May 11

wtf moments rereading kipling #5

FT8 comments • 417 views

“One does not expect the make-and-break of the magneto — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel — to fracture (…).” From 1924’s ‘The Prophet and the Country’, published in 1926’s Debits and Credits. Does anyone today who isn’t a Kipling scholar associate him with the cult of fast motors? There’s actually a whole slew of stories — beginning with “Steam Tactics” in 1902 — which set him up to be the Jeremy Clarkson* of his day, not least because he liked to travel fast, and to take revenge on the foolish officials who baulked him (he was a motorist as early as 1899, when “fast” wasn’t even 20 mph…) (*Wind in the Willows, about the ACTUAL J.Clarkson of his day, didn’t appear till 1908…)


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    tom w on 18 May 2011 #

    Isn’t They, or perhaps it’s the one you cite there, considered to be the first literary mention of the motorcar? (By which I mean, I think it is, but am not sure). His fascination with technological innovation led him down some very modernistic paths really – the spooky repetition of Mrs Bathurst, or the incredible story Wireless. (Much of Tom McCarthy’s C seems to come from that story).

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    I think “Steam Tactics” is just earlier than “They”: I’d have to check — but they’re both collected in Traffic and Discoveries (1904?). The car in “They” is somewhat more of a “mystical vehicle” that can carry you far into a strange unreal realm — in “Steam Tactics” a lot of the business is the comedy of cranky technology, and the social comedy that arises.

    Absolutely re his poetics of technological innovation: there’s a story — is it “.007”? — about pirates in the far east taking revenge on the gunship that had them arrested and imprisoned, which is nine-tenths about how to jury-rig a steam-boiler to travel one last journey…

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    tom w on 18 May 2011 #

    That pirates story rings a bell, but I don’t think it’s .007, that’s the first-person steam-train story, unless that’s the one you mean? Something to look into at the weekend! Haven’t read Steam Tactics, although was flicking through T&Ds just last night, will give it a go – thanks.

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    Yes: “Steam Tactics” and “Wireless”, 1902, “They” and Traffics and Discoveries 1904.

    And the story about the pirateship is 1895’s “The Devil and the Deep Sea”; 1897’s “.007” is about trains, and I should certainly post about it. Both are collected in 1898’s The Day’s Work

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    tom w on 18 May 2011 #

    I don’t know, but you might, if you’re feeling strong, care to look at the second section of a thing on ghost stories I wrote a while ago, a bit on Kipling. It’s only potentially of interest, because I was fascinated by the way Kipling yoked his love of the technological with the ghost story in The End of the Passage – in this case that symbol of rational verity, the Kodak camera.

    In fact, rather like MR James’ Casting the Runes (with its early film show), his story The End of the Passage, could be seen as a prototype for the Ringu movies.

    Sorry if this is gross ill-manners, the piece is very much tl;dr:


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    i’d love to! i’ve been meaning to start tying kipling’s ghost/horror stories into MRJ’s somewhere: “casting the runes” is next but one, i believe, though i’m not necessarily down to do it…

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    Alex on 18 May 2011 #

    See also “As Easy as ABC” and “With the Night Mail” – nuclear-powered airships and global technocratic authoritarian government. And he wrote a poem about submarine telecomms cables. He did quite a bit of science fiction and most of it is good.

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    Yes I plan to write something about those two also. I’m halfway through the last but one collection of short stories at the moment, but there’s lots to go back to.

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