The Puzzler

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


First published in London in the Tribune of January 15 and 16, 1906 and at the same time in the North American, Philadelphia and then Colliers Weekly of 17 February, 1905. It was collected in Actions and Reactions, 1909.

The Story

The narrator drives across Sussex with his friend Penfentenyou, a colonial statesman, to track down a distinguished judge. Lord Lundie, at his weekend retreat. Penfentenyou needs to consult him on an important issue of policy. They happen on the judge, with two friends, scrutinising a fine ‘Monkey Puzzle’ tree, and speculating on whether it would actually puzzle a monkey.

An Italian organ-grinder appears on the scene, and the three entice his monkey to try to climb the tree, but unfortunately it breaks into an empty house through the window. They rescue the monkey, but are caught – like naughty schoolboys – by the lady of the house, who is just moving in, and is furious. Penfentenyou, seeing that this is an emergency, saves the day by persuading her that the three have rescued her children from a dangerous beast.

The narrator and Penfentenyou, weak with laughter, introduce themselves to the delinquent three, and retire to the judge’s house. Soon Lord Lundie is pressing Penfentenyou’s case in the corridors of power, with great effect.

Critical comments

Angus Wilson (p. 251) believes the country in question to be Canada (‘De Thouar’s first Administration’, line 3′) even though it is called a ‘colony’ while Canada had in fact, been a self-governing ‘Dominion’ since 1867. Wilson points the moral: Whatever else, the Imperial countries must stand together for the practical reason of defence against common enemies.

See J M S Tompkins Chapter 2 on “Laughter” (p. 33) for an examination of this and other humorous stories and verses.
Lord Birkenhead (p. 309) is not an admirer:

… to the fastidious reader the note is jarring, vulgar and percussive and was to be repeated in such stories as “My Sunday at Home”, “The Vortex”, and “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat”

[The first of these is collected in The Day’s Work and the latter two in A Diversity of Creatures.

Thurston Hopkins, however (p. 250) is more appreciative:

… You may seek samples of his quaint humour in ”The Puzzler” … and in the verses of the same title Kipling deals with the cautions and sullen Englishman with a fund of humorous observation.


[J H McG/J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2006 All rights reserved