Garm – a Hostage

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe0


First published in the Saturday Evening Post of 23 December 1899, then in Pearson’s Magazine of January 1900. It was collected in Actions and Reactions in 1909, where it was accompanied by the poem “The Power of the Dog” [ORG Verse number 931].

It is also to be found in Collected Dog Stories and anthologies of various dates.

Actions and Reactions is available in various paperback editions, and on Kindle, from Amazon.

The story

One night, the narrator encounters his friend Private Stanley Ortheris, very drunk and disorderly and in danger of imminent arrest. He takes him home, and sends him back in the morning, clean and tidy, with a disarming note to his officer which wards off punishment. Three days later Stanley comes to call, bringing his magnificent bull-terrier, whom he insists on leaving as a hostage for his good behaviour.

After the bull-terrier has rescued his own little dog, Vixen, from a pack of savage strays, the narrator christens him “Garm”, after the legendary Garm of the Bloody Breast. He takes Garm into his household, where he behaves in exemplary fashion, revealing himself to be an exceptionally intelligent dog, of fine character. But he pines for Stanley, who secretly comes to visit him rwo or three times a week. Then Stanley falls ill, and the longer dog and man are away from one another, the sadder and weaker they become.

When the hot weather comes, Stanley is sent off to the hills with a group of invalids. Garm falls into a decline, and seems likely to die of a broken heart. Fortunately the narrator is able to follow him some weeks later. This time, when they meet again, Stanley agrees to take Garm back, and they are happily reunited.


Charles Carrington (p. 476) writes oi Kipling’s dog storues:

It is an old joke in the book trade that two classes of books will always find a market in England, books about doctors and books about dogs. After his medical stories Rudyard indeed turned to the other category and enjoyed his last success with dog stories, in a new mode.

He had always been a dog-lover and, from his earliest days as a writer, had introduced some favourite dogs into his stories about people. In ‘Garm, a Hostage’ and ‘The Dog Hervey’, the dogs had been among the leading characters, but dogs seen through the human eye. His beasts, in the Jungle Books and elsewhere, had been treated allegorically, in another traditional style, as characters personi­ fied appropriately, like Circe’s swine, in S?me animal garb that suited them.

Thy Servant a Dog, published in 1930, was not a beast fable in the conventional form, but a genuine attempt to present a dog’s point of view, in a simplified vocabulary which seemed ad quate to a dog’s intelligence, an experiment in the rudiments of language.


Further reading


[J H McG/J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radecliffe 2006 All rights reserved