Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Astride Zam Zamah
Written by: Rudyard Kipling
Central Theme:
Synopsis: The story of a pawn in The Great Game.
Genre(s): Spy Fiction ("Stale Beer" variant)
First published: October 1901
More Information
Source: Read Kim here
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Kim is one of the most beloved works of Rudyard Kipling. The title character is a street urchin named Kimball Ohara (called Kim throughout the novel) who has been befriended by the Pathan horse trader and spy Mahbub Ali. He wanders around the streets of the city of Lahore happily, mingling with all the many races, and occasionally running secret errands for Mahbub. He meets the Red Lama who is Walking the Earth seeking enlightenment. Kim follows him and has adventures over a long period leading all the way to the Lama's original home in the Himalayas where he foils some Russian agents. It is left with an open ending as Kim must decide whether to continue as the Lama's disciple or become a full time spy.

This novel is a formless one in plot and depends primarily on character and setting, which is not unknown for Rudyard Kipling (Kipling's greatest talent was arguably in setting rather than plot). It is one of the first spy novels ever told, though it was in fact something of a Genre Buster because its focus went beyond espionage. Interestingly it captures the feel of Real Life espionage quite well. The actual nature of given missions is seldom revealed, nor is the identity of the enemy they are facing at a given time (with the exception of a Russian expedition in Shangri La at the end) and at first Kim doesn't even know who his own side is; which is, of course, what things would be like for a real spy. One of the books strengths is its beautiful cross section of life in British India.

Tropes used in Kim include:
  • Author Avatar: Kim may have been an expression of Rudyard Kipling s nostalgia for his boyhood.
    • The keeper of the museum or "wonder house" at Lahore may have been Kipling's father who really was the curator of a museum there.
  • Badass Adorable: Kim
  • The Champion: The Lama's inexperience causes Kim to be this for him.
    • There is a bit of calculation to this as being the disciple of a wandering seeker makes for good cover in India, a fact that Kim is well aware of. However Kim does have affection and a considerable protective instinct for the unworldly Lama. And the calculation is mainly on the part of Kim's superiors. The boy had voluntarily been the Lama's disciple before being officially involved in the spying, and to him, playing the "Great Game" and being a disciple are just different parts of himself.
  • The Chessmaster: Colonel Creighton
  • City of Spies: Lahore just to start with
  • Coming of Age
  • Cool Gun: An ancient cannon in front of the "wonder-house" at Lahore, around which the Street Urchins play. Apparently there is a real cannon at Lahore called "Kim's Gun" for the benefit of tourists, on which Kipling based it on. According to The Quest For Kim by Peter Hopkirk this gun had a romantic history being sort of an Ancestral Weapon of the armies of several Rajahs, and had gone on a number of campaigns before it had become a museum piece.
  • Cool Horse: What Mahbub Ali deals in
  • Deadpan Snarker: Kim is so good at this that it is his primary defensive mechanism. He can shoo away bad guys by embarrassing them.
    • One Sikh they met along the road said "The police of this land are thieves but at least they allow no competition."
  • The Federation: The Raj is presented as this.
  • Fish Out of Water: The reaction of some British like Reverend Bennett and Father Victor when coming to the unfamiliar environment of India. On the other hand, Colonel Creighton and members of the intelligence have gone native.
  • Forever War: The Great Game is this.
  • Gambit Pileup: A continuous Gambit Pileup nicknamed The Great Game. There are multitudinous players friendly and enemy and little is told about any of them.
  • Gender Blender Name: Kim
  • Genre Busting: Is this book a spy story or is it a gigantic Slice of Life? Or is it a Coming of Age story? Actually it's all of these.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Kim is the pet novel of the CIA according to some.
  • Going Native: Kim can effortlessly go native in any tribe in India.
  • Guile Hero: Kim
  • Honey Trap: A prostitute secretly working for some unnamed Rebel Leader tries to do this to Mahbub Ali. He is to smart for them and hides the message he is carrying before she can steal it, and recount gleefully later that he could sense how frustrated she was.
  • Indian Political Service: It is not actually said that Kim worked for this, and it did not officially maintain large spy rings in India at the time. However he was doing the sort of work that it did.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Kim and the Lama
  • Intrepid Merchant: Mahbub Ali
  • Little Hero, Big War
  • Master of Disguise: Kim is pretty good at this. He can dress up in proper clothes and act like member from any caste and religion. One of the reason the Intelligence is so interested in him.
  • Meaningful Name: Kim is "the little friend of all the world"
    • The Espionage profession is called The Great Game, especially when the phrase is said to be inspired by chess and the main opponent is Russia.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted in that Kim, who is of British parentage, learns a lot from his European schooling, but also from his adopted homeland and the Lama, and he feels more at home being a native rather than a "Sahib" (word used to call British in India). Kim himself puts it rather snarkily while referring to a British priest.

Kim: The thin fool who looks like a camel says that I am the son of a Sahib...he thinks that once a Sahib is always a Sahib.

  • MultiTribal team: Played straight and quite well. Aside from the major characters which come from diverse castes people from all over India are met randomly along the road, or what not. There are no major villains and most characters come off as more or less likeable. The feeling is that India is a rainbow of castes and the British while the ruling class, are treated by the locals and perhaps even by themselves as just another caste. To a large degree this is Truth in Television, though presented in something of a Lighter and Softer manner.
  • Odd Friendship: Kim and the Lama
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Mahbub Ali
  • The Raj
  • Secret War
  • Seeker Archetype: The Red Lama
  • Shangri La: The Red Lama comes from there and the final scene takes place there. It is a bit toned down. While much of the format fits the "mystical place in the mountains" stereotype, there are no Death Trap s or Tomes Of Eldritch Lore or the other things you expect to find there. It is simply another country.
  • The Spymaster: Colonel Creighton
  • Street Smart: Kim
  • Street Urchin: Kim
  • Teen Superspy: Kim is a moderate example. He starts off in a plausible non-super way as a Street Urchin who is used by a passing spy to carry messages for him. The only thing super about him is his ability to flawlessly enter every culture in India.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In the years before the book was written, a young, light-skinned, blue-eyed Indian man was charged with murder. Around his neck, the police found a leather bag which the man claimed was a charm. When the bag was opened, it proved to contain a birth certificate proving his father was an Irish soldier. The case received a fair bit of publicity, and too many details add up for it not to have been Kipling's source of inspiration.
  • Walking the Earth: Much of the book is about just traveling around like any other traveler.