Dennis writes about a book that made a profound impact upon him when he was young. What books hit you that way? Send your own “Kiplings” to us for sharing in upcoming “Book Nook” features.
KIPLING: PATRON SAINT OF OUTSIDERS AND MISFITS
By Dennis Greene
An anonymous joke about Kipling goes like this:
He: Do you like Kipling?
She: I don’t know, I have never kippled.
Not the greatest joke, but I would have answered differently. I do like Kipling, and I will explain why–but first, you need to know a little about me.
At seven years old, I was uprooted from my comfortable neighborhood in Queens and replanted in a rundown section of New Bedford, Massachusetts. As the smallest, youngest kid in the third grade at Harrington School, and the only Jewish kid in this multi-ethnic, very brown-skinned school, I felt unwelcome and ignored. When my mom tried to nudge me toward the kids in the nearby Jewish community, I found no welcome there either. I was the strange kid from the “bad” neighborhood who didn’t know how to fit in. After a series of painful attempts to become part of this community, I ceased trying. I turned to books, movies, and TV for company.
This is where Sir Rudyard Kipling comes in. I don’t know who first suggested I read The Jungle Book, but my well-worn 1955 Book-of the Month Club “bonus edition” still occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf. Mowgli, the little lost Indian boy, is unlike any other creature in the Seonee Hills. At the beginning of the tale, he is a complete outsider, but with the help of Baloo, the wise old bear, and Bagheera, the formidable black panther, he becomes a member of the wolf pack and, over time, becomes accepted and admired by all the jungle inhabitants. Bagheera, Mowgli’s fierce mentor and protector, had also begun his life as a stranger in the Seonee Hills.
As a fellow outsider, I felt a strong kinship with Mowgli. Soon after reading The Jungle Book. I saw the movie version of Kipling’s Kim, in which an orphan British child in India, who initially is a misfit in his school and an alien among the native population, is able, with the encouragement of a British soldier and spy (played by Errol Flynn) to become “a friend to all the world.”
Based on these two works, I would designate Kipling as the patron saint of “outsiders and misfits.” Rudyard Kipling’s ability to portray the outsider was due to both his extraordinary talent as a writer and his own experience. He was an outsider, first as a British boy born and living in India, and then as an Indian-born young man in a brutal English boarding school.
Inspired by these stories, I went on to discover other literary role models, like Tarzan of the Apes, and John Carter of Mars, both of whom entered their strange worlds naked, different, and alone but eventually earned honored places in their adopted homes.
It took me eight years to shed my outsider status and, like Mowgli, become accepted by a “pack” aquiring friends among many different and diverse groups. I have never again felt as lonely and disconnected as I did during those early years in New Bedford, but as film director and producer Tim Burton observed, “If you’ve ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you.”
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
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