Is “Kipling’s World” a Key, a Mystery, or Both?

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 69, Summer 1996 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

Readers have often wondered what Walter Hooper’s motivation is, and of course no one knows. But C. S. Lewis gave us a possible insight to that mystery in his little-known 1948 essay “Kipling’s World,” in Selected Literary Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).

There Lewis analyzed his ambivalent response to Kipling: strong admiration and strong recoil. “To belong, to be inside, in the know, to be snugly together against the outsiders — that is what really matters; it is almost an accident who are cast for the role of outsiders…” “The great merit in Kipling is to have presented the magic of the Inner Ring in all its manifold workings for the first time.”

But Lewis finds Kipling’s world “a heavy, glaring, suffocating monstrosity” because Kipling cherished Inner Rings uncritically. Lewis says, “The spirit of the Inner Ring is morally neutral — the obedient servant of valour and public spirit, but equally of cruelty, extortion, oppression, and dishonesty.”

“Kipling seems unaware of this, or indifferent to it. He is the slave of the Inner Ring…. His comic stories are nearly all about hoaxes: an outsider mystified is his favourite joke.” In contemporary parlance, the Inner Ring syndrome (addiction to the pleasure of exclusion) may be the psychological motive behind some kinds of hoaxes.

As introduced by Walter Hooper in Selected Literary Essays, “Kipling’s World” (pp. 232-250) was first published in Literature and Life: Addresses to the English Association, vol. 1 (London, 1948), pp. 72-3. But in his cryptic fine-print footnote for “A Note on Jane Austen” (Selected Literary Essays, p. 186), Hooper mentions in passing that Lewis’s version of “Kipling’s World” is not the same as Hooper’s revised version. He neglects to mention this with the Kipling essay itself, and he gives no hint about the source or location of the later version or the nature and extent of the revisions.