The Cranky Old Reader

I'm a Goodreads refugee, looking for a new home. Old books for children, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and humor are my main areas of interest. I've little interest in books that were written after 1975 or so, and prefer books that are older still. There are, however, a few still-living authors that I respect.

Plain Tales from the Hills (Twentieth Century Classics)

Plain Tales from the Hills (Twentieth Century Classics) - Rudyard Kipling, H.R. Woudhuysen, David Trotter Rudyard Kipling's Kim is one of my favorite books in the world. For the few hours every year that I spend re-reading it, I'm in a magical world. And the ending never fails to leave me with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.I've read and deeply enjoyed Kipling's Jungle Books as well. So when I heard, around fifteen years ago, that Kipling had written many more stories set in the India of his youth, and that some of them even featured Strickland Sahib from Kim, I immediately headed over to Wordsworth in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA) to get a copy of Plain Tales from the Hills.I didn't enjoy it, and after a story or two I stopped reading. It seemed dark and depressing to me. It lacked the essential sense of wonder and joy that colors all of Kim. Without young Kimball O'Hara and his delight in discovering the world, Kipling's India seemed a cynical and gloomy place.And it is, in large measure. But when I picked up the book again recently, I found it far better than my first impression. Kipling was, after all, a master storyteller. His view of human nature was penetrating, and he had an eye for the tragedy and comedy of life. His experience as a child in India gave him a rich cultural palette to use in his writing, albeit it from an ultimately colonialist viewpoint. The stories in PTftH, some of the earliest he published, tend to be short, insightful, and gripping. Quite a few are extremely funny, as well. Since most of these stories were published the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette, Kipling had no literary pretensions (not that he was noted for such, anyway); he was young, and writing in an impermanent medium to entertain paying customers. I should note that years later he edited many of stories in the collection, and added several new ones.The language has not dated badly, even after 120 years. Readers of Kim will not find Plain Tales from the Hills more difficult than that book. The Penguin Classics edition is annotated, as I presume all modern editions must be, so the Indian words and phrases that Kipling uses may be deciphered when the meaning can't be gleaned from the context.There are four stories about a group of three Irish privates in the Army which deserve special note. Kipling represents the lower-class dialect of those soldiers in nearly impenetrable spelling - as Kipling himself notes in one of the stories, dialect is not his strongest suit. I found myself repeatedly puzzling over the language, repeating it aloud to try and sound out the meaning of the apparently meaningless words. Comprehension finally dawned in almost every case, but the process slowed my progress through the stories to a crawl. That's a pity, because they include some of the most lively, interesting, and exciting passages in the collection.Two more specifics:"The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows" - I don't want to spoil this one, but it stuck in my mind very strongly - this may have been the strongest and most memorable story in the book. Kipling captured a state of mind and an essential despair beyond despair that is quite haunting."Beyond the Pale" is the most horrific story in the collection, I think. The fate of the young girl at the end was quite disturbing and sad. It bothered me, frankly, and I don't think I'll read it again. I wasn't particularly impressed with the annotation in this edition, however. The annotations are, at times, a bit terse and cryptic. I also find it particularly annoying that when Kipling makes a reference to Shakespeare or the Bible, the annotation simply lists a reference in the most terse format possible, i.e. "Matthew 10, 16" or "Hamlet, III, iv, 205-7". I'm better read than the average American; I've read the King James Bible several times, as well as the complete works of Shakespeare. I've even performed in a local production of Romeo and Juliet. Nonetheless, I cannot recall verses and passages from these references (with certain exceptions, of course), and I don't think that most other modern readers can, either. This sort of arrogance simply serves to further alienate the public from classic literature.The annotator, David Trotter, also wrote the introduction to this edition. I earnestly advise the reader to skip that introduction until you've finished reading the book. Trotter commits the unforgivable sin of explaining too much, "spoiling" some of the stories. He sucks all the juice out of Kipling with his academic approach, or tries to. The introduction does include some interesting information, though, so it's worth reading after completing the book.Of course, since the book is no longer under copyright, it is also available freely online: Tales from the Hills lacks the warmth and delight of Kim. Nonetheless, it's well-written (naturally!), exciting, at times very funny, and presents some rare insights into human nature. What more can a reader expect?

Currently reading

Basic Roleplaying: The Chaosium d100 system (Basic Roleplaying)
Sam Johnson, Charlie Krank
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Rebecca Solnit