Monday, February 2, 2015


Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Ask the Great God Google for "Kim" and there are endless citations for Kim Kardashian, a self-promoting cultural icon of some sort here in the U.S. She seems to have made a lot of money and there is a strong current of measuring-by-money in today's often-cash-strapped times. It's tiresome and mediocre, but it's also real, so I guess, as with other gods, Google needs to be forgiven.

But I was after the novel, "Kim," by Rudyard Kipling, a turn-of-the-20th-century Nobel prize winner, after pulling the book off the shelf for a re-read. I needed Wikipedia or some other condenser of information to tell me the tale that I find magnetically-difficult to discern as I read the story itself. Surely my mother had read me this story when I was little, and I know I read it myself at one time or another ... and how the hell had I managed that: The uses of language often seem little more than a viscous gibberish... one that audiences had gobbled and digested with gusto when the book first appeared as a series of magazine articles in 1901. No shit -- it's like reading a foreign language masquerading as English.

"Kim" is the story of a teenaged white youth, burned brown by the sun, who wanders the streets of Lahore with his equally-impoverished friends. He becomes the disciple of a Tibetan lama and, more interestingly, becomes a spy in the tangential employ of the British who ruled India at the time.

But the style of writing at the time was not what it is today and that, for some reason, keeps me turning the pages. What mind -- let alone, what popular mind -- allowed magazine readers to gobble this up, to be thrilled and intrigued and most of all understanding what the hell the author was talking about?

In the entrance-hall stood the larger figures of the Greco-Buddhist sculptures done, savants know how long since, by forgotten workmen whose hands were feeling, and not unskilfully, for the mysteriously transmitted Grecian touch.
Nor is the quote above the most ornate-to-impenetrable in my mind. One thing's for sure -- it ain't Facebook with its reliably unreliable premises couched in up-to-date jargon. But in what way did magazine readers of that day leap into this tale of a pint-sized spy in the mysterious East? Kipling's writing won a Nobel prize, so presumably he was speaking the lingua franca of English.

There is something enticing about wading through this book. It's as if, on top of the story itself, there is some keyhole into the minds of those who might be my forebears. The impatience I might otherwise feel when someone can't seem to "get to the point" is on hold for the moment. But I am inclined to say that the book is not for the faint of heart, however rousing the story.


  1. "You may talk o’ gin and beer
    When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,
    An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
    But when it comes to slaughter
    You will do your work on water,
    An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it. "

  2. Before the Kardashians consumed our attention, and the shrinking education dollar our entertainments and edification came from words on paper. It required a skill and care that the educated few took seriously, and that trickled down to the uneducated hungry for the same. It was a poetry that told more than the direct, modern style that i see failing the rules of grammar and spelling in even the best of sheets.

    I grew up on Poe, Twain, and Kipling, and have given up on trying to share The Just So Stories with the younger generation. I feel a loss, but it's really just change. Had i been able to read the original Greek stories lost to us by uncertain translations that shed the beauty of the original language, i'd probably feel a loss for them too.

    My youth is lost with the world that nurtured it. It's not the world going to hell in a hand basket now anymore than it ever was before. It's me that's going to hell in a hand basket. Perhaps a bit ahead of schedule, but reasonably and expectably on time.

    My dictionary doesn't understand the word expectably, i apparently made it up but feel it's understandable by anyone reading it. Poe and Joyce made up words so i feel i'm in good if undeserved company. And i remember Mark Twain lamenting the homogenization of spelling as it took away from the individuals self expression in spelling things as he saw fit. He felt it hid from us much to know about the writer. Oh well, change.

  3. Do please forgive my own failures at editing, punctuation, etc. I too have grown lazy and distracted.

  4. Charlie -- Consult Facebook: It'll perk you up tolerably.