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Kim (novel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the novel. For alternate meanings, see Kim.

Kim is a novel by 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 is set against the backdrop of The Great Game, the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia.

Plot summary

Kim (Kimball O'Hara) is the orphaned son of a British soldier (Sahib). He earns his living by begging and running small errands on the streets of Lahore. He occasionally works for his friend, Mahbub Ali, a horse trader who is one of the native operatives of the British secret service.

One day, he befriends a Tibetan Lama who is on a quest to free himself from the Wheel of Life. Kim becomes his chela, or disciple, and accompanies him on his journey. On the way, Kim accidentally learns about parts of the Great Game and is recruited by the British to carry a message to the British commander 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 him by his Masonic certificate, which he wears around his neck and Kim is sent to a top English school in Lucknow, but he keeps in touch with both the Lama and his secret service connections. He is trained in espionage; the game of looking at a tray full of mixed objects and noting which have been added or taken away is still used for training spies and is still called "Kim's 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 the Babu, 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--who were working to undermine British control of the region. Babu befriends the Russians under cover, acting as a guide and thus ensuring that they do not recover the lost items. Kim, porters, and villagers all come to the aid of the Lama.

The Lama realizes that he has gone astray. His search for the River of the Arrow should be taking place in the plains, not the mountains, and he orders the porters to take them back. Here Kim and the Lama are nursed to health, Kim delivers the Russian intel documents to Babu, a concerned Mahbub Ali comes to check on Kim, and the Lama finds his river and achieves Enlightenment. The reader is left to decide whether Kim will henceforth follow the materialistic road of the Great Game, the spiritual way of Tibetan Buddhism, or a combination thereof.

Characters in "Kim"

  • Kimball "Kim" O'Hara – is an orphan son of an Irish soldier, protagonist
  • Mahbub Ali – a horse trader
  • Teshoo Lama – a Tibetan Lama
  • Lurgan Sahib – a gem trader
  • Hurree Babu – a Bengali intelligence operative working for the British; Kim's direct superior
  • Abdullah
  • The Amritzar Girl
  • The Arain Farmer
  • The Babu: See Hurree Chunder Mookerjee
  • Reverend Arthur Bennett
  • Colonel Creighton[1]

Literary significance & criticism

Considered by many to be Kipling's masterpiece, opinion appears varied about its consideration as Children's literature or not.[2][3] The fact that it has been read by many children and treated as suitable literature for children by some parts of academia should not be used to indicate Kipling's intention.

Allusions/references from other works

Two novels by John Eyton, Kullu and the Carts and Kullu and the Elephant (c. 1929), are clearly derivative of Kim; likewise, Eyton's Jungle-born (1925) appears to borrow elements from the Jungle Books.

Robert A. Heinlein's novel Citizen of the Galaxy was influenced by Kim in the method of exposition of exotic settings, the espionage backdrop, and in details such as the memorization technique.

A novel by John Masters, The Lotus and the Wind, is also set in the Great Game, and one of its main protagonists is a character seeking some form of spiritual enlightenment.

The British double agent, Kim Philby is said to have derived his nickname from the novel.

In March 2004, Laurie R. King released a novel wherein her characters (Arthur Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes and Laurie R. King's creation Mary Russell) are sent to India to rescue a now mature Kim, who in this story met Holmes in his youth. The book is set in 1924, and the story explains that Holmes travelled to Tibet shortly after his apparent demise at Reichenbach Falls in Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Final Problem". Kim's teenaged son, Bindra, by his deceased Tibetan wife, assists Holmes and Russell during their search.

In "The English Patient" the character Kip, an Indian sapper in the British army who is a native of Lahore and knows personally many of the locations mentioned in the book including "The gun Zamzama", several times quotes "Kim" - which he considers as representing the colonialist occupiers of his city and his country. (These references were omitted from the film made on the basis of the book.)

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

For the main article about the film, see Kim
DVD Cover for reissue of 1950 film of Kim
DVD Cover for reissue of 1950 film of Kim
  • An MGM film adaptation of the novel, adapted by Helen Deutsch and Leon Gordon, directed by Victor Saville and produced by Leon Gordon was released in 1950. starring Errol Flynn, Dean Stockwell, Paul Lukas, Robert Douglas, Thomas Gomez and Cecil Kellaway. It featured a music score by André Previn.
  • A London Films television film version was made in 1984. It was directed by John Howard Davies and starred Peter O'Toole, Bryan Brown, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover and Ravi Sheth as Kim. It has been released on DVD.


  • Kipling inserted a cameo appearance of his father John Lockwood Kipling who was the curator of the Lahore Museum into the scene where Kim meets the Lama.
  • The 'Kim's gun Zamzamma' in front of the Lahore Museum is called so as Kim's character sits on top of this gun in the novel when talking to the Tibetan Lama.


  1. ^ Characters in Kim. See Summary on Kim by Rudyard Kipling for additional citations.
  2. ^ Roger Blackwell Bailey, Ph.D.. Landmarks in the History of Children's Literature. Retrieved on 2006-09-21.
  3. ^ Laura Laffrado. Teaching American Children's Literature. Western Washington University. Retrieved on 2006-09-21.


  • Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling's Great Game by Peter Hopkirk (1997) ISBN 0-472-08634-0 — the author visits the locations of the novel and discusses the real-life personages that may have possibly inspired its characters

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
  • Kim, available freely at Project Gutenberg
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