Somerset Maugham once described Rudyard Kipling as ‘our greatest short story writer’, adding, ‘I can’t believe he will ever be equalled. I am sure he will never be excelled.’ Known by many only for The Jungle Book and the Just So stories, Kipling’s range was in fact much wider. Most readers will be familiar with his stories about India and many know of his adventure tale, ‘The Man who would be King’ which was made into a record-breaking film, but how many are aware of his horror stories like ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’, his ghost stories like ‘They’, his mystery stories like ‘The Wish House’, his revenge stories like ‘Dayspring Mishandled’, or the enigmatical, ‘Mary Postgate’? All can be found in this anthology of sixteen of his favourite Kipling stories. It comes with an introductory essay by Brian Harris setting the author against the background of his family, his school and his times, confronting head-on such issues as his political and religious views and his supposed racialism. After posing the question, why should we read Kipling today, Mr Harris answers, ‘Here is someone who paid the respect that is due, but not always accorded even now, to the alien, the poor and the oppressed. As the unofficial spokesman of the greatest empire in the history of the world he described accurately and sympathetically the lives of the peoples living under its jurisdiction. Though no orthodox believer, he prized and in his writings illustrated the great Christian virtues of charity, compassion and forgiveness, as well as the more modest British virtue of toleration. Nor is it possible to read his stories without being surprised by the light they so often throw on the eternal mysteries of love, pain and loss. Ultimately, however, we read him, as our parents did before us, for sheer enjoyment. The Two-Sided Man comes hard on the heels of Mr Harris’ anthology of Kipling’s poetry (‘The Surprising Mr Kipling’)
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