Rudyard Kipling has left a plethora of fantastic writing behind him, ranging from his moralistic Just-So Stories and his beautiful and far-reaching collection of poems, to his delightful work for children. Each story in Puck of Pook’s Hill – which was first published in 1906, and is possibly the most charming novel which Kipling turned his hand to writing – ‘mixes war and politics with adventure and intrigue’.
The foreword to Hesperus Minor’s beautiful new reprint of Kipling’s classic children’s novel has been written by Marcus Sedgwick. He explains, first and foremost, that a puck is ‘an ancient creature of British mythology, a catch-all name for the “little people”, the fairy-folk, or the People of the Hills’.
The novel is comprised of short stories which relate to one another in terms of the central thread running through them, and which are separated by rousing poems. Surely such a format deems them perfect for bedtime reading. In the novel, we are introduced to siblings Una and Dan, who live in rural Sussex. On Midsummer’s Eve, whilst they are reciting – rather fittingly, one feels – the beautiful A Midsummer Night’s Dream to one another, using a fairy ring ‘of darkened grass’ as their stage, they manage to summon an elf named Puck, and ‘are taken on a fantastic journey through Britain’s past’. Kipling describes the little creature in rather a charming and vivid manner: all of a sudden, ‘in the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face’. Pook’s Hill, upon which the children sit, belong to Puck: ‘it is just that’, Sedgwick writes, ‘as the years go by, words and names change’.
The entirety of Puck of Pook’s Hill is filled with history. Una and Dan meet, amongst other figures of yore, a Roman Centurion and the knight Sir Richard, who came to England with William the Conqueror. Both figures tell many tales of their pasts. In this way, the book is both entertaining and educative, telling the story of Britain’s important past by way of events which are sure to pique the interest of children. Throughout, Kipling balances the adventurous tales with beautiful descriptions – for example, ‘The trees closing overhead made long tunnels through which the sunshine worked in blobs and patches’, and ‘the little voices of the slipping water began again’.
Puck of Pook’s Hill is of the rare kind of children’s literature, presenting as it does a story which will equally appeal to both boys and girls. It is filled to the brim with magic, folklore, ancient beings, other-worldly creatures, and two very endearing children. The charming story which Kipling has woven is ready to be rediscovered by a whole new generation of readers, who are sure to treasure it.