Michael Dirda at The Washington Post:
Earlier this summer I was on a panel at a literary conference where I happened to say that Rudyard Kipling was a wonderful writer. Immediately, a number of people in the audience began to boo and hiss. Two of my fellow panelists nearly shrieked that Kipling was utterly beyond the pale, being at once racist, misogynist and imperialist. Not entirely surprised by this reaction, but nonetheless flabbergasted by its vehemence, I made a flustered attempt to champion the author of “Plain Tales From the Hills,” “The Jungle Books” and “Kim.” I declared what many believe, that he is the greatest short-story writer in English. This only made things worse. Finally, with some desperation I blurted out: “How much Kipling have you actually read?”
A short silence followed, and, without any answer to my question, the discussion moved on to other, less heated topics. But I felt significantly downcast. So when I got home I sat down and reread“The Jungle Books,” recently reprinted by Penguin because of a new film about Mowgli, the “Man-cub” reared by wolves. I also dipped into a number of biographies and critical works, visited the website of the Kipling Society and tried to clarify my own thoughts about, arguably, the most controversial author in English literature.