There is something special about hearing a piece of writing exactly the way the author intended it to sound. That is not to say that all Englishmen sound the same (even though, admit it, they kind of do), but Ralph Fienne’s renditions of Rudyard Kipling’s most famous stories and tales add whatever the British version of je ne sais quoi is to an already touted collection of works.
And Kipling’s words deserve to be heard out loud because let’s face it: the written word has changed a lot in the past 150 years. Considering that the first English “novel” was Pamela from 1740 (less than 300 years ago!!) and we are currently celebrating such wackadoodle works as DeLillo’s The Body Artist, the rate of literary change is awfully quick. The things we loved over a century ago aren’t not necessary the things we look for in literary works today, which is why Kipling’s beloved children’s stories (and adult stories and poems and life works) aren’t always readily included in today’s average bookshelf – and that’s a shame.
Hearing them read aloud reignites the magic that folks in the late-19th century felt when reading his work.
Ralph Fiennes Kipling, from Orchid Classics
Hearing Kipling read aloud is interesting, sometimes fun and always shows off just how eloquent a wordsmith he was. The compilation starts with a selection from Something of Myself, evoking Kipling’s youth in India and his subsequent return to England for schooling. From there, the next 77 minutes weave throughout Kipling’s life and his best-known stories: Riki-Tiki-Tavi, How the Whale Got His Throat (my personal favorite), Kipling’s young-adult and adults years in and out of India, and his better known pieces about war. While much of Kipling’s work is uplifting and bright – it was written for children, after all – the bulk of Kipling is decidedly somber, particularly as the disc comes to an end with Letter to Brigadier L.C. Dunsterville and My Boy Jack.
The Dr. Seuss-ical nature of How the Whale next to the letter Kipling wrote to his son’s lieutenant after Jack did not make it out alive after WWI’s Battle of Loos best showcases just how broad a scope Kipling possessed.
“In the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes. He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel.”
-How the Whale Got His Throat
“It was a short life. I am sorry that all the year’s work ended in that one afternoon, but lots of people are in our position and it’s something to have bred a man. The wife is standing it wonderfully, though. She of course clings to the bare hope of his being a prisoner. I’ve seen what shells can do, and I don’t.”
-Letter to Brigadier L.C. Dunsterville
Ralph Fiennes: Simply Delicious
Orchard Classics strives for authenticity in these audio stories, situating Mr. Fiennes in Bateman’s, Kipling’s East Sussex home, even having him record My Boy Jack in the very room in which it was written. Fiennes is utterly spectacular as a narrator. He is versatile and able to create his characters without sounding contrived, managing to bring to life a snooty whale, clever mongoose, young soldier and emotionally tattered father believably and without strain.
His husky British brogue is not hard on the ears, either.
Giveaway: Kipling Could Be Yours
I can really say no bad things about Kipling which is why I want you to have a copy. For free, no less! Leave me a comment about your undying love for Rudyard (or potential to-be undying love, as it may be) and on December 9 I will select YOU to receive your very own copy.
Keep in mind this is the most perfectly perfect present for any pretentious, hard-to-please literary friends you may have (regardless of their perhaps overt liberal opinion of Kipling’s wrongful perpetuation of British imperialism).
If you’d rather have your own copy of Kipling for sure in time for the holidays (and not rely on my willy-nilly at-random drawings), it’s available through Amazon and the Orchid Classics website.