This story was first published in the Strand Magazine of January 1906, and the Ladies’ Home Journal for the same month. It was collected in Puck of Pook’s Hill in 1906 and in numerous subsequent editions of that collection. It was accompanied by two poems, “Puck’s Song” and “A Tree Song”.
The setting is Bateman’s, Kipling’s family home in the Weald of Sussex in southern England. Dan and Una, who are based on Kipling’s own children, are performing the ‘fairy’ scenes from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer Eve, sitting in a fairy ring under Pook’s Hill. By doing so they have unwittingly ‘broken the hills’, summoning up Puck, the last of the fairies – or ‘People of the Hills’ as he prefers – to stroll out of his hill and make friends with them.
Establishing the frame in which the later stories are set, he gives them the right to meet some of the many people who have lived here in their valley in the past, ‘though it shall have happened three thousand year’,
He begins by telling them the story of Weland’s Sword, made by the Old God ‘Wayland Smith’ at his forge nearby, for Brother Hugh, a young Saxon novice monk, later to become a knight. Hugh will figure in the three tales that follow, as will his magical sword, a symbol of the temporal power through which the land of England is taken and forged into unity.
For the central motif of this story – the gods in exile – see the introduction. Kipling handles it (more heavily) in the first of the Mowgli stories to be published: “In the Rukh” (Many Inventions, 1893), which alludes to Heine. There is a discussion of the theme and relevant notes by W. W. Robson in his World’s Classics edition of The Jungle Books,
(pages xiv-xv and 371-3)
Notes on the Text
[Page 5, line 1] The children were at the Theatre Elsie Kipling records:
“One summer in the early 1900s we children and my father acted scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Our stage was an old grass-grown quarry and there my brother as Puck, myself as Titania, and my father as Bottom, rehearsed and acted happily. A most realistic cardboard donkey’s head had been donned by Bottom for his part, and the village policeman, passing along the lane, was amazed to see the familiar tweed-clad figure of my father topped by this extraordinary headgear.
This was the first beginning of the stories that afterwards became Puck of Pook’s Hill.”
(Epilogue to Carrington, page 588.)
[Page 6, line 9] Bath Oliver A classic English dry biscuit, baked to a recipe from the 18th century. It is still sold in supermarkets today.
[Page 6, line 24] the difficult piece Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, III. i. 158 f.
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman;
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;
Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
The honey-bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night-tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glow-worm’s eyes,
To have my love to bed and to arise;
And pluck the wings from Painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes:
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies.
[Page 7, line 8] What hempen homespuns Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, III. i. 71-4.
What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?
What, a play toward! I’ll be an auditor;
An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause.
`swore a full great othe
By oake and ashe and thorne’.
Philip Holberton has suggested that Kipling may also have found it in Charles Kingsley’s novel Westward Ho! In chapter 2: ‘Sir Richard swore a great and holy oath, like Glasgerion’s, “by oak and ash and thorn.” ‘. He points out that Kipling certainly knew the book by 1893 when he wrote “An English School”, see Land and Sea Tales page 255, line 15.
[Page 8, line 10] Merlin the mysterious wizard and adviser to King Arthur in the Arthurian legends. The classic English version of these is by Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1405-1471) in the Le Morte DArthur.
[Page 9, line 13] couldn’t abide Salt … Cold Iron traditional charms against fairies and/or barriers they cannot pass. The last of these provides a central motif for the opening story of the same name in Rewards and Fairies.
[Page 9, line 27] `Farewell Rewards and Fairies’ seventeenth-century lyric by Bishop Richard Corbett (1582-1635). Printed in Percy’s Reliques (3rd ser., Bk. 2) where it follows pieces on `Robin Good-fellow’ and `The Fairy Queen’.
[Page 11, line 10] Stonehenge The great stone circle on Salisbury plain in southern England, first built some five thousand years ago.
[Page 11, line 12] Chanctonbury Ring in West Sussex; site of an Iron Age fort on the north edge of the South Downs.
[Page 11, line 33] Hobden the hedger Kipling’s archetypal figure of the enduring Sussex countryman; for the fullest celebration of him see the poem “The Land” in A Diversity of Creatures.
[Page 12, line 15] take seizin to be put in legal possession of a feudal holding; to be established in a holding or an office or a dignity. Marc Bloch in his Feudal Society (Eng. trans. 1962, page 115) defines seisin as: “not exactly possession, which the mere seizure of the land or the right would have sufficed to create. It was possession made venerable by the lapse of time.”
[Page 14, line 1] Djinns and Afrits supernatural beings in The Arabian Nights.
[Page 14, line 17] Sir Huon In the fifteenth-century French prose romance Huon of Bordeaux, the hero, having mortally offended the Emperor Charlemagne, is sent on a mission designed to be fatal: to go to Babylon and bring back, among other things, a handful of the beard and four teeth of its Admiral, Gaudyse. Befriended by Oberon, the King of fairyland, Huon succeeds in his mission, wins the Admiral’s daughter Esclaramonde, and is made King of fairyland by Oberon, on the latter’s death. The romance, deriving from older poems, was translated into English by Lord Berners in the early sixteenth century. Cf. “Cold Iron” in Rewards and Fairies, where Huon’s lady appears as ‘Esclairmonde’.
[Page 14, line 18] Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. In Malory and others the birthplace of King Arthur.
[Page 14, line 19] Hy-Brasil a paradisal western land in Celtic myth.
[Page 15, line 9] Phoenicians…came to buy tin The Phoenicians, from the coast of what is now the Lebanon, were notable traders and seafarers in ancient times.
[Page 15, lines 10-12] Gauls…Jutes…Danes…Frisians…Angles
These were all peoples who had settled in Britain between around 200 BC and 800 AD. The Gauls, Celtic people from what is now France, had had close relations with the Celtic British before the Romans first came in 54 BC. The Jutes, Frisians, Angles, and Danes, were Germanic peoples from the north-western coasts of Europe, who settled in Britain between the fifth and nineth centuries after the imperial Roman garrisons were withdrawn/
[Page 15, line 24] People burned in wicker baskets A method of execution – or sacrifice – said to have been practised by the Britons in pre-Roman times.
[Page 15, line 29] stiff-necked cf. e.g. Exodus 32,9; Deuteronomy 9,6 or 10,16; Acts 7,51.
[Page 16, line 9] Belisama Celtic river goddess, identified with Minerva by the Romans.
[Page 16, line 21] Thor hammer-wielding god of sky and thunder in Norse myth.
[Page 16, line 18] Weland also Wayland; in Scandinavian, German, and Anglo-Saxon legend a smith of outstanding skill. His story is told in the thirteenth-century Icelandic Elder Edda and referred to in the Anglo-Saxon poems “Waldere”, “Deor”, and “Beowulf”. In no version is he a god. English legend connects him with a stone burial chamber near White Horse Hill, Berkshire.
[Page 16, line 22] Heroes of Asgard by A. and E. Keary (1857). Asgard was the city of the Gods in Norse myth.
[Page 17, line 1] Pevensey Pevensey lies on the Sussex coast, some twelve miles south-east of Kipling’s house at Burwash. Much of that coast is protected by high chalk cliffs, and because of the low-lying terrain of the Pevensey level this was a natural point for an invader to land armies. It was defended by a strong castle as early as Roman times.
[Page 17, line 7] Brunanburgh name of a battle (937) in which the Saxons defeated an invasion of Scots and Norsemen. The AngloSaxon poem celebrating the victory was translated by Tennyson.
[Page 17, line 10] Peofn’s men see the Introduction.
[Page 19, line 12] The Conquest Puck is referring to the Norman Conquest in 1066, when William Duke of Normandy landed his army across the Pevensey levels. defeated the Saxon forces at the Battle of Hastings (October 14 1066), and made himself King of England. Hastings is an ancient fishing port on the coast; but the battle actually took place some six miles inland, on a Wealden ridge which became known as ‘Senlac’ – lac de sang in French means ‘lake of blood’ – and on which an Abbey, and later a town, both known as ‘Battle’, were later built.
[Page 20, line 32] Valhalla in Norse myth, the hall where slain warriors feast and engage in daily battle. As the context indicates, it is not being used very precisely here.
[Page 21, line 12] Weald Clay The Weald of Sussex is a tract of low-lying country, running from east to west, well-wooded, and with a heavy clay soil, with chalk hills (the Downs) on either side. The Kipling house at Bateman’s lies in the Weald. Its ancient oak forests provided fuel for smelting iron from the beginning of the Iron Age.
[Page 24, line 18] Runes the letters of an incised angular script used among the Germanic peoples. They have early associations with magic which survive into e.g. some of the Norse sagas. As the context indicates, such associations are present here.
[Page 25, line 1] garth a small piece of enclosed ground, used as a yard, garden, or paddock. The Oxford English Dictionary records a late-nineteenth-century usage where it is short for `cloister-garth’.
[Page 25, line 1] ‘Late-late in the evening’ from Kilmeny, one of the inset narratives in The Queen’s Wake by James Hogg (1770-1835). The eponymous heroine, carried away into fairyland, returns briefly after a seven-year absence; then:
It wasna her home, and she couldna remain;
She left this world of sorrow and pain,
And returned to the land of thought again.
©Donald Mackenzie 2005 All rights reserved