Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Boy Jack

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has any one else had word of him?”

Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,

This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

~Rudyard Kipling, 1915

Kipling wrote this poem titled "My Boy Jack" when his 18 year old son Jack (John) went missing in the Battle of Loos during World War I. I recently saw David Haig's adapted play based on that particular time of Kipling's life. In the play, David Haig himself plays Rudyard Kipling and Daniel Radcliffe plays young John Kipling.

There are several places where, I feel, the playwright has clearly gone overboard in dramatizing the story. Even if we do make an allowance that the play is a work of fiction, and thus deserves some artistic freedom, there are more than a few things that appear out of place. Rudyard Kipling is portrayed as a rather pompous, energetic man who does not seem to think twice before launching into a scathing attack on anyone (or anything). The play almost goes on to show how he pushes his son into the war and ultimately almost sacrifices him for the sake of his ideals. In my mind, I am unable to imagine the character in the play as the man who wrote the poem above. Rudyard Kipling was, first and foremost, a writer par excellence and therefore clearly must have been a better thinker than what is portrayed in the play. Also it is a widely held belief that he had a unique multicultural perspective on most things, in part attributed to his upbringing in culturally diverse environments across continents. These qualities are certainly apparent in the global appeal and recognition of his work. None of these characteristics are reflected in the Rudyard Kipling created by Haig.

Moving on, the character of Jack Kipling (Daniel Radcliffe) seems to be somewhat unidimensional. Subconsciously he is primarily concerned with only one thing - being able to emulate his father in greatness. This pitiable condition is brought up repeatedly, first with his failure during the eye exam, and then with his sheepish training as a soldier. Both the navy and the army first reject him for his myopic eyes but Rudyard used his enormous influence to get him into the army as a soldier. This pity for Jack reaches its crescendo when later he loses his spectacles during the battle, gets shot and is killed. The young boy's bravery in battle, and his untimely death, are used in the play for the ultimate goal of placing the blame squarely on Rudyard. In summation, the theme of the play is slowly built up to show just one thing - Rudyard Kipling's guilt for the death of his son. The play largely succeeds in this effort. I, however, still have my reservations about the need to do that in the first place.

My Boy Jack cover

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