Author and Poet, Rudyard Kipling
Feature

The British Imperialist Behind The Disney Blockbuster

Critics have had a lot of good things to say about the latest version of the literary classic 'The Jungle Book'. Famed reviewer Mark Kermode...

Author and Poet, Rudyard Kipling
Critics have had a lot of good things to say about the latest version of the literary classic 'The Jungle Book'.
 
Famed reviewer Mark Kermode said he 'just sat there beaming', and that the film "does a really good job of balancing… menace and humour." Meanwhile, the Telegraph has praised its mix of spectacle and emotion, and the Guardian its old-fashioned storytelling and beautiful look.
 
Important, then, to remember the man behind this iconic tale. No, not Walt Disney, but author Rudyard Kipling, born in Bombay in 1865.
 

 

Kipling was extraordinarily prolific and popular in his day, and despite unhappy schooling back in England, was intensely patriotic. His love of British India led him to write The Jungle Book as well as 'Kim' and the poem 'Gunga Din', amongst many other works.

Having won the Nobel Prize for Literature when World War One broke out, he turned his patriotism to propaganda, producing leaflets and poems for Wellington House, Britain’s War Propaganda Bureau. 

He referred to the Germans as Huns, and invoked righteous indignation (at the violation of Belgian neutrality, for example) to encourage the young to fight, perhaps most notably in a speech delivered in Southport to stimulate sluggish recruiting: 

"There was no crime, no cruelty, no abomination that the mind of men can conceive of which the German has not perpetrated, is not perpetrating, and will not perpetrate if he is allowed to go on.. Today, there are only two divisions in the world.. human beings and Germans."

But by war’s end, Kipling was cynical and as vehemently critical of the wartime establishment as he had been supportive. His verse at this time, in Epitaphs of War, suggests that by this point he had also become critical of his own prior writings:

"If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied."

Like his colleague at the Propaganda Bureau, Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kipling had lost a son in the war.

John Kipling, originally rejected by the Navy for bad eyesight, was instead commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Irish Guards, after his father pulled strings with lifelong friend Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the British Army, and colonel of the Irish Guards.

Sadly, he was cut down at Loos in September 1915. Kipling spent much of the rest of the war trying in vain to find out what had happened to his son, his anguish conveyed brilliantly in the 2007 movie, My Boy Jack, inspired by Kipling's melancholic poem of the same name.

“Have you news of my boy Jack?” 

Not this tide.

“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”

Not with this blowing, and this tide.

Unfortunately, Kipling died in 1936 having never located his son’s body. It wasn't until historians traced the service records and worked out that he'd been promoted to first lieutenant right before the battle that they were able to confirm they'd finally found his body.

In September 2015, a body with first lieutenant insignia from the Irish Guards was matched with the location where John Kipling's unit had fallen almost exactly 100 years before. 

Fittingly, it was Kipling who both worked with Winston Churchill to standardise the size of all military gravestones, irrespective of rank, and to select the phrase "KNOWN UNTO GOD" for graves of unidentified soldiers.

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