kipling the esoteric: the a.r.k. man

by Art Chantry ( )

rudyard kipling is a very famous name in literature. for instance, he was the very first english speaking recipient (and the youngest) of the nobel prize in literature (1907). we all studied him and his work in lit classes forever. much has been made of his establishment imperial politics and his love of the trappings of empire (he was called ‘the prophet of british imperialism’, yet several times turned down knighthood.) his short stories, poems, novels and children’s books have been in print since the day he wrote them and hollywood has made mucho hay with adaptations of his work (gunga din, the man who would be king, mandalay, kim, white man’s burden, if -, and then there is disney’s ‘the jungle book’.) he even helped to introduce the new genre of ‘science fiction’ with a few of his short stories, placing him very the near the primordial pioneers of that most popular of genre styles. he lived a long life and died in 1936, just as hitler’s germany was surging.

---uh, after re-reading this, i think i may have gotten it backwards. the original 'swirl' direction of the manji is clockwise. hitler's swastika was counter-clockwise (i THINK.) i sorta have a hard time telling my left from right hand, too. it gets worse as i get older.--- AC

his father, lockwood kipling, was a noted sculptor who relocated to bombay (mumbai), india, to found and run the J.J. school of art and industry, where he was also the dean of the school of architectural sculpture. so, young rudyard kipling was born into a powerful privileged family at the height of british imperial colonization. his earliest job in the written form was as a young journalist for the india ‘Pioneer’ paper from the ages of 17-23. soon after that he moved home to england where he spent the rest of his career and life, only returning one more time to india to bury his parents. the the bulk of his career was writing from memory.

kipling is an extremely well known and hyper-famous writer. but, not many folks know that he was also a very talented and interesting illustrator, too. for instance, he drew this image i show you that is used on his “just so stories” collection book jacket (he didn’t add the color, however. his originals were b&w.) this drawing is taken from a story inside and is one of many many many b&w wood cuts he created to illustrate his stories. they are quite remarkable not only for their style and craftsmanship, but also for all sorts of esoteric content. i’ve never been able to figure out what kipling’s religious views were, but he seemed to at the very least, believe in reincarnation (not uncommon for brits back then who were exposed to the “orientalism’ infatuation of the times.) it’s known that the india Pioneer newspaper (where he started out) was very sympathetic to the theosophical movement of madame blavatsky and her cohorts just as their efforts and popularity were peaking in the east (as well as the west). theosophy was extremely controversial and active in india while kipling was there. so, his direct contacts with and understanding of eastern and crackpot religions is still open to debate.

it is also well documented that kipling was a devoted masonic master at a very young age, even before he left india. all of these esoteric areas of metaphysical interest seem to confound the young kipling and affected his world view profoundly. strangely, it’s not so powerfully evidenced in his writing, but certainly and most obviously in his illustration work. it’s really weird stuff.

for starters, the imagery he mixes together to illustrate his extremely popular (still) “just so stories” is a fantastical polyglot of styles and philosophies. some of the images he mixes together come from opposite continents and biblical fantasy and even hopi and african influences are everywhere. there are symbols dropped in that evoke powerful reactions in the viewer mind. when you see indian elephants prancing with zebras among date palms in front of japan’s mt. fuji with egyptian hieroglyphs and celtic runes peppered throughout the picture? well, it gets odd fast.

then, there is his obsession with noah’s ark. his actual ‘signature’ that he sneaks into every single illustration in the book (sometimes as part of the actual subject matter) is a depiction of his initials that form a chinese (or perhaps mayan) arch – that evokes the ‘ark of the covenant’, no less. however, they’re NOT his initials at all. the ARK of the monogram contains his middle initial and the initial of his last name (“RK”), but his first name was “joseph”. so, it didn’t his monogram/signature begin with an “J”? so, how come he uses the initials “A.R.K.” in his monogram signature? and then why draw an actual image of noah’s ark over the front of that monogram? and, further, then why does he sneak in a ‘noah’s ark’ repeatedly whenever he can cheat it into the images? i dunno. it’s all so mysterious.

his actual drawing style is also evocative of the age and of the more mystical artists of the period than himself. there’s a heavy dose of arthur rackham, obvious nods to aubrey beardsley and even a certain amount william blake sifting though his work. it highly knowledgeable of his contemporaries and their ideas and also evokes the acceptable victorian obsession with ‘orientalism’ (exotica) that was standard practice of his illustrative era. but, there are also images in his illustrations that sort of blow my mind out the window. they are so modern and abstract that they look like surrealist imagery that max ernst may have executed. really amazingly smart stuff (and utterly strange) . the guy was no slouch – i imagine his father (the art teacher) saw to that. and yet, i’ve not been able to find ANY acknowledgement of kipling’s work as even existing. i did trip across one small mention of his ‘illustration’ in a photo caption on the net. that’s it. so, why not?

well, he peppered his work with swastikas (actually called ‘manji’ in india.) in fact, he used it on the original embossed foil image on the cover of his “just so stories” first edition. it featured a circle with a beautifully sculpted elephant’s head with a swastika (manji) floating above it. he later even used a swastika in his personal monogram/signature (above his autograph). ‘manji’ pop up through out his illustration work (next to runes, hieroglyphs and arks.) maybe this freaked out the critics and historians and the publishing world. he was reaching senior statesman status during the rise of the third reich and paranoia was rampant. he actually voluntarily removed all manji from his books and publicly denounced fascism. yet, he became inked to it just the same – against his will.

in all honesty, this swastika we all see as the ultimate image of evil incarnate has been around since the dawn of mankind. every culture that ever evolved on any continent on earth had a swastika in it’s visual lexicon. it represented the ‘gestalt’, the swirl of the

erse, the whirlpool of life , all that good positive brotherhoodly crap. it most commonly used with a counterclockwise turn in the swirl, and this was the ‘manji’ that kipling used as his personal mark and in his illustration. but, i doubt during those heated days, most people could understand or even see the difference. we can’t even today.

when hitler chose a logo for his third reich corporation, he ran through a large number of possibilities. i’ve seen hitler’s sketches for possible logo selection from among ancient symbology (as was his ‘genius’ and an art director). it was obvious in his sketches that he favored the manji (swastika) above the others. but, still, he managed to DRAW IT BACKWARDS! he, in essence REVERSED the original meaning of the symbol, and developed it in a clockwise swirl – thus accidently(?) symbolically inverting the meaning from a symbol of the togetherness of the cosmos into what? the opposite of that? really? not bad, adolf. was that intentional, freudian or just plain stupid? we’ll never know.

so, i think poor rudyard kipling’s art career was thwarted by several things, not the least of which was the association of his intense mystical symbology with the fascism of germany. it must have really pissed off all those parents who bought the book for their kiddies only to see them staring at swastikas for hours. i wonder if adolf’s folks bought him a copy of ‘just so stories’ when he was a toddler, eh?

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to kipling the esoteric: the a.r.k. man

  1. Rev. Guido S. DeLuxe says:

    actually, the word “manji” is a chinese word. the sanskrit (indian) word is “swastika” and the german word is “hakenkreuz”…

    and to the hindu (indian) and chinese, it doesn’t matter whether the swastika (or manji) is right-handed or left-handed, it still represents the same thing, namely good luck, love, peace and auspiciousness… even still, today, the swastika is used in india and asia with no nazi overtones whatsoever. it is only in the (dare i say ignorant) west that the swastika has any negative connotations, and that is usually whether it has nazi connotations or not… people in the united states are SO ignorant…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>