A vision of natural forces and pagan gods
|"The Bridge-Builders" (1893) takes this a step further. Findlayson, the English engineer, whose fine calculations and dedicated toil have succeeded in throwing a bridge across the mighty Ganges, is exposed under the influence of opium to a completely different vision of the powers that move the universe. The flickering dragons of "The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows" have given way to something infinitely more challenging. The beasts that Findlayson and his overseer, Peroo, overhear in divine conference as they lie in an opium dream, and the figure of Krishna that comes to stand among those beasts, are deities of the Hindu pantheon.|
These may be a bolder indication of the scale of the dreams Kipling himself had experienced as a young man in the years before he left India. But by the time he wrote "The Bridge-Builders" he was the father of a young family, living in Brattleboro. Why this vision now, and why one based on the traditions of Hinduism, when he always claimed to get on better with Muslims? It appears that the inner reconfiguration, the expansion which followed on becoming a father, opened a new channel for his imagination, releasing some of his own earliest experience.
As a child in Bombay he once lived in a vivid world of ‘threshold magic [and] wayside spells’ where elephants and camels, water buffalo and cows moved along the streets, not to mention the vultures that wheeled above the nearby Towers of Silence: animals lived close alongside humans, as even today, they do to some extent in urban India. Animals also made the heroes and villains in the stories he heard from his ayah and the other servants. Bearing this in mind, it’s no surprise that the creative burst prompted by the birth of his first child Josephine, in 1892, took the form of the animal stories which would make up The Jungle Book.
"The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows" offered no challenge to conventional wisdom, but this later opium dream constitutes both a statement and a challenge, or at the very least a ‘what if?’. What if there are other powers in the universe that may take different forms, which Krishna and his story bring into focus? Kipling was seeking to find a language for his maturing independent vision, one that would frame that vision, and accommodate it within a story concerning human experience and human response to the living world.
The dreams experienced in "The Brushwood Boy", however, present readers with a different kind of juxtaposition, one that challenges them to use their intelligence. In the daytime world, the hero, Georgie Cottar, achieves apparent perfection as a public school boy and later as an officer in the Indian army. He is single and perfect: literally, a virgin. Yet we have been shown him from the age of three subjected to dreams which indicate a buried life of conflict and confusion. As a tiny child he wakes screaming in fear of the figure of a policeman, the symbol, we come to suspect, of the law which rules the daytime life he must take up as a man.
Though he appears to have conformed completely to this law, the chaotic adventures of his dreams indicate a life that is bubbling beneath, unexpressed and unresolved in daylight. He confronts extremities of danger in these, indicating a threat to his inner life that has to be confronted over and over, rather like the demands which are shaping his life on the outside. One dream takes him into ‘a sixth quarter of the globe’. For all its dangers, this appears to be the very landscape of desire. Kipling’s only recorded childhood dream seems to refer to a sighting of some such world beyond the map of imposed order, his lost paradise rediscovered, perhaps. His travel letter "The Journey Out" (Brazilian Sketches, 1927) suggests such a link with the past when it remarks:
...Once in a child's dream, I wandered into a Fifth Quarter of the world, and found everything different from all previous knowledge; as only children or old folk desire it to be.’ (italics mine)