|Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)|
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.