Places: Kim

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1901

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Lahore

*Lahore Kim (le-HOHR). Now a city in northeastern Pakistan, Lahore was part of British India at the time in which this novel is set. Its museum or “Wonder House” (which represents the city’s richness and cultural diversity) has a curator modeled on Rudyard Kipling’s father, who was curator there from 1875 to 1894. It is appropriate that Kim opens in Lahore, because Kipling’s earliest memories came from there. His appreciation of the city’s ethnic and religious heterogeneity owes something to the Masonic Lodge, which he joined there as a young man; it was an organization teaching the brotherhood of all races and faiths. Kim’s presentation of India is best when it conforms to this Masonic spirit. However, from the novel’s first sentence, Kipling overlays this tolerance with the presupposition that the British have won the right to rule Lahore, and, indeed, all of India.


*Afghanistan. Independent country west of India that was thought to threaten British India, particularly if Afghanistan were to ally itself with Russia or France. Personifying the best of Afghanistan, Mahbub Ali, repeatedly called the “Afghan,” exudes courage and ferocious virility as well as guile, yet Kim wins his affection. To celebrate that boy’s becoming a man, Mahbub Ali dresses Kim in the robes of a prince of his Afghan tribe. This incident symbolizes Kipling’s hope that the British Empire will eventually expand into Afghanistan.


Such-Zen (sewtch-ZEHN). Fictional Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where an unnamed lama becomes Kim’s teacher. Since Kipling renders a few other Tibetan place names correctly, the name “Such-Zen” is probably not merely a corrupted spelling of the real Tibetan monastery Tso-chen, but Kipling’s deliberate allusion to two basic Buddhist concepts: tathata for absolute reality, which is usually translated as “suchness”; and meditation, the root meaning of the Japanese word zen. Kipling may have encountered that term during a trip to Japan that inspired his poem “Buddha at Kamakura,” which he used as epigraphs for chapters in Kim. The lama’s being a Tibetan Buddhist serves as a pretext for Kipling to write of India’s having given the world Buddhism, a religion that fascinated Kipling during his adolescence. Kipling’s fictional lama is under Kipling’s protection just as Kipling presumably wished to see Tibet under British imperial protection.


*Simla (SIM-lah; now spelled Shimla). Cosmopolitan city in the cool foothills of the Himalayas that was the summer capital of British India. There, Kim studies under Lurgan Sahib, a character modeled on that city’s most famous illusionist and seller of jewels, A. M. Jacob. To a lesser extent, Colonel Creighton (modeled on Colonel Thomas Montgomerie) is associated with Simla, though he first appears in another center of British military power, Umballa (now called Ambala).


*Lucknow (LUK-now). City in north-central India, southeast of Delhi, to which Kim goes to attend St. Xavier’s School, which Kipling modeled on Lucknow’s real La Martinière Academy. Like its real-life model, St. Xavier’s is a place in which students manage to keep contact with India while they learn British civilization, in contrast to the purely British schools that Kipling attended at the cost of considerable culture shock.


*Sahuranpore (se-HAR-ren-pohr; now spelled Saharanpur). Hill town in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh State, near Tibet. The Sahiba who lives there represents the high status of women in those hills, as, to a greater extent, does the relatively nearby Woman of Shamleigh, with her two or more husbands.


*Bengal (ben-GAWL). Province of northeast British India (since divided between India and Pakistan) whose intellectuals were particularly prone to anti-British protests of which Kipling disapproved. Consequently, the Bengali character Babu Hurree Chunder Mookerjee is portrayed as pretentious and comic. His probable model was Colonel Montgomerie’s Bengali agent Babu Sarat Chandra Das. Like Kipling’s character, this Babu undertook clandestine operations involving Tibet, as part of Britain’s attempted expansion of its political and economic influence into the Himalayas.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. An excellent introductory source gathering a cross section of essays providing extremely useful criticism. Analyzes character and theme, discusses Kipling’s views on India, presents revisions from an earlier draft, and compares Kipling’s views on the British empire with those of E. M. Forster and George Orwell.Page, Norman. A Kipling Companion. London: Macmillan, 1984. Helpful introductory source providing a brief biography, chronology, and discussion of Kipling’s world. Identifies historical figures and gives clear, insightful analyses of the novels, short stories, and verse. Helpful annotated bibliography.Rao, K. Bhaskara. Rudyard Kipling’s India. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. Evaluates Kipling’s place as a writer about India and compares with other British writers. Provides historical background and analyzes theme, setting, and character in Kim.Shahane, Vasant. Rudyard Kipling: Activist and Artist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973. Excellent introductory source. Provides chapter-by-chapter summary illustrating the novel’s thematic unity and charting Kim’s inner growth as he deals with his two separate worlds. Helpful in following the complex action in the novel. Clear analysis of major symbols, setting, and character.Sullivan, Zohreh. Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A detailed analysis that stresses the quest of the lama and Kim, discusses theme and symbol, and provides detailed character analysis. Clear explanation of religious background.
Categories: Places