A 1937 Shirley Temple movie proclaimed itself to be Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkie, but there is little of Kipling’s story in the Hollywood version.
In the movie a widowed mother and her young daughter, Priscilla Williams, go to live with the girl’s paternal grandfather, a colonel in command of a British regiment in India. The dour grandfather seemed only interested in his regiment so his granddaughter, nicknamed Winkie, obtained a uniform with a kilt, and tried to act like a soldier.
Winkie attempted to halt a war by visiting the rebel headquarters and asking the leader to stop fighting the British soldiers. That was not a wise plan. Fortunately, all worked out well in the end, and family members discovered how much they really cared for each other.
In the original Kipling story Percival William Williams, a/k/a Wee Willie Winkie, was the son of the colonel, who had put his offspring under Military Discipline. “When he was good for a week, he drew good-conduct pay; and when he was bad, he was deprived of his good-conduct stripe. Generally he was bad, for India offers many chances of going wrong to little six-year-olds.”
Winkie took a liking to Lieutenant Brandis, and he dubbed the young officer Coppy because of his hair color.
Coppy was a wonderful man. Once he let Winkie wear his sword, he promised to give the boy a puppy, and allowed Winkie to watch him shave. Coppy could do no wrong – until Winkie went out riding and saw his friend in the “unmanly weakness” of kissing a ” big girl” – the grown daughter of Major Allardyce.
When something bothered Winkie he usually asked his father’s advice, but this time he decided to go to Coppy and ask whether it was proper to kiss big girls. Coppy explained that Miss Allardyce would soon become “Mrs. Coppy,” but Coppy would be in big trouble if anyone found out about their engagement within the next thirty days. (It was never explained why the engagement would become acceptable after a month had passed.)
Winkie promised to keep his friend’s marriage engagement a secret, and the boy took a greater interest in Miss Allardyce as he attempted to figure out why Coppy thought her to be so important.
A few weeks later Winkie built a campfire and sparks from his fire set a week’s supply of hay ablaze. As punishment the colonel took away Winkie’s good-conduct metal and sentenced him to two day’s confinement to barracks – Winkie was not permitted to go beyond the house and verandah.
Early the next morning Winkie climbed onto the roof of the house (which was permissible) and saw Miss Allardyce riding by. He asked where she was going, and she replied that she was going across the river.
Winkie had been told how dangerous it was to go near the river that separated India from the Afghan border, for across the water were hills where Bad Men lived. Not even brave Coppy went near the river, and Winkie was sure the Bad Men were Goblins, just like the ones in a story that had been read to him.
The big girl that meant so much to Coppy had to be stopped from going where the Goblins lived, but Winkie was under house arrest. Breaking his arrest was an unthinkable crime, but his father had taught him that men must always protect women.
Never before in his six years had Winkie faced such a crisis, and he made the agonizing decision to incur his father’s wrath by breaking his house arrest. Winkie raced to the stables, had a native servant saddle his pony, and he set off after Miss Allardyce – who was rebelling from Coppy’s too-hastily-assumed authority in ordering her not to go near the river.
Before Winkie could catch up with her Miss Allardyce had reached the riverbank and was thrown from her horse after the animal stumbled. Miss Allardyce twisted her ankle and was unable to stand. When the boy reached her side she told him he must go back to the military station for help, but Bad Men were coming out from their hiding places, and the colonel’s son had to stay and protect the future Mrs. Coppy.
I won’t reveal how the story ends, except to say that Winkie regains his good-conduct status.
Rudyard Kipling had been born in Bombay, India in 1865, and lived there until he was five, when he and his three-year-old sister were sent to England to be educated. For six years Kipling boarded with a couple who treated him cruelly, and then he attended a school founded to prepare boys for the British Army, though he would never serve in the military.
Just shy of his seventeenth birthday Kipling returned to India and began a six year period of working at several British Indian newspapers. Years later Kipling wrote that when he returned to Bombay “…my English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength.”
During much of his lifetime Kipling was one of the most popular English-language writers, and he published poetry, short stories and novels for both children and adults based on his Indian experiences. In recent years his writing has fallen from favor, for it is thought to reflect the Victorian British belief in the white man’s superiority to native people.
Let’s see, Rudyard Kipling (who’d been named after a lake) was born a British subject of Queen Victoria, so in my humble opinion it is foolish for modern-day grownups to be offended that his stories reflect Victorian-era viewpoints.
Many of his Indian stories tell of harsh realities, and reading some of them once is more than enough times for me. But then there is Wee Willie Winkie, which I consider a delightful comedy adventure. It takes up nine pages of my Dover Thrift Edition of Kipling stories, so it can be enjoyed when you can’t afford an entire evening of reading.
The Gutenberg Project has Kipling’s Indian Tales, which includes Wee Willie Winkie. It can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8649