Children of the Zodiac: Stalky & Co. and Kim

  • William B. Dillingham


Soon after completing Captains Courageous, having moved with his young family from their home in Vermont to England, Kipling turned to another project, this time something that started out to be quite different from Captains Courageous but ended up thematically as a piece of the same fabric. In Something of Myself, he recounts that while he was living in the Rock House near Torquay in 1896, the thought came to him to write “some tracts or parables on the education of the young.”1 As he began to compose (probably in December), the “tracts or parables” took on a life of their own, and “for reasons honestly beyond my control,” he remembers, “turned themselves into a series of tales called Stalky & Co.” Three years before he began this undertaking and six years before the appearance of Stalky & Co. in 1899, he published what passes for an autobiographical account of his five years at the United Services College at Westward Ho! “An English School” is largely a tribute to this quite unusual educational institution then fairly recently established “for the sons of officers in the Army and Navy, and filled with boys who meant to follow their father’s calling.”2 His idea to write “on the education of the young” probably grew out of this essay, which he may have wished to expand considerably. A puzzling change, however, came over his writing once he began. The notion of a treatment of Britain’s public schools with strong opinions about the most effective means to educate boys—that is, a work or works (probably not stories) using the facts of his own experience—soon was abandoned for a series of tales not truly autobiographical at all but seeming to be because the characters resemble the people Kipling knew at the United Services College, which is obviously the model for the school in the stories.


Secret Service True Work Great Game Tight Place Buddhist Belief 
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  1. 3.
    It is in this sense, I believe, that Alfred Noyes’s description of Kipling as a “mystic” is penetratingly astute. “Let popular Imperialists beware of him,” wrote Noyes in 1906. “The day may come when he will turn and rend them as he turned and rent large masses of his devoted readers in that delightful onslaught which he called ‘The Islanders.’ Mystics are always dangerous—to materialists, at any rate; and Mr. Kipling has mysticism in his blood and in his bones.” “Alfred Noyes on ‘Kipling the Mystic,’” in Kipling: the Critical Heritage, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green ( London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971 ), 300–01.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1978), 355. For a summary of the vastly different critical views of Stalky & Co.Google Scholar
  3. through the years, see Norman Page, A Kipling Companion ( London: Macmillan, 1984 ), 50–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Steven Marcus, “Stalky & Co.,” in Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert (New York: Elliot L. 1965 ), 151, 152.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Unlike Eric, St. Winifred, Tom Brown’s School Days, and other such novels, Stalky & Co. is not concerned with the process of maturation but with showing what three boys, old before their time, already know and how they act upon that knowledge. Critics have frequently observed, as does Robin Gilmour, that the three boys are already mature at the opening of the book, that they “do not change, or seem to grow older, and there is little or no feeling for the pathos of the years so characteristic of the Victorian bildungsroman.” Robin Gilmour, “Stalky & Co.: Revising the Code,” in Kipling Considered, ed. Phillip Mallett (London: Macmillan, 1989),22–23.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999 ), 62.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    Howard Reid and Michael Croucher, The Way of the Warrior ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987 ), 189.Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Donn F. Draeger, Modern Bujutsu & Budo: The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan (New York: Weatherhill, 1996 ), 3: 117.Google Scholar
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    J. M. S. Tompkins, The Art of Rudyard Kipling ( London: Methuen, 1959 ), 122.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    It is not difficult to understand why Kipling was drawn to Surtees, for both were philosophical pessimists. Norman Gash has argued persuasively that “What is fundamental to Surtees is… pessimism.” Gash’s further description of Surtees reminds one of similar (though not identical) attitudes held by Kipling: “It was the cheapness, falsity, and sentimentality in much that passed for humanitarianism (then as in any other age where it becomes a modish attitude) that Surtees despised. He preferred an honest rogue to a sanctimonious hypocrite. On the whole he did not expect much of life. He was a melancholy as well as a pessimistic man; but he was determined to see people as they were, not as they claimed to be.” Robert Surtees and Early Victorian Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 40, 41. If Kipling found Surtees a kinsman because of his pessimism, he discovered much to admire in the older author’s ability to create three dimensional characters in his fiction. Midmore, the urban aesthete of Kipling’s story “My Son’s Wife” (1917), finds himself reading Surtees with amazed fascination, for not only are the characters believable but so like the particular people he must now deal with in his new rural setting that they furnish him with invaluable instruction and enlightenment. The charge of “coarseness” often leveled against Surtees especially because of his depiction of Jorrocks’s behavior and that of his servants must have resonated with Kipling and created sympathy, for he had been similarly charged himself. For a discussion of Surtees’s being branded as coarse,see John Welcome, The Sporting World of R. S. Surtees (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982 ), 110, 114.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    See, e.g., F. A. Underwood, “Kipling and Surtees,” Kipling Journal, 12 (October 1945),5–7;Google Scholar
  14. Roger Lancelyn Green,“‘Oh Rot! Don’t Jorrock!’”Kipling Journal, 36 (March 1969), 2–3;Google Scholar
  15. and Frank Brightman, “Kipling and Surtees,” Kipling Journal, 60 (September 1986), 11–31.Google Scholar
  16. 39.
    Edmund Wilson, e.g., argues that by joining the Secret Service, Kim is “delivering into bondage to the British invaders those whom he has always considered his own people.” “The Kipling That Nobody Read,” in The Wound and the Bow: Seven Studies in Literature (Boston, MA: Houghton, 1941), 123.Google Scholar
  17. For an effective refutation of Wilson’s view, see Philip Mason, Kipling: The Glass, The Shadow and The Fire (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975), 181.Google Scholar
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    Robert F. Moss, Rudyard Kipling and the Fiction of Adolescence (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982), 128, 135, 136, 138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 46.
    This is a truncated version of the poem later published as “The Two-Sided Man” (1912), which contains an additional three stanzas that give the work a somewhat different emphasis from the lines above since they concentrate particularly on the speaker’s tolerance of various religious faiths. The shorter version that appears in Kim simply praises the virtue of two-sidedness without specifying its components. David Gilmour takes an approach different from my own in regard to what constitutes the most important aspect of Kipling’s own two-sidedness: “No doubt most people have two sides to their heads, but few keep them quite as separate and inimical as Kipling managed to do. One side stayed with him at the office and the Club, mocking Indians for their political pretensions and their ‘orientally unclean… habits.’ And the other, intensely receptive to sights, smells and sounds, roamed the bazaars and the native states, absorbing the experience without feeling the need to censure.” David Gilmour, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling (London: John Murray, 2002), 54.Google Scholar
  21. 52.
    Edwin Arnold, Poetical Works of Edwin Arnold: Containing the Light of Asia, The Indian Song of Songs, Pearls of the Faith (New York: Alden, 1883), vi.Google Scholar
  22. 53.
    Philip Mason, Kipling: the Glass, the Shadow and the Fire ( London: Jonathan Cape, 1975 ), 183.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Karlin, “Kipling and the Limits of Healing,” Essays in Criticism, 48 (October 1998), 333–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 56.
    See, e.g., Mark Kinkead-Weekes, “Vision in Kipling’s Novels,” in Kipling’s Mind and Art, ed. Andrew Rutherford (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1964 ), 216–34.Google Scholar

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© William B. Dillingham 2005

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  • William B. Dillingham

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