1900 – 1901: Kim

It is sometimes said that there are only two ways for a story to begin: Someone sets out on a quest or a stranger comes to town. Both come into play in Rudyard Kipling’s long-beloved (if now also half-forgotten) only novel-length story Kim. The novel first appeared twice in serial form in magazines, beginning in December 1900, before its publication as a book in 1901.

An orphan who roams the streets of Lahore (in then-British imperial India), Kim is appealingly known as both the Little Friend of All the World and, less frequently, the Friend of the Stars. He meets a Tibetan lama passing through town and quickly becomes his chela (disciple, assistant). Together they set out in search of destiny (Kim) and enlightenment (the lama) on the Grand Trunk Road, a journey that Kipling lovingly details:

By this time the sun was driving broad golden spokes through the lower branches of the mango-tree; the parakeets and doves were coming home in their hundreds; the chattering, grey-backed Seven Sisters, talking over the day’s adventures, walked back and forth in twos or threes almost under the feet of the travellers; and shufflings and scufflings in the branches showed that the bats were ready to go out on the night-picket.

Swiftly the light gathered itself together, painted for an instant the faces and the cartwheels and the bullocks’ horns as red as blood. Then the night fell, changing the touch of the air, drawing a low, even haze, like a gossamer veil of blue, across the face of the country, and bringing out, keen and distinct, the smell of wood-smoke and cattle and the good scent of wheaten cakes cooked on ashes.

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