This story was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 16 April 1887, and collected in the first edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888 and in subsequent editions of this collection.
Tods is a redoubtable six-year old in Simla, who – like many Anglo-Indian children of the time – speaks Urdu, and spends a lot of time talking to grooms and shop-keepers and other Indian people. Wakeful one night, he comes down and sits on his father’s knee during a dinner party, where there is talk of a new Bill on land-tenure. He pricks up his ears and tells the company, including the Legal Member of the Legislative Council of India, how
people in the bazaar are criticising the Bill. After Tods has gone to bed, the Legal Member decides that Tods’ points make sense. The Bill is amended, and Tods becomes a hero.
Roger Lancelyn Green, who wrote of this story in the ORG, says that Tods may well owe something to the character of the small son of Mrs Burton, who in later life maintained that he was the original of ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ in the story of that name, in which a similar little boy, loved by all, shows coolness and good sense in a tricky situation (see Kipling and the Children, p. 86). Mrs Isabella Burton, an amateur actress and wife of the dashing Major Francis Burton, played the leading role in “A Scrap of Paper” by Sardou – in which Kipling also had a part – at the New Gaiety Theatre at Simla in 1887. She shares the distinction, with Kipling’s mother, of being a model for Mrs. Hauksbee, and a dedicatee of Plain Tales from the Hills. The name ‘Tods’ may come from ‘Toddie’, a character in Helen’s Babies, by John Habberton (1877), who was occasionally so addressed by his brother.
Kipling wrote of small Anglo-Indian children in a number of other tales, including “The Son of his Father” in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, “His Majesty the King” in Wee Willie Winkie”, and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, also in Wee Willie Winkie, and in the first chapter of Something of Myself..
Some Critical Comments
Roger Lancelyn Greene saw the reproduction by Victorian authors of the conversation of small children for sentimental adults as an example of the ‘disease of language’ also expressed in the reproduction of dialects. In this case, mercifully, Tods, like Digby in the dog stories, is given fairly grown-up dialogue, unlike the excruciating coyness of “His Majesty the King”.
Edmund Gosse, one of the earliest commentators on Kipling’s work, calls this ‘a political allegory … and makes him (Tods) give a clear statement of collated native opinion worthy of a barrister in ample practice.’ [Questions at Issue, pp. 286 ff. 1893]
As Bonamy Dobrée points out [Dobrée 1967 p. 72], this story emphasises Kipling’s dislike of bureaucrats ‘..for their ignorance of the people they are supposed to administer…The Legal Member “did not know that no man can tell what natives think unless he mixes with them with the varnish off”.’