Towards a New Readers’ Guide

a note from John Radcliffe

“The Enemies to Each Other” | “A Doctor of Medicine” | “Judson and the Empire”

As many members of the Kipling Society will be aware, the massive ‘Readers’ Guide to Rudyard Kipling’s Works’ was published over a period of eleven years between 1961 and 1972, in eight volumes containing over 4000 pages. For every tale and many poems it offered detailed notes, explaining to contemporary readers thousands of references which were familiar at the time of their first publication, but seemed obscure in the 1960s, twenty-five years after RK’s death, and eighty years after he had embarked on his writing career.

The Guide was the brainchild and creation of Reginald Harbord, the then Treasurer of the Society. It drew on the work of over 40 contributors from around the world, and included many previously unpublished minor writings of RK. It was a distillation of the expertise and judgement of Kipling scholars and enthusiasts of the day, and has been of immense value to students and readers ever since.

Because, however, the Guide was published privately, in an edition of only 100, which is now scattered world-wide, many members may well not have not seen the work, indeed some have asked whether the entire set could be produced as a CD-ROM, since even reference copies in University libraries are rare. Moreover today another forty years have passed since the first volumes of the Guide were written, scholarship has moved on, new material about RK’s life has come to light, many new books on him have been published, and many of the judgements and references made in the 1960s now seem outdated. The Society has therefore embarked on the massive task of producing a new Readers’ Guide, drawing on the old, but taking advantage of the insights and knowledge of scholars and enthusiasts since Harbord’s day.

We believe that the new Guide should be useful and attractive not only to the serious Kipling scholar, but to a wider public of Kipling readers. The aim will be to publish it initially on the World Wide Web rather than in print, although we do not rule out the possibility of a printed version in the future, if there is sufficient demand for it to support the cost. Publication on the Web should make it possible to avoid heavy printing costs, to make the Guide readily available throughout the world, to publish in stages as and when sections are produced, to keep it continuously up to date from month to month and year to year, and to make the new Guide – in effect – a continuing process of dialogue rather than a once-for-all publication. We would also use the Web for discussing drafts, and eliciting comments and suggestions as the project proceeds.

We have set up a small Project Group to serve as the main administrative body for the project, under the experienced chairmanship of George Webb. This group is already meeting every month or so, and will do the necessary planning and co-ordination, agreeing guidelines for Editors and other contributors, finding contributors, and reporting regularly to Council. We are also establishing a ‘General Editorial Board’ of Kipling Scholars and specialists to advise on the design of the project, on its editorial thrust as it develops, and on draft contributions as they emerge. It will not need to meet face to face, but will be consulted by letter and email.

We are dividing the editorial task into sections, covering the collections of stories, the novels, the collections of verse, and individual appendices on themes that relate to a number of different works. Thus – for example – there will be Editors for Debits and Credits, for Kim, for Barrack-Room Ballads, and for Musical Settings of RK’s verse, or RK and the Royal Navy.

We envisage including not only explanatory material on specific points in the text, but extracts from criticism, background material where necessary on the historical or social context, and a judicious amount of subjective editorial comment. Editors will need to be mindful of the need for adequate consistency of style, approach, and tone, from section to section, and of the fact that the work will be published in the name of the Society. To provide consistency and sound editorial standards, George Webb, as General Editor, is reviewing all the contributions in draft, and exercising ultimate editorial authority. We are providing ‘Guidelines for Editors’, which include rules on the ‘house style’ for the Guide.

We are under no illusions about the magnitude of this task, which will need to be a great collective endeavour by Kipling scholars and specialists around the world, and will probably take at least five years. We are very open to suggestions from members at this early stage of the project, and if you have thoughts about it or questions to ask, please send them to George Webb, at Weavers, Dane’s Hill, Woking, Surrey GU22 7HQ, or email to

We are also keen to track down as many as possible of the 100 sets of Harbord’s Guide. If you know of one it would be most helpful if you could let John Walker know, either by post at 72 Millbank, Headcorn, Ashford, KENT TN27 9RG, or by email to We will not, though, publicise the location of any privately held copies unless the owner is happy for us to do so.

We are trying out various ideas for format and layout before launching work on the main sections of the new Guide. So far these include sections on “Judson and the Empire”, “A Doctor of Medicine”, and “The Enemies to Each Other”.