My Lord the Elephant

(notes edited by Peter Havholm)


First published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 27th and 28th December, 1892. Also appeared in the Bombay Gazette. It appeared in the United States in a periodical called Two Tales (20 December 1892) with a story by another author, and was then printed in Macmillan’s Magazine for January 1893. By date of appearance it is the sixteenth of the eighteen stories about the ‘Soldiers Three’.

It is collected in:

  • Many Inventions, page 43
  • Scribner’s Edition, Volume II, page 263
  • Sussex Edition, Volume V, page 47
  • Burwash Edition, Volume V

There is a manuscript version of this story in the British Library titled “The Visitation of the Sick” watermarked 1890 (Add. MS 45541, ff. 1-12 [rectos only]. See Richards, B9). Once again, Kipling must have revised the story in London with three audiences in mind: Anglo-Indian, English, and American.

There are various editions of Many Inventions, including this story, available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.

The story

This is a tale in two parts. The first, told by Mulvaney, recounts how on his way to jail as a defaulter, he and his escort had encountered an enraged elephant. He is released to run for his life, and is chased by the elephant into a compound full of carriages, where he dashes up the stairs to the roof. He finds a bottle of brandy, which he quaffs copiously, and – his spirits up – slides down onto the elephant’s back. The elephant charges off, and Mulvaney tries to stop him by hammering him on the head with his rifle butt. Eventually the elephant calms down, and when two other elephants are brought out to subdue him, Mulvaney waves them away, slides to the ground and confronts the defeated beast. Full of fellow-feeling Mulvaney makes much of the elephant, and thereafter the two of them become good friends until their paths divide in the way of the Army.

In the second part, told by Ortheris, an army corps on the march in the Tangi Pass is blocked because one of their elephants is refusing to cross over a bridge. His driver says that the elephant wants to see his friend before going on, and there is a frantic search for anyone that might know him. Mulvaney, in his hospital bed, claims to know an elephant, is brought out, and greets his old sparring-partner. He is hoisted onto the elephant’s back, and the corps marches on, with much relief.
Angus Wilson calls this one of Kipling’s ‘purely comic series of situation farces in Laurel and Hardy style…’

[P. H.]

©Peter Havholm 2007 All rights reserved