Review: Ralph Fiennes Kipling (Audio CD)
Today (November 1, 2010) sees Orchid Classics release Ralph Fiennes Kipling, an audio CD featuring some of Rudyard Kipling’s best known poetry and prose from The Jungle Book, Something of Myself, and The Just So Stories.
This was my listening experience.
After a little sitar music Ralph Fiennes begins his recitation of Kipling’s works with A Very Young Person from Something of Myself; an account of Kipling’s early life, beginning with his days as a child in Bombay, India, at the height of the British Empire. This opening highlights the deep effect that India had on the author’s future works, most notably Kim and The Jungle Book, whilst providing an interesting insight into the self-imposed distance between parents and their children within the wealthier families of the time.
Not that the young Rudyard was unloved, far from it as his memories of his parents as tender, kind and thoughtful testify. Of equal interest is how the young Kipling coped with bullying by using reading as an escape, with Robinson Crusoe and other classics of the time helping him through these tough times.
Music separates many of the readings, with Elgar’s quintessentially English sound often providing the ideal foil for the spoken word. After Enigma Variations, the tone lightens as Fiennes reads How the Whale got his Throat from The Just So Stories. This short tale shows Kipling at his most playful, having great fun with the story and the words within; enjoyment which is mirrored by Fiennes, whose relish and obvious enjoyment prove wholly infectious.
After La Capricieuse comes the much loved tale of Rikki Tikki Tavi from The Jungle Book. The adventures of a valiant young mongoose have long been a favourite of Kipling fans and will prove a highlight for many.
Seven Years Hard from Something from Myself returns the listener to India with Kipling now an adult. It is a heart-warming story, telling as it does of an idyllic family life with his parents. However, it does also tell of the hardships of life as an Englishman in India: the fever, the heat, the transport (or lack of it) and the nearness of death within the white community during regular typhoid outbreaks. Kipling is shown to be every bit as curious as Rikki Tikki Tavi and few will forget his mention of being shaved daily while still asleep!
The poem Danny Deever has Fiennes adopting an appropriate and fitting accent before returning to his own for a reading from Kim – arguably the greatest of Kipling’s prose fictions – from which is taken a passage about the pilgrimage of the Lama and his young disciple. They are walking down a section of the Grand Trunk road from Allahabad to Benares, which Kim sees as a ‘broad, smiling river’ of life, and Kipling shows how much of the real India could be seen on it.
And then we come to If… and if there is a more beautiful and influential poem comprising a father’s advice to a son then I have yet to read it. No matter how many times I read or hear this poem it never fails to stir, inspire and uplift.
The Very Own House tells of how the Kipling family came to Bateman’s, the place they would come to finally settle and call home (and where Fiennes read the audio CD). The Way Through the Woods is prose of great beauty.
The shadow of the First World War hovers over the final quarter of the readings. In 1915, at the Battle of Loos, Kipling’s son Jack was reported missing in action and the Letter to Brigadier L.C. Dunsterville is, considering the circumstances, almost impossible to listen to, showing Kipling to be heartbreakingly pragmatic whilst displaying great pride in his son. The poem My Boy Jack is again an almost unbearable listen, written by a grieving father feeling guilt at having helped his son gain the commission he was originally refused on the grounds of poor eyesight. Once letter and poem are complete Elgar’s Nimrod allows for a time of quiet reflection before the reading comes to a close with Cities and Thrones and Powers.
Rudyard Kipling was a wordsmith, a creator of wonderful tales and a caring man who loved and was loved in return. His life in India and the death of his boy Jack were huge influences upon his life and work and this is what Ralph Fiennes’s reading brings across with most strength. I would recommend this audio CD most highly to all lovers of Kipling and his works as it shows this truly remarkable man from all angles.