Teem — a Treasure Hunter

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the USA in 1935 as a copyright issue on 28 December (No. 90035) by Doubleday Doran & Co., then in The Atlantic Monthly for May 1936, and, in the United Kingdom, the Strand Magazine for January 1936, illustrated by S. Tresilian with nine pictures, some in colour; (Rudyard Kipling died on 18 January, 1936).

The story later appeared in various anthologies, including Collected Dog Stories (illustrated by Stampa), the Sussex Edition Volume 16, the Burwash Edition Volume 14, and Thy Servant a Dog and other Dog Stories (1938), from which we have taken the page and line references for the Notes on the Text in this Guide. This collection includes:

The story

Teem, a little French dog, endearing despite his high opinion of himself, has the gift of sniffing out truffles, a great and expensive delicacy, and indicating their whereabouts to his master, who digs them up for sale. He sells Teem to an Englishman, who takes him home on a cross-Channel ferry and is later involved in a car-accident whereby the dog escapes.

He is adopted by a charcoal-burner who does not recognise the truffles which the dog brings him and whose daughter is suffering from consumption. They are harassed by a couple of nurses who wish to place her in a sanatorium, a move which, assisted by the dogs, they resist. After various conversations with a sheepdog Teem finds more truffles which he takes to the local landowner, who recognises and buys them from the charcoal-burner. She dismisses the nurses who are also present.

With the money from the truffles the father is able to obtain medical attention for the girl and provide her with a shelter as she sleeps in the open air – the treatment for the disease at that time. The story ends with the patient beginning to recover from her complaint and her father, with the aid of the dog, operating a successful truffle-hunting business.

The story is written as if it were a literal translation from the French – without, however, the facetious tone of “The History of a Fall” (Abaft the Funnel) and at times appears somewhat stilted. It is not clear how Teem is able to understand English – he probably speaks Lingua canina (see the note on page 164 line 3) to the sheepdog, but, as in “A Deal in Cotton” and “Little Foxes” (both in Actions and Reactions) the reader is confronted by non-English speakers suddenly reporting conversations in that language. It would be rather small-minded, however, to question such intriguing stories on so unimportant a point.

Excellent truffles were gathered in Kipling’s day in his own county of Sussex, particularly around the village of Patching, as recounted on the website of the nearby village of

Critical comments

As the Kipling Journal reported in KJ 164 for December 1967, soon after its publication “Teem – a Treasure Hunter” became a subject of controversy. Is it simply a charming tale of a truffle-dog, or has it a deep symbolic meaning? Is it no more than the life-story of Teem as he discovers his metier, or is it a parable of Kipling’s own career in the Art of Letters? (See KJ December 1937 p. 75). C A Bodelsen, for example (pp. 79-80, Chapter V passim, and page 181 line 3 below) compares Teem’s art with that of the writer, and maintains that much of this story shows Kipling musing on his art
Harry Ricketts (p. 370), also takes the view that Teem: ‘is clearly a surrogate for Kipling himself – began his career abroad before being transported to his adopted country England, where his art was misunderstood. One passage was particularly suggestive about Kipling’s attitude to the nature and value of his gift…’

ORG Volume 6, p. 2920 has a long and interesting examination of the story by J.G. Griffin (see KJ 043/75 & 90) in which he likens the dog’s observations on Art as reflecting Kipling’s own views, but those who do not see any such message except his dictum that the work is the thing can still enjoy this as an interesting story in its own right. See also Dick Heldar’s views on Art expressed in The Light that Failed (pp. 126-133)

However Kipling’s daughter, Mrs. Bambridge, never had any doubts about
the matter since her father discussed it with her while he was writing it : ‘Teem was written as a straightforward story of a truffle-hunting dog,’ she says — and to support this view she has sent some previously unpublished letters from Kipling to the Journal to a M. Pierre Menanteau at Evreux in France, who sent him particulars of the training of truffle-dogs.

Andrew Lycett (p. 579) agrees with Mrs Bambridge, observing that the manuscript notes for the story, found in Durham University Library by Lisa Lewis (p.633) provide little support for this view.

Angus Wilson (p.335, passim) examines this story and others inspired by Kipling’s motor-tours in France after the 1914 War (“The Bull that Thought” in Debits and Credits, and “The Miracle of St. Jubanus” in Limits and Renewals)

For his early love of France, see Charles Carrington, p. 28 and Souvenirs of France.
See also Meryl Macdonald, The Long Trail, Chapter 12.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2008 All rights reserved