The poet, essayist, and fiction writer Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, the child of English parents. Although cherished by his parents, he also developed strong bonds with the Indian servants who tended him, to the extent that his first language was Hindustani. In 1871, however, Kipling was sent to England to be educated. He was boarded with an unfeeling foster family, an experience he later used as the basis for "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" (1888). In this short story young Punch is so ill-used by his caretaker that no amount of later love can take away his knowledge of "Hate, Suspicion and Despair." Nevertheless, Kipling also credited this period with the development of qualities that would later serve him as a writer, such as keen observation of people and their moods. In 1878 Kipling entered the United Services College in North Devon. This furnished the material for Stalky Co. (1899), the story of three schoolboys who form an alliance that enables them to outwit peers and adults. Immediately after finishing school, Kipling returned to India, where he worked as a journalist for seven years. It was during this time that he began to write and publish fiction.
Although a number of Kipling's books are categorized as children's literature, it might be more accurate to say that he wrote for a dual audience. For example, his The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) work on several levels: as simple adventure tales, as mystical coming-of-age stories, and as thoughtful explorations of the relationship between individuals and their societies. While children can read and enjoy these books, there is also much in them for adults to ponder.
Many readers have criticized Kipling for his imperialist views. In his famous poem "The White Man's Burden"(1899), for example, Kipling urges English readers to accept the responsibility of civilizing people of other countries. However, another poem, "The Two-Sided Man" (1913), shows a different aspect of Kipling:
Something I owe to the soil that grew– More to the life that fed– But most to Allah Who gave me two Separate sides to my head.
The presence of "two separate sides" characterizes much of Kipling's work. The novel Kim (1901) is the story of a young Irish orphan living in India, torn between his roles as a secret agent for the British government and as a disciple of a holy lama. By presenting India as a diverse society harmoniously united under British rule, Kim justifies imperialism. On the other hand, Kim's great love and respect for the lama implies that Kipling questioned British assumptions about the inferiority of native peoples. Similarly, Just So Stories for Little Children (1902) both depicts sexist stereotypes (a henpecked husband triumphs over his wife) and celebrates female intelligence (a small girl invents writing). If Kipling reinforces many of the conventional views of his time, he also often subverts them.
Kipling's texts have been adapted for film, including The Jungle Book, which was adapted and released by Alexander Korda Films in 1942 and animated by Walt Disney Productions in 1967. Kim was adapted and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer in 1950. Kipling's writings also have been adapted for theater, radio, and television.
See also: Children's Literature.
Kipling, Rudyard. 1990. Something of Myself, ed. Thomas Pinney. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Pinney, Thomas. 1990. Introduction to Something of Myself, by Rudyard Kipling, ed. Thomas Pinney. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Plotz, Judith. 1992. "The Empire of Youth: Crossing and Double-Crossing Cultural Barriers in Kipling's Kim." Children's Literature 20: 111–131.