who have been bombed. Or are they ghosts? Though they try to tell her there are many more—hundreds of thousands just like them, she does not believe it.
    As I wrote this review, I realized I understood these stories much better than I thought I did when I was reading them. I guess it took a while for them to sink in. I am a fan of Kipling and I hope you are, too. Check out his Index Page for all his works I have reviewed so far.

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