The Light That Failed is the first of Rudyard Kipling’s three novels, initially published in 1891. The book tells the story of Dick Heldar, an artist struggling with the experiences of war in the Sudan and failing eyesight, with typically Kipling-esque brio. Successful enough during Kipling’s lifetime to be adapted for stage and screen, in the present day the book stands out instead for the rather unfortunate iconography adorning it.
As the Kipling Society are good enough to explain, the “Ganesha Roundel” was used by Kipling as a good luck sigil for about 40 years of his career. Amongst his other associations, Ganesha is regarded in Hinduism as both the Lord of Beginnings and the God of Wisdom, and thus a propitious symbol with which to begin a book. The curled trunk signifies good fortune, and the lotus flower it holds in it’s grasp is regarded throughout Asia as an emblem of beauty and elegance.
Also prominent on both the front cover, and on the flyleaf, is the swastika.
A popular symbol for good luck throughout Western Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, Kipling employed both right and left facing versions of the logo throughout his work. The Nazi Party adopted the symbol in 1920, and following Hitler’s rise to power Kipling ordered it removed from further editions of his work.
Kipling’s politics remain the subject of much discussion, but it is safe to say he wasn’t a fascist It is interesting, nonetheless, as an indicator of the very different ways in which to which oriental thought and iconography was being drawn upon and used throughout Western Europe at the time.
This particular edition has a dedication that, again, I find rather affecting. This time, on the inside cover, written in spidery hand-writing it reads: