The Art of Rudyard Kipling

By J. M. S. Tompkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Healing

The theme of healing is not, like that of revenge, one of Kipling's original themes. It emerges strongly in what I have called the halcyon period of his art, the tales that were collected in Actions and Reactions and Rewards and Fairies, and continues to act as a powerful focus of his imagination until in Limits and Renewals half the tales are, in one way or another, concerned with it. It is not, therefore, a development due to the War, though the War gave it a special colouring and stimulated its growth. In so far as it appears at all in his earlier work, it is incidental or consequential. The famine in 'William the Conqueror' is the test of Scott's quality and the setting of his love for a girl who shares his work and his allegiance. When she sees him in the sunset, 'a young man, beautiful as Paris, a god in a halo of golden dust, walking slowly at the head of his flocks, while at his knee ran small naked cupids'--the children he has saved by his 'absurd' performances with goats--Kipling can use the simile of the god, not only because of the pastoral grouping, but because Scott has been indeed the preserver of life and restorer of hope. The stress of the tale, however, lies on work and service and the kind of woman who understands their claims, not specifically on healing. Elsewhere the string is slightly touched now and again. Thus Kim, 'overborne by strain, fatigue, and the weight beyond his years', is drenched, massaged and fed back into life by the Sahiba, in a packed page in which the sense of wonder, so strong all through the book, sweeps in the ancient curative methods of the East; while, when the little boy of 'Baa Baa, Black Sheep' returns from the House of Desolation to the security of his mother's love, we see a sample of her dealings with him.

It is significant that Actions and Reactions begins and ends with a tale of healing. It is the new theme. In the collections of his middle and later life, Kipling seems to have intended the first and

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