Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers of his era, and his novel Kim, first published in 1901, has become one of his most well-known nonjuvenile works.
The novel takes place at a time contemporary to the book’s publication; its setting is India under the British Empire. The title character is a boy of Irish descent who is orphaned and grows up independently in the streets of India, taken care of by a “half-caste” woman, a keeper of an opium den. Kim, an energetic and playful character, although full-blooded Irish, grows up as a “native” and acquires the ability to seamlessly blend into the many ethnic and religious groups of the Indian subcontinent. When he meets a wandering Tibetan lama who is in search of a sacred river, Kim becomes his follower and proceeds on a journey covering the whole of India. Kipling’s account of Kim’s travels throughout the subcontinent gave him opportunity to describe the many peoples and cultures that made up India, and a significant portion of the novel is devoted to such descriptions, which have been both lauded as magical and visionary and derided as stereotypical and imperialistic.
Kim eventually comes upon the army regiment that his father had belonged to and makes the acquaintance of the colonel. Colonel Creighton recognizes Kim’s great talent for blending into the many diverse cultures of India and trains him to become a spy and a mapmaker for the British army. The adventures that Kim undergoes as a spy, his endearing relationship with the lama, and the skill and craftsmanship of Kipling’s writing have all caused this adventurous and descriptive—if controversial—novel to persist as a minor classic of historical English literature.