The Taking of Lungtungpen

The Taking of Lungtungpen

"The Taking of Lungtungpen" is a short story by Rudyard Kipling which was first published in the "Civil and Military Gazette" on April 11th 1887, and in book form in the first Indian edition of "Plain Tales from the Hills" in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection. The story is about one of Kipling's three private soldiers, Learoyd, Mulvaney and Ortheris, whose adventures are further related in his collection of short stories "Soldiers Three": Terence Mulvaney. This story tells "how Privit Mulvaney tuk the town av Lungtungpen", in his own words (Kipling represents him conventionally as an Irish speaker of English). Mulvaney, who continually blots his copybook (and loses promotions and goods conduct badges from his habit of "wan big dhrink a month") is nevertheless a fine soldier. When he is patrolling Burmah against dacoits with 24 young recruits under Lieutenant Brazenose, they capture a suspect. Mulvaney, with an interpreter, takes the prisoner aside and "trates him tinderly" [='treats him tenderly'] with a cleaning rod. This example of army brutality extracts the information that there is a town called Lungtungpen, a haunt of dacoits, 9 miles away, 'across the river'. Mulvaney persuades the Lieutenant not to await reinforcements, but to "visit" Lungtungpen that night. Mulvaney is in the lead when they come to the river, and tells the four men with him to strip and swim across. Two of them can't swim, but they use a tree trunk for flotation and cross the river - despite their discovery that "That shtrame [= stream] was miles woide!" When they reach the other side, in the dark they have landed on the river wall of LThe moral of this story, to Mulvaney, is that it shows what three-year enlisted men can do, and why he values them above more experienced men, who would have been much more cautious. These would defeat European armies as well as dacoits. "They tuk Lungtungpen nakid; an' they'd take St. Pethersburgin their dhrawers!" Kipling appears to value the British soldier highly (see " [Barrack-Room Ballads" (1892), "Soldiers Three" (1888) and many other works throughout his career); but the modern reader may wonder at the casual imperial acceptance of brutality and a shocking casualty rate. Is it credible that the women who have been widowed in this attack - and impoverished by the looting that Mulvaney relates - would laugh at the naked invaders? This is the sort of behaviour that George Orwell found so distasteful - see [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Orwell#Burma] and the links therefrom.

:All quotations in this article have been taken from the "Uniform Edition" of "Plain Tales from the Hills" published by Macmillan & Co., Limited in London in 1899. The text is that of the third edition (1890), and the author of the article has used his own copy of the 1923 reprint. Further comment, including page-by-page notes, can be found on the Kipling Society's website, at [http://www.kipling.org.uk/rg_lungtungpen1.htm] .


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