The obligatory Kim thread

ForumKipling wasn't (just!) an imperialist

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The obligatory Kim thread

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Mrz. 30, 2010, 1:04pm

So, what do we think about Kim, the Zam-Zammah among Kipling's novels?

I know there are people who see it as one of the great novels of all time, and re-read it religiously at fixed intervals; others who despise it as rank imperialist propaganda. I suspect that most of us are somewhere in between the two. Even the late Edward Said (in the introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition) admitted, grudgingly, that he liked it, even though he despised everything it stood for (I paraphrase, of course!).

I like it a lot, and I've read it a number of times, but I wouldn't quite put it on my desert island shortlist. It is tremendously entertaining, there are some wonderful characters and descriptions, but it has all sorts of weaknesses. There's the whole business of Kim's special destiny, which always strikes me as one of the most culpably racist things in Kipling. And all that wishy-washy Buddhist mystical stuff at the end...

Mrz. 30, 2010, 2:16pm

I've never read the story, but when I was a kid I thought Kim was the greatest movie ever made. I'm not sure how closely it followed the story. It might have been the last movie Errol Flynn ever made or close to it. It came on American Movie Classics a while back so I decided to sit down and watch again after 40+ years. It still holds up as a pretty darn good movie.

Mrz. 30, 2010, 3:42pm

#1 thorold - There's nothing for me to say; you've summarised my own experience of the book, and my own feelings about it. Talk about killing a discussion stone dead .....!

Mrz. 30, 2010, 4:10pm

Apr. 1, 2010, 4:38am

>4 thorold: Oh - sorry about that! But you got it on the nose! 'Kim' is full of good things, but it doesn't really hang together.

In fact, couldn't you argue that Kipling simply didn't have that consistent, unified view of things which a great, or even a good, novelist needs? So, realising that, he became one of the great short story writers instead?

Or is that a pretentiously, literary comment to make? I rather fear it is!

Jul. 22, 2014, 10:29pm

"it doesn't necessarily hang together"

'Spot on!

I'm currently on Chapter 14 and don't have a clue about the development of this novel. Sure, Kim is cool, an adaptable, opportunistic, lighting-fast learning teenage James Bond. But I think the plot and theme could be so much more lucid. That other Victorian Teenager story Captain's Courageous, was mach more straight-forward.

Jul. 22, 2014, 10:53pm

I first read Kim when I was 9 or 10, and I've returned to it many times over the years. When I first read it, it was a ripping yarn (schoolboys for the use of), then a few years later it was a coming-of-age story. It's also been (for me) an entry into the history of the Great Game, the start of a love of India, a meditation on identity, and a great help in times of trial.

It is my "Desert Island" book.

It's not a "Great Novel", I'm glad to say! It doesn't set out to address any particular problem, or to look deep into the heart of man, or any of that tosh. It's a story of a boy growing up, and a love-song to India.