His Majesty the King

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This story was first published in The Week’s News of 5 May 1888, and in Volume VI of The Indian Railway Library the same year. It was included in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories, published in 1890, and in numerous later editions of that collection.

The story

Little Toby, ‘His Majesty the King’, is the neglected six-year-old child of an estranged couple. He is desperate to earn his mother’s affection, and be loved, as his friend Patsie is loved by her mother. Attracted by the pretty string, the child intercepts a jewel in a parcel addressed to his mother, containing a curt note that would have widened the breach between his parents had it been delivered. When, later, this comes to light the affair is revealed, and the parents are reconciled.

Some critical comments

This is the other story about angel-children that Carrington (p. 102) does not look upon with much favour. (see the notes on “Wee Willie Winkie” earlier in this volume.
Martin Fido (p. 13) calls this story, with “Wee Willie Winkie” and “Tods’ Amendment” (Plain Tales from the Hills), ‘stickily sentimental’ but notes that Tods, also six years old, speaks better English than Toby and, like Percival William Williams, is obviously more advanced. See KJ141/21 for brief but interesting remarks by Roger Lancelyn Green.

The story is also another experiment in phonetics. The child is unable to pronounce ‘th’ and so lisps in what some may see as a very irritating manner, either from a lack of front teeth or some defect of the palate which will – one hopes – disappear when he is older.
See Thy Servant a Dog for another essay in simple language and limited vocabulary that might be used by a dog and the soldier stories for representations of Cockney, Yorkshire and Irish accents which some commentators consider to be successful. On this point,Harry Ricketts (page 114) comments: “his development of Mulvaney’s Irish brogue, of Learoyd’s Yorkshire dialect and of the clipped tones of his Anglo-Indian civilians was an impressive achievement.” Others have found it merely irritating. The Cambridge Guide to English Literature (1983 page 486) found it “wearisome, leaving the storyteller’s art too far behind.”
Marghanita Laski (page 130) sees his children of being of “more or less insufferable sentimentality” , while Hilton Brown (page 124) calls it “perhaps a rather nonsensical tale”. Some modern readers will probably agree with both sentiments, even though these stories give us an interesting glimpse of the social history of the period. See also Kipling’s India, ed. Pinney (page 12) for British children at Simla.

An interesting examination of some of Kipling’s stories of children, as well as other works, is contained in

Kipling the Story–writer

by Walter Morris Hart [University of California Press, Berkeley (1918)]. Hart examines Kipling’s device of the imperfectly informed narrator, as in this story, where we read much more than the child hero into the incidents which he observes (page 87). He compares this story, a study in the unconscious yet beneficent influence of a child, with La Dame en Blanc, in Anatole France’s Livre de Mon Ami (page 15n)

[J McG]