Kipling portrays school as the first stage of a much larger game, a pattern-maker for the experiences of life. Implied throughout the stories is the question 'What happened to these fifteen-year-old boys, and how did the lessons they learned at school apply to the world of warfare and imperial government?'
The stories are based on Kipling's own school, the United Services College at Westward Ho! in Devon, which prepared boys destined for the army or for colonial service; Kipling himself appears as the subordinate character, Beetle. This edition includes five Stalky stories which did not appear in the original volume, and thus constitutes a "Complete Stalky & Co".