Puck of Pook’s Hill: Very valuable

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Rudyard Kipling Puck of Pook's HillPuck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling

The Sword Gave the Treasure, and the Treasure Gave the Law…

Puck of Pook’s Hill is certainly not as famous as Rudyard Kipling’s earlier works The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, or even The Complete Stalky and Co.. First published in 1906, it was his final novel (only an anthology of short stories came after it) and it is certainly an odd specimen of a book.

Siblings Una and Dan are in the right place at the right time when they perform their abridged version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and find that they have unknowingly called up the very cheerful, very English spirit of Puck. Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow) introduces Dan and Una to a variety of figures that he plucks out of time in order to tell tales of England’s history to the children. These include a Norman knight, a Roman legionary and a Jewish money-lender, all of whom lived and participated in turning-points of English history, such as the Norman Conquest, the defense of Hadrian’s Wall and the signing of the Magna Carter.

It is not an adventure story, as one might expect from Kipling’s previous works of fiction, rather it is made up of episodic stories told by the visitors from England’s past. Framed by the fairytale-esque meeting with Puck, the bulk of the novel concerns the stories told in first-person narrative to the children. Dan and Una are passive listeners, though we do get some glimpses of the world through their eyes, as we discover that they’ve given nicknames to most of the landmarks around their home. This links into the general theme of the book as a whole: that of the consistency and changefulness of England itself. One can sense Kipling’s great love of the country in the way with which he describes it: full of mystery and beauty.

The most interesting fragments are Puck’s abridged history on his own people, the fairies or “People of the Hills” as he prefers. As someone who dislikes the sweet and precious portrayal of fairies that became so prevalent during and after the Victorian Era, I got a kick out of Puck’s opinion on the matter: “the People of the Hills don’t care to be confused with that painty-winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set of imposters!”

Also interesting are several recognizable elements that pop up later in the works of C.S. Lewis. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia once cited Rudyard Kipling as an inspiration to him, and there are several passages that have a familiar echo of his later books. Puck calls the children “Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve,” for example, and particular emphasis is put on the village of Pevensey, where most of the historical action takes place. Perhaps the surname of “Pevensie” for Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy was derived from this — it seems a rather large coincidence otherwise!

But by today’s standards, it’s difficult to tell whether it still has appeal and relevance for a general reading audience. The language has certainly dated, and it’s undeniable that the story itself is unusual, with none of the timelessness of The Jungle Book. It’s almost as if Kipling had a range of unconnected stories concerning English history that he wanted told, and so used the conceit of Puck as a vehicle in presenting them (along with a series of poems interspersed between chapters, many of which are lovely, and yet still rather piecemeal). However, as a classic book of early children’s literature it is very valuable, and open-minded children may find it intriguing, particularly those who are showing the early signs of being future history-buffs.

Puck of Pook’s Hill — (1906) Ages 9-12. Publisher: When Dan and Una stage a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a fairy ring, they are astonished by the appearance of Puck in person. He explains that he is the last of the People of the Hills, and leads the children in a series of extraordinary historical adventures.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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