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Puck Of Pook's Hill Paperback – January 2, 2009
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About the Author
Rudyard Joseph Kipling was born in the then named Bombay, India on 30th December 1865. Aged six, he was sent to England to be educated, firstly in Southsea, where he was cared for in a foster home, and later at Westward Ho, a United Services College in Devon. A life of misery at the former was described in his story 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', whilst Westward Ho was used as a basis for his questioning the public school ethic in 'Stalky and Co'. Kipling returned to India in 1882 to work as an assistant editor for the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore. His reputation as a writer was established with stories of English life in India, published there in 1888/9. 'The Phantom Rickshaw', 'Soldiers Three' and 'Under the Deodars' are amongst these early works. Returning to England in 1889, Kipling settled in London and continued to earn a living as a writer. In 1892 he married Caroline Balestier, an American. They travelled extensively in the following four years, including a spell living in America, and it was in this time most of his enduring work was written, not least 'The Jungle Book' and 'The Second Jungle Book'. Kipling once again returned to England in 1896 and continued his writing career, although tragedy hit the family when his eldest daughter, Josephine, died in 1899. Nonetheless, in 1901 he completed 'Kim', often considered to be his best work. The following year, having settled in Sussex, he published 'Just So Stories', a book he had planned to write for Josephine. Having refused the position of Poet Laureate, which was offered in 1895, he did accept the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first English author to be so honoured. By 1910, however, Kipling's appeal was waning. His poems and stories were based on values that were perceived as outdated. There was widespread reaction against Victorian imperialism, highlighted by the incompetent management of the Boer War. When World War I came, Kipling had difficulty in adapting to the mood of the public and after his only son, John, was reported missing in action believed killed in 1915, he became very active on the War Graves Commission. After the war he became an increasingly isolated figure, although some of his best writing was to come, with 'Debits and Credits' in 1926 and 'Limits and Renewals' in 1932. Kipling died in 1936 in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Today, however, he is once again avidly read not just for the quality of his writing and storytelling, but through a renewed
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The first of the ten tales in the book features Puck's account of the advent, worship, and end of pagan Gods in Britain, focusing on one in particular, Weland, Smith of the Nordic Gods. In the second through fourth stories, the Norman knight Sir Richard Dalyngridge tells of his coming as a boy in 1066 with William the Conqueror to take England and instead being taken by the country (Norman and Saxon cultures and peoples merging into a new England), going as a middle-aged man on a pilgrimage that morphs into a Danish piratical voyage to Africa (men joyfully adventuring), and trying as an old man to help his lord protect England from internal and external foes (making the inevitable transition from youth to old age). The fifth through seventh stories are told by Parnesius, a British-born Roman, about his career as a centurion stationed on Hadrian's Wall during the 4th century when the Spanish general Maximus pulled vital troops from England to help him in his effort to become Emperor of Rome, making it more difficult to protect the Wall from Picts and "Winged Hats" (Vikings). Like Sir Richard's stories, Parnesius' are about the rich mix of British culture, the rewards of male friendship, the need to give yourself to something bigger and better than yourself, and the swiftness by which young people grow up. In the eighth story, "Hal-o-the Draft," a young, talented, cocky Renaissance draftsman-architect is sent to renovate a church in Sussex, where his job is complicated by a Scottish pirate, local smugglers, and the explorer Sebastian Cabot. The ninth story is told by Puck in the guise of a local rustic about the "flitting" of fairies from England during the Reformation, because fairies (like bees) cannot abide hate and war. In the last story a Jewish physician named Kadmiel relates his key role in the writing and signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Kadmiel's story conveys what it was like to be a cruelly exploited and persecuted Jew, expresses the belief in universal freedom for all people, and ties up all the tales by revealing what happened to the treasure that was gained by the sword that was made by Weland in the first story.
Kipling writes some wonderful prose in this compact book. He evokes the lush Sussex countryside as sensually experienced by healthy, active, and curious children:
"They lay beneath a roof of close green, watching the water trickle over the flood-gates down the mossy brick chute from the millstream to the book. A big trout--the children knew him well--rolled head and shoulders at some fly that sailed round the bend, while, once in just so often, the brook rose a fraction of an inch against all the wet pebbles, and they watched the slow draw and shiver of a breath of air through the tree-tops. Then the little voices of the slipping water began again.
'It's like the shadows talking, isn't it?' said Una."
He writes some magical fantasy:
"Magic as black as Merlin could make it, and the whole sea was green fire and white foam with singing mermaids in it. And the Horses of the Hills picked their way from one wave to another by the lightning flashes!"
He interestingly depicts the complexities of human nature:
"Then he [a scoundrel] warmed to it [his confession], and smoothly set out all his shifts, malices, and treacheries, his extreme boldnesses (he was desperate bold); his retreats, shufflings, and counterfeitings (he was also inconceivably a coward); his lack of gear and honour; his despair at their loss; his remedies, and well-coloured contrivances. Yes, he waved the filthy rags of his life before us, as though they had been some proud banner."
He writes great lines about human nature and life:
"I was on a pilgrimage to forget, which no pilgrimage brings."
"We talked together of times past. That is all men can do when they grow old."
"It is knightly to keep faith, even after a thousand years."
And to introduce and or conclude each tale he writes seventeen songs, each one in a different style for a different voice, among them Puck’s, a Viking’s, A Pict’s, a sword's rune's, a smuggler’s, and a bee keeper boy’s.
The book, then, features rich writing, engaging historical stories, lively and beautiful songs, and interesting and useful themes for children.
I do have some reservations about Puck of Pook's Hill. First, Kipling's history is male-centered. Although Una is a spunky girl, there is not a single positive female actor in his historical tales, and the most important relationships are between men, especially soldiers fighting the good fight. Where is Boudica or Elizabeth, or even a baker's wife or a midwife? Second, to prevent Una and Dan from chattering about Puck to grownups, which would result in the children being made to see a doctor, Kipling has Puck erase their memories after each tale and before each teatime. The mind-wipe contrivance conflicts with Kipling's obvious desire to communicate the interesting and important and relevant nature of history. Finally, unlike all the other songs, "The Children's Song" that closes the book contains much didactic patriotic messaging, as in the last stanza:
Land of our Birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
O Motherland, we pledge to thee
Head, heart and hand through the years to be.
That's the kind of thing that Kipling detractors focus on when they condemn him for being a pro-empire, white-man's burden writer.
My reservations notwithstanding, I did enjoy Puck of Pook's Hill, and recommend it to readers interested in British history, Kipling's work, and stories designed to make children more curious and active about their history, world, and fellow human beings.
About this illustrated kindle version, I didn't notice (m)any typos and the old illustrations are attractive.
There is no active table of contents. In fact, there is no Table of Contents at all. The formatting is strange- quotes that should be centered are offset to the right. Footnotes have been copied from the original version that this text is obviously taken from, but you can't click on the references, and they are not explained at the end of the chapters (I don't know if they are at the end of the book, but even if they are, that won't do you much good since you can't navigate from footnote to explanation and back to the text again).