Kim (novel)

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Kim
KimKipling.jpg
First book edition
Author Rudyard Kipling
Illustrator H. R. Millar
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Spy & Picaresque novel,
Publisher McClure's Magazine (in serial) & Macmillan & Co (single volume)
Publication date
October 1901
Media type Print (Serial & Hardcover)
Pages 368
ISBN NA
OCLC 236914

Kim is a picaresque novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author Rudyard Kipling. It was first published serially in McClure's Magazine from December 1900 to October 1901 as well as in Cassell's Magazine from January to November 1901, and first published in book form by Macmillan & Co. Ltd in October 1901. The story unfolds against the backdrop of The Great Game, the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia. It is set after the Second Afghan War which ended in 1881, but before the Third, probably in the period 1893 to 1898.[1] The novel is notable for its detailed portrait of the people, culture, and varied religions of India. "The book presents a vivid picture of India, its teeming populations, religions, and superstitions, and the life of the bazaars and the road."[2]

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Kim No. 78 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.[3] In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel."[4]

Plot summary[edit]

Kim (Kimball O'Hara)[5] is the orphaned son of an Irish soldier and a poor Irish mother who have both died in poverty. Living a vagabond existence in India under British rule in the late 19th century, Kim earns his living by begging and running small errands on the streets of Lahore. He occasionally works for Mahbub Ali, a Pashtun horse trader who is one of the native operatives of the British secret service. Kim is so immersed in the local culture, few realise he is a white child, though he carries a packet of documents from his father entrusted to him by an Indian woman who cared for him.

Kim befriends an aged Tibetan Lama who is on a quest to free himself from the Wheel of Things by finding the legendary River of the Arrow. Kim becomes his chela, or disciple, and accompanies him on his journey. On the way, Kim incidentally learns about parts of the Great Game and is recruited by Mahbub Ali to carry a message to the head of British intelligence in Umballa. Kim's trip with the lama along the Grand Trunk Road is the first great adventure in the novel.

By chance, Kim's father's regimental chaplain identifies Kim by his Masonic certificate, which he wears around his neck, and Kim is forcibly separated from the lama. The lama insists that Kim should comply with the chaplain's plan because he believes it is in Kim's best interests, and the boy is sent to a top English school in Lucknow. The lama funds Kim's education. Throughout his years at school, Kim remains in contact with the holy man he has come to love. Kim also retains contact with his secret service connections and is trained in espionage (to be a surveyor) while on vacation from school by Lurgan Sahib, at his jewellery shop in Simla. As part of his training, Kim looks at a tray full of mixed objects and notes which have been added or taken away, a pastime still called Kim's Game, also called the Jewel Game.

After three years of schooling, Kim is given a government appointment so that he can begin his role in the Great Game. Before this appointment begins however, he is granted time to take a much-deserved break. Kim rejoins the lama and at the behest of Kim's superior, Hurree Chunder Mookherjee, they make a trip to the Himalayas. Here the espionage and spiritual threads of the story collide, with the lama unwittingly falling into conflict with Russian intelligence agents. Kim obtains maps, papers, and other important items from the Russians working to undermine British control of the region. Mookherjee befriends the Russians under cover, acting as a guide and ensures that they do not recover the lost items. Kim, aided by some porters and villagers, helps to rescue the lama.

The lama realises that he has gone astray. His search for the "River of the Arrow" should be taking place in the plains, not in the mountains, and he orders the porters to take them back. Here Kim and the lama are nursed back to health after their arduous journey. Kim delivers the Russian documents to Hurree, and a concerned Mahbub Ali comes to check on Kim. The lama finds his river and achieves Enlightenment. The reader is left to decide whether Kim will henceforth follow the prideful road of the Great Game, the spiritual way of Tibetan Buddhism, or a combination of the two. Kim himself has this to say: "I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela."

Characters[edit]

  • Kimball "Kim" O'Hara – is an orphan son of an Irish soldier, the protagonist; "A poor white, the poorest of the poor"
  • Teshoo Lama – a Tibetan Lama, the former abbot of the Such-zen monastery in the western Himalayas, on a spiritual journey
  • Mahbub Ali – a famous Ghilzai Pashtun horse trader and spy for the British
  • Colonel Creighton – British Army officer, ethnologist and spy
  • Lurgan Sahib – a Simla gem trader and master spy
  • Hurree Chunder Mookherjee (Hurree Babu, also the Babu) – a Bengali intelligence operative working for the British; Kim's direct superior
  • the Kulu woman (the Sahiba)
  • the Woman of Shamlegh (Lispeth) who helps Kim and the Lama to evade the Russian spies and return to the plains
  • the old soldier – a native officer who had been loyal to the British during the Mutiny
  • Reverend Arthur Bennett – the Church of England chaplain of the Mavericks, the Irish regiment to which Kim's father belonged
  • Father Victor – the Roman Catholic chaplain of the Mavericks
  • a Lucknow prostitute whom Kim pays to help disguise him
  • a Kamboh farmer whose sick child Kim helps to cure
  • Huneefa – a sorceress who performs a devil invocation ritual to protect Kim
  • E.23 – a spy for the British whom Kim helps avoid capture

Factual references[edit]

"He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher – the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum.
Who hold Zam-Zammah, that 'fire-breathing dragon', hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror's loot."
  • The gun in front of the Lahore Museum described in the first chapter is an existing piece called Zamzama, sometimes referred to as Kim's gun.
  • Kim dreams of a "Red bull in a green field" which he recognises when he sees a military formation ensign of a bull on a green background. The formation ensign is still used by a military formation in Ambala Cantonment in India. Even in the book the formation ensign belonged to an establishment in Ambala.

Critical assessment[edit]

Considered by many to be Kipling's masterpiece, opinion appears varied about its consideration as children's literature or not.[6][7] Roger Sale, in his history of children's literature, concludes "Kim is the apotheosis of the Victorian cult of childhood, but it shines now as bright as ever, long after the Empire's collapse..."[8]

In a reissue of the novel in 1959 by Macmillan, the reviewer opines "Kim is a book worked at three levels. It is a tale of adventure...It is the drama of a boy having entirely his boy's own way... and it is the mystical exegesis of this pattern of behaviour..." This reviewer concludes "Kim will endure because it is a beginning like all masterly ends.."[9][10]

Dramatic adaptations[edit]

For the main article about the film, see Kim (1950 film)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ann Parry, "Recovering the Connection between Kim and Contemporary History", in Kipling, Rudyard, Kim (2002), p. 310.
  2. ^ "Kim". in: The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online.
  3. ^ "100 Best Novels". Modern Library. Retrieved 31 October 2012
  4. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
  5. ^ Kim
  6. ^ Roger Blackwell Bailey, PhD. "Landmarks in the History of Children's Literature". Retrieved 21 September 2006. 
  7. ^ Laura Laffrado. "Teaching American Children's Literature". Western Washington University. Retrieved 21 September 2006. 
  8. ^ Roger Sale, Fairy Tales and After: from Snow White to E.B. White" Harvard Univ. Press, 1978. p.221 ISBN 0-674-29157-3
  9. ^ Times Literary Supplement, Friday, 29 May 1959
  10. ^ Rudyard Kipling Kim Illustrated by Stuart Tresilian. Macmillan, 1959.

References[edit]

  • Benedetti, Amedeo (2007). Il Kim di Kipling. In: "LG Argomenti", Genova, Erga, a. XLIII (2007), n. 4, pp. 17–21.
  • Hopkirk, Peter (1996). Quest for Kim: in Search of Kipling's Great Game London: John Murray ISBN 0-7195-5560-4 — The author visits the locations of the novel and discusses the real-life personages that may have possibly inspired its characters
  • Kipling, Rudyard (2002). Kim; ed. by Zohreh T. Sullivan. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-96650-X—This is the most extensive critical modern edition with footnotes, essays, maps, etc.
  • Wilson, Angus (1977). The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works. New York: The Viking Press ISBN 0-670-67701-9

External links[edit]

Sources

Criticism

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