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Kipling, Rudyard

Entry updated 17 July 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1865-1936) UK journalist, poet and author known mainly for such works outside the sf field as Plain Tales from the Hills (coll 1888) – which does contain some supernatural tales – and Kim (1901) [see below]; he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. During World War One, a conflict he had named "The Great War" as early as 1899, he wrote a great deal of propaganda, but the loss of his son in combat darkened the rest of his life. Kipling began to publish work of genre interest with his second professional tale, "The Dream of Duncan Parrenness" (25 December 1884 Civil and Military Gazette), and continued intermittently to incorporate the supernatural and some sf into his shorter work for most of his career, his last story of such interest being "Unprofessional" (October 1930 Saturday Review of Literature). But most of his supernatural work is set in India, and was published before he was 30. Some, like "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" (Christmas 1885 Quartette) and "The Phantom 'Rickshaw" (Christmas 1885 Quartette), are to be found in The Phantom 'Rickshaw, & Other Eerie Tales (coll 1888; rev 1890); others appear in Life's Handicap, Being Stories of Mine Own People (coll 1891), Many Inventions (coll 1893) and the unauthorized Abaft the Funnel (coll 1909) which assembles work 1888-1890. The Brushwood Boy (December 1895 Century Magazine; 1899 chap) is fantasy, based on shared dreams. Also fantasy are the various linked and unlinked animal stories assembled in The Jungle Book (coll 1894) and The Second Jungle Book (coll 1895), tales whose complex intensity transcends the moralistic tradition of the Beast Fable [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], while Just So Stories for Little Children (coll 1902) contains now-classic children's fables, beginning with "How the Whale Got his Throat" (December 1897 St Nicholas); the tales contributed by a wide range of writers of colour to the fantasy Original Anthology Not So Stories (anth 2018) edited by David Thomas Moore are a sustained (and at times sympathetic) unpacking of and riposte to the Imperialist world-view that irradiates Kipling's work in general, and by inference Just So Stories in particular (also see Race in SF). Interestingly, Kim (1901), which is technically nonfantastic, has had perhaps the most significant impact of all his works on sf writers, perhaps because the elated flow of incident that carries young Kim from bliss to bliss before the shadows of Empire begin to fall – Kipling called his narrative a "naked picaresque" – clearly demonstrates the power of the "lateral fantastic" in works of exposed candour, tales with plots so magically enabled by coincidence and consanguinity that they seem inherently fantastic. Works manifestly influenced by Kim include Poul Anderson's The Game of Empire (1985), Steven Gould's 7th Sigma (2011), Robert A Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) and Tim Powers's Declare (2001).

"They" (August 1904 Scribner's Magazine; 1905 chap) is a ghost story. Puck of Pook's Hill (January-October 1906 Strand; coll of linked stories 1906), and its sequel, Rewards and Fairies (1900-1910 various mags; coll of linked stories 1910), contain a series of historical and occasionally historical-fantasy stories about the formation and growth of Britain as conveyed by Puck to two children, who visit – or more precisely are visited by – various mythical and historical figures, and who are edified by them; but then, after each encounter, are subjected to a Memory Edit, rather nullifying a central function of the Club Story, which is to provide a frame for the witnessing of what is told. A witness who forgets may be deemed no witness at all.

In several of his late stories, all of which are complex, elliptic, highly crafted and deeply pessimistic, Kipling made some ambiguous use of supernatural principles of explanation; of these, "A Madonna of the Trenches" (September 1924 Pall Mall Magazine) and "The Wish House" (15 October 1924 Maclean's Magazine) are assembled along with "The Gardener" (April 1925 McCall's Magazine) in Debits and Credits (coll 1926), which has a claim to being his finest collection. These tales are not comfortably amenable to either sf or fantasy reading, but they demonstrate the power of hinted supernatural themes in writing of high virtuosity. The Complete Supernatural Stories of Rudyard Kipling (coll 1987) and The Mark of the Beast and Other Horror Tales (2000) conveniently assemble this category of his output, as does Kipling's Fantasy (coll 1992) edited by John Brunner. A more recent collection which incorporates both sf and fantasy is The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales (coll 2006); contents differ from the title listed above. "Thy Servant a Dog": Told by Boots (coll of linked stories 1930 chap; exp vt "Thy Servant a Dog" and Other Dog Stories 1933) contains three animal fantasies of almost perverse – but quite astonishingly eloquent – intensity. The Pleasure Cruise (11 November 1933 Morning Post; 1933 chap), a short fantasy play based on Lucian's Conversations in the Underworld, predicts the advent of World War Two if Germany is not resisted.

Sf proper appears with less frequency in Kipling's work, but is not uncommon, though the complex (and sometimes fundamentally evasive) relationship of his tales to the genres they seem to obey makes it unusually difficult to fix much of his work. "At the End of the Passage" (20 July 1890 Boston Herald), though essentially a Doppelganger story that obscurely prefigures the end of Empire, turns on the notion that images are retained in the retina after death (see Scientific Errors; Urban Legends); this is assembled, along with more straightforward fantasies in the "gossip tale" mode of his early work described above, in Life's Handicap, Being Stories of Mine Own People (coll 1890). "The Finest Story in the World" (July 1891 The Contemporary Review), whose narrator encounters a case of Reincarnation, and A Matter of Fact (1892 chap), about a modern sea-serpent sighting, are both assembled in Many Inventions, which also includes "The Lost Legion" (May 1892 Strand Magazine); all are arguably sf, or are coloured by sf.

Other early tales include "The Ship that Found Herself" (December 1895 Idler) and ".007" (August 1897 Scribner's Magazine) in The Day's Work (coll 1898), both dealing with the imagined, anthropomorphized thoughts of Machines (ship and locomotive): but it is this last collection that challenges the utility – as far as Kipling himself was concerned – of any attempt at clarifying his work by sorting it into genres. The Day's Work, which might almost be called a collection of linked stories, contains tales running a gamut from exhilarated "mundane" adventure through sf itself into Beast Fable [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; the whole array is far larger and more coherent than the sum of the parts, and The Day's Work reads in the end as a clamorous but astonishingly verisimilitudinous paean to the coordinated obedience of men to Machine and machine to men that made an empire – that indeed made the world – operable; and its intense focus on the geared visibility of the workings of this world clearly prefigures Steampunk. The range and versatility of the book make it as significant a collection of the nineteenth-century fantastic as any of H G Wells's volumes of shorter works.

Later tales include "Wireless" (August 1902 Scribner's Magazine; in Traffics and Discoveries, coll 1904), in which amateur-radio experiments make Communication across Time possible, linking a chemist's-shop assistant and John Keats via a kind of Telepathy; "The Army of a Dream" (15-18 June 1904 Morning Post; in Traffics and Discoveries, coll 1904), a Utopian vision of Near-Future militarized England in which – prefiguring the society of Robert A Heinlein's Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959) – voting rights and other social privileges must be earned by volunteer service; "The House Surgeon" (September-October 1909 Harper's Monthly), in Actions and Reactions (coll 1909), which explains a ghost in terms of Psi Powers; "In the Same Boat" (December 1911 Harper's Monthly), in A Diversity of Creatures (coll 1917), suggests a prenatal cause for bouts of irrational dread, not unlike the "engrams" of Scientology; "The Eye of Allah" (September 1926 Strand), in Debits and Credits, implies the Alternate History that is almost generated when a microscope falls into the hands of medieval English churchmen, revealing a world of "demon" animalculae and bacteria; and "Unprofessional" (October 1930 Saturday Review of Literature), assembled in Limits and Renewals (coll 1932), suggests that planetary "tides" may affect human tissue.

Kipling's most notable sf stories as such are perhaps With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D.: (Together With Extracts from the Contemporary Magazine in Which it Appeared) (first version November 1905 McClure's as "With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D."; 1909 chap) and its sequel, "'As Easy as A.B.C': A Tale of 2150 AD" (March-April 1912 The London Magazine), later included in A Diversity of Creatures (coll 1917). Both tales revolve about the Pax Aeronautica established by the Aerial Board of Control, or A.B.C., which dominates the world. The first is a dramatized travelogue, depicting some incidents on a dirigible journey from London to Quebec (see Airships), and is accompanied – in both its book form and on its inclusion in Actions and Reactions (coll 1909) – by an appendix of futuristic advertisements (see Advertising); in the second tale – a somewhat Dystopian vision of centralized government set 150 years later – agents of the A.B.C. fly to Chicago to deal with a revolt of the local underclass, whose demands for a return of democracy have generated attacks by the rest of the population; incidental sf devices include an electrical precursor of the Force Field. The Pax Aeronautica vision so vividly embodied in these stories – though not necessarily the political views they argue – is derived at least in part from H G Wells, and in turn influenced writers as far apart as Michael Arlen and Rex Warner. Although its reprint of With the Night Mail is incomplete, Kipling's Science Fiction (coll 1992; vt The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling 1994) edited by John Brunner is otherwise thorough in its coverage of this part of Kipling's work.

Although Kipling was not an sf writer by any powerful inclination, his capacity to capture the essence of various storytelling modes was so intense, and his interest in the workings of the new world which he heralded (and lamented) so acute, that even the seemingly least characteristic of his works are of more than peripheral interest to the reader. [JC/DRL]

see also: Apes as Human; Forgotten Futures; History of SF; Invention; Kipple; Military SF; Prediction; Psionics; Rays; Tractor Beam; Transportation.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling

born Bombay (now Mumbai), India: 30 December 1865

died London: 18 January 1936


Alan David Richards suggests in his Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind (2007), that this author's "bibliography may be the most complex of any modern writer in English." The Checklist below is of course selective in principle, and almost certainly falls short of full coverage of some titles represented here.


The Jungle Books

  • The Jungle Book (London: Macmillan and Company, 1894) [coll of linked stories: Jungle Books: hb/nonpictorial]
  • The Second Jungle Book (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1895) [coll of linked stories: Jungle Books: hb/uncredited]

Puck of Pook's Hill

  • Puck of Pook's Hill (New York: Doubleday, Page and Co, 1906) [coll of linked stories: Puck of Pook's Hill: hb/Arthur Rackham]
  • Rewards and Fairies (London: Macmillan and Company, 1910) [coll of linked stories: Puck of Pook's Hill: hb/nonpictorial]

individual titles

collections published in the author's lifetime

posthumous compilations (selected)


  • Something of Myself (London: Macmillan and Company, 1937) [nonfiction: autobiography: hb/nonpictorial]

about the author

Literature on Kipling is extensive; only a small selection is given. Charles Carrington's Rudyard Kipling (1955) has long been the standard (though somewhat superficial) biography, and is therefore listed below.


previous versions of this entry

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