The book Puck of Pook’s Hill follows two children, Dan and his sister Una, as they spend an enchanted summer in the English countryside. When they perform Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” under the oldest hill in England three times in a row on Midsummer’s Eve, who should appear, but the magical faun Puck.
In a series of short episodes, Puck introduces Dan and Una to various characters from England’s history, including a Roman legionnaire, a Nobleman, a money-lender, a blacksmith, and one of the old pre-Christian pagan Gods — Weyland. The story-telling is masterful, the writing lyrical, and the plot moves along quite quickly. The story is interspersed with lots of poems by Kipling, who was, after all, a master poet. Puck is the type of book you can read out loud to your children in the evening, and they won’t get bored. Each chapter is just the right length for a bedtime story. Or, you can keep it all to yourself and savor every last word of it.
Puck of Pook’s Hill falls is one of those stories. Essentially Puck of myth and legend visits two children, siblings, and gifts them with tales of Britain’s history from the days of the Roman Empire to medieval times to the 1400s using the ghosts of individuals who might be historical. Actually, the way these historical figures are presented, they might not be ghosts. They may be illusions, they may even be Puck in disguise although usually Puck is there with them, but we are talking about a magical being here, so who’s to say he can’t be Puck and a “ghost” at the same time? It is left uncertain as to what may be the case, and I appreciate that because it isn’t the point of this collection of tales. The point is Puck serving as teacher and storyteller to these two children about the place they call home.
These tales are similar to Kim in that they reflect a complex reality full of change and politics. For example, several of the tales are about a knight, his friend, and his lord during the time Normans and Saxons are battling it out for rulership of England. These tales, while presented simply, have very complicated conflicts to deal with; which king should a lord support when one has the ability to call that lord a traitor for not serving him and having him hanged while the other king could simply drop a fleet at that lord’s doorstep? How do you deal with a traitor who has proven himself to be incredibly useful, especially in an age where literacy is uncommon? These concepts are, to quote Marty McFly, “heavy”. This heaviness makes Puck of Pook’s Hill a slow read; you won’t go through the book in one night, and frankly that’s for the best. Reading Kipling is like drinking tea; it should be sipped and savored, not chugged, otherwise you miss a great deal.