Sunday, 4 April 2010

Kipling: fantasy, SF and horror

A recent Anecdotal Evidence post, `The Illegitimate Branch of the Profession', reminded me of an interesting Rudyard Kipling short story, A Matter of Fact, involving an encounter with a sea monster, that could almost be considered a precursor to HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.

Kipling's short story canon has a reputation for more or less realistic character-driven stories, many with Indian settings, but he actually produced a large body of works classifiable as fantasy, SF and horror. In this context, Rudyard Kipling's Tales of Horror and Fantasy (2008, Pegasus Books, ed. Stephen Jones, ISBN10 1933648783) looks very much worth checking out. The Kinokuniya BookWeb entry has a table of contents:

The Vampire
The Dream of Duncan Parrenness
The City of Dreadful Night
An Indian Ghost Story in England
The Phantom 'Rickshaw
The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes
The Unlimited Draw of Tick Boileau
In the House of Suddhoo
The Bisara of Pooree
Haunted Subalterns
By Word of Mouth
The Recurring Smash
The Dreitarbund
Bubbling Well Road
The Sending of Dana Da
My Own True Ghost Story
Sleipner, Late Thurinda
The Man Who Would Be King
The Solid Muldoon
Baboo Mookerji's Undertaking
The Joker
The Wandering Jew
The Courting of Dinah Shadd
The Mark of the Beast
At the End of the Passage
The Recrudescence of Imray
The Finances of the Gods
The Finest Story in the World
Children of the Zodiac
The Lost Legion
A Matter of Fact
The Bridge-Builders
The Brushwood Boy
The Tomb of His Ancestors
With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 AD
The House Surgeon
The Knife and the Naked Chalk
In the Same Boat
As Easy as A.B.C.: A Tale of 2150 AD
Swept and Garnished
Mary Postgate
The Village That Voted the Earth Was Flat
A Madonna of the Trenches
The Wish House
The Gardener
The Eye of Allah
On the Gate: A Tale of '16
The Appeal

I thought I knew Kipling's short fiction well, but I recognise very few on the list. The Man Who Would Be King is of course thoroughly well-known: see The Great Game and other adventures and Larry J Kreitzer's analysis of its theological motifs in Borders, Boundaries and the Bible. With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 AD and As Easy as A.B.C.: A Tale of 2150 AD are also quite well-known SF stories of a world dominated by the "Aerial Board of Control", an airship trading monopoly ("The A.B.C., that semi-elected, semi-nominated body of a few score persons") enforcing its control with non-lethal beam weapons.

Many of the other stories are findable online if you search the Internet Archive for Kipling stories. For instance, The Phantom Rickshaw and 'They', both ghost stories, are in the 1921 Selected Stories from Kipling. The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes, concerning a man caught in a horrific trap, and The Finest Story in the World, in which a writer attempts to capitalise on a naive man who remembers his past lives, are in The Phantom Rickshaw And Other Stories. At the End of the Passage, concerning a man haunted in his dreams (on reflection I do remember that one as a horror classic), and The Mark of the Beast, concerning a man cursed to become a wereleopard, are in Mine Own People And Other Stories. And so on. There are plenty of strange tales to explore.

The New Readers' Guide to the Works of Rudyard Kipling has a good overview by Fred Lerner, Rudyard Kipling and Modern Science Fiction, listing the stories classifiable as SF.

- Ray


  1. Almost all new to me. I read Phantom rickshaw as a kid, but hadn't realised (or, at least, have thoroughly forgotten) that it was Kipling.

  2. Same here: I remember hearing The End of the Passage as a radio play decades back, but didn't know it was Kipling (it's quite frequently asked-about, remembered by plot only, on literature forums).