No doubt you will have heard of the Jungle Book, brought to life on screen by Walt Disney and featuring a memorable cast of characters and some equally memorable music, you might be surprised to learn that it has a connection to North Devon. Disney’s Jungle Book is based on a duology of novels by author, journalist and poet, Rudyard Kipling who inspired North Devon’s Kipling Tor and the walks through the picturesque lands around it.
But how did a novel about a small boy raised by jungle creatures come to be associated with this picturesque area of North Devon?
Rudyard Kipling was born Joseph Rudyard Kipling on 30th December 1865 in Bombay, India to British Parents. At the time, India was under British rule and it was common for British nationals to live and raise children there. Throughout the course of his life, Kipling would call several places home and many of those places would find their way into his books and poems, with several being recognisable as locations around Devon.
Despite being born in India, Kipling and his sister spent most of their childhoods in England. As was custom, children of British nationals living abroad were often transferred back to England to live in boarding houses, which was what happened to the Kipling children. Though neither seem to remember this time fondly. In 1878, at the age of 13, Kipling was admitted to the United Service College, a school in Westward Ho! which was founded to help prepare young men and boys for a life in the armed services. He attended the school alongside his cousin Stanley Baldwin, who would go on to become Prime Minister. During his time at the United Service College, Kipling and his friends would often be found exploring Exmoor and the surrounding area, a route which would become known as Kipling Tors. His time at the USC, which closed in 1903, inspired a collection of short stories which would be published some years later, Stalky & Co. The stories are all tales of boyhood and life at boarding school, with several teachers at USC making an appearance.
It wasn’t just his time at school that inspired his later works while in Westward Ho! While studying there, he met a lady called Florence, who boarded with his sister and became infatuated with her. Florence would go on to inspire the character Maisie in his novel The Light that Failed.
Even though he studied at USC, Kipling did not go immediately into the army. Instead after graduating, he moved back to India with his father where he worked at a newspaper and began writing professionally. By the time he moved back to London and married, he was quite the celebrity and moved to several countries where he continued to write. The Jungle Book was written and published while he was living in America. Following the success of his novels, the family moved back to Devon and welcomed their son John. It was while living here in the 1890s that Kipling was at the height of his fame and churned out some of his best loved work. To date, he is the youngest person to have received a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Following the outbreak of WWI, the Kiplings moved to London and after hearing of the death of his son John at the Battle of Loos, Kipling’s writing became more political. He remained in the London area until his death in 1936. He was interred at Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey alongside Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.
Kipling is remembered as being one of the biggest names to be associated with Westward Ho! and as such, there have been a number of festivals and local landmarks named for him. Kipling Tors is managed by the National Trust and there is a delightful walking route to follow which gives you incredible views over the village, on a clear day, you can see across to Appledore, Baggy Point, Hartland Point and Lundy Island from various points along the route. Though much changed from Kipling’s school days, these were some of his favourite places to spend time with his friends. There is also a walk named after him along the South West Coast Path. The Kingsley and Kipling Walk (named for both Rudyard Kipling and Charles Kingsley, who lived in Bideford and who’s novel Westward Ho! gave the village its name), is a 5.8 mile route that takes in Kipling Tor and other areas associated with both writers.
Being one of the most notable residents of Westward Ho! means that there are regular celebrations of Kipling’s work, these festivals include poetry tours and fundraising events.
Rudyard Kipling and Charles Kingsley are not the only two literary connections that North Devon has. You can find more authors and poets who called the area home here.