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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1484

First published: 1895

Type of work: Novelette

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Locale: England and India

Principal Characters:

Georgie Cottar, the brushwood boy

Miriam Lacy, the girl in his dreams

The Story:

When he was three years old, Georgie Cottar was frightened by a...

(The entire section contains 1484 words.)

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First published: 1895

Type of work: Novelette

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Locale: England and India

Principal Characters:

Georgie Cottar, the brushwood boy

Miriam Lacy, the girl in his dreams

The Story:

When he was three years old, Georgie Cottar was frightened by a dream about a policeman and screamed out in terror; but by the time he was six years old, his dreams fused into the stories he told himself while he was going to sleep. These dreams always started the same way. Near a beach was a pile of brushwood. Around this heap of brushwood, Georgie ran and played with other boys and girls. Strange and beautiful things happened in his dream story. Iron railings turned soft and could be walked on; houses filled with grown-up people were pushed over by the children. These wonderful things happened, however, only so long as Georgie knew he was dreaming. As soon as he thought them real, his dream left him sitting on a doorstep doing multiplication tables.

The princess of his dreams and his favorite, he called by the two names he thought the most beautiful in the world, Anna and Louise. These he ran together and pronounced Annieanlouise. She applauded his slaying of dragons and buffaloes and all the other brave deeds he performed in the country of dreams.

At age seven, Georgie moved with his family to “Oxford-on-a-visit.” While there, he was taken to a magic show, where he sat next to a little girl who in a lisping voice admired the cut in Georgie’s finger. The cut was the work of Georgie’s first knife, and he was intensely proud of it. He hoped it might give him lockjaw. His conversation with the little girl was cut short by his nurse, who told him he must not talk to strangers. Georgie knew his friend was not a stranger, but he could not explain the fact to a grown-up. That night he had a new dream, and the girl of the theater waited for him at the brushwood pile, and the two played wonderful games around the brushwood.

Georgie spent the next ten years at an English public school. Those busy years did not leave much time for dreaming. In each form, he became a leader, excelling in athletics and dealing with the boys’ personal quarrels. In his last year at school, he was the acknowledged leader of the students and a friend of the headmaster himself. From public school he went to Sandhurst, where he again started at the bottom of the Lower Third Form and worked his way up to a position of leadership. After Sandhurst, he received a commission as a subaltern in one of Her Majesty’s regiments.

His training for leadership during his school years served him well in his new position of minor authority in the Indian service. His natural way with men made him a good leader; the poorest soldiers became men under his training. He knew his own men as few officers did, and they would follow him through any danger or through the boredom of garrison duty. He passed off heroic deeds as no more than duty. Although ladies of the garrison sought his favor, he was oblivious to their attentions.

In India, his dreams started again. They began like his dreams of old: by a brushwood pile. A sea lay beyond the brushwood pile, and on it he would travel far. Somewhere there was a lamppost, at which any wonderful thing could happen. Sometimes he raced for that lamppost in his dreams, for he knew it was a place of safety. Once a policeman waited there for him and filled him with terror, just as the policeman had terrified him in his babyhood dream. Sometimes his dreams were filled with pleasure. He sailed in a clockwork steamer, stopping by lilies labeled Hong Kong or Java. He knew that he had reached the world’s end. Then a person unknown and unseen would lead him back to the brushwood pile and safety. He took a pony on a Thirty-Mile Ride, trying to reach the town with the lamppost on it. Then “They” could not harm him, whoever “They” were. So his dreams went, formless and weird.

Georgie was promoted, and under his leadership, his men won an important battle. As a reward, he was given a year’s leave in England. His dreams continued throughout his furlough. Now a girl with black hair, combed in a widow’s peak, was his companion in most of his dreams. She was the companion who helped him back to the lamppost and the brushwood pile. Although she had become a woman, Georgie still recognized her as his dreamland friend. ..FT.-At home, Georgie was pampered and catered to by his father and mother and the servants. Mothers brought their daughters to parade before the eligible Georgie, but he was immune to them. Then Miriam Lacy was brought for a visit by her mother. Before he saw Miriam, he heard her singing a song about the policeman and the city of sleep, all from the land of his dreams. His heart stood still; he knew that here was the girl of the brushwood pile. When he met her, he saw the black hair and the widow’s peak, and she spoke with a concealed lisp.

On a ride that evening, Georgie spoke to Miriam of the Thirty-Mile Ride and the lamppost. At first, she pretended ignorance, but her song had given her away. Then the two young people broke all barriers and shared in real life the dreams they had shared so long. Miriam, too, had seen all the wonderful things Georgie had seen. The companion of his dreams through all the years, she was his Annieanlouise. Now they would marry and be together in real life. In the darkness, each of them wondered what the other would look like in the light.

Critical Evaluation:

This novelette, so suggestive in its theme, appears to be at variance with other works by Rudyard Kipling. In his celebration of the troops and administrative staff of the British Empire and in his adventure stories, the author seems at first glance an unlikely candidate for the authorship of THE BRUSHWOOD BOY.

The tale does, however, contain some of Kipling’s special interests: the qualities of military leadership, the adventures of youth, and the commitment to the British way of life during the days of the Empire.

Essentially, THE BRUSHWOOD BOY is an intense, childlike fantasy based on the ambiguous device of a shared dream. It is never clear whether the children had shared experiences and fantasies in their young lives or only imagined they had. (This ambiguity at the end preserves Kipling from the merely supernatural.) Kipling’s device, however, is less interesting as “story” than as psychological examination.

In recent years, Kipling has come to be viewed more importantly as a thinker, or rather as the literary representative of a certain type of thought, than as a serious writer of fiction or verse. Although he wrote some memorable lines and phrases and created new rhythms in his poetry and although some of his books are still of great interest to children, Kipling’s heavy-handed treatments and moralizing have reduced his popularity.

THE BRUSHWOOD BOY is interesting, then, more for the psychological portrait of a military leader it offers, perhaps unintentionally, than for its plot or characterization. Georgie is an ideal leader of men, the type most admired by Kipling. A young man of the highest moral character yet able to relate to the most hard-bitten of his subordinates, he quickly rises in the military apparatus established by the British in India. He is loved and respected by his family, his commanders, and most of all, by his men.

What forms the central interest of THE BRUSHWOOD BOY, however, is Georgie’s continuing fantasies. These fantasies center around a pile of brushwood, which is a sort of imaginary touchstone; they consist of adventurous travels beyond the bounds of the known world and beyond the bounds of rules and regulations into a world of danger and irresponsible, malignant authority. (One of the recurring aspects of the dreams is a confrontation with an unfriendly policeman.) All these dream experiences contrast sharply with the external demeanor of such an exemplary soldier. In fact, THE BRUSHWOOD BOY appears to offer a sort of underground vision of the British imperial mentality or the mentality of its administrative stalwarts. Beneath the “stiff upper lip,” there is a residual, childlike world of wishes existing independently of the honor of Empire.

Kipling’s manner of narration, simple and full of wonder, is entirely appropriate for his subject. Though THE BRUSHWOOD BOY is not one of his better known works, its psychological insight into the functioning of a British “hero” of a bygone era remains interesting.

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