Kipling’s Kim, Lamas, and Epiphanies

  • Laurie Hovell McMillin


either a study of Tibetan religion nor another Tibetan travel account, Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, published in 1901, tells the story of an orphan of Irish descent on the loose in India and follows the travels of young Kim and his sidekick, a Tibetan lama; the travel motif that shapes the novel culminates in the dual, though diverging, epiphanies of both wayfarers. In this fictional coming-of-age story, Kipling draws on available knowledge on Tibet for his portrayal of the lama. In creating the character of the “Teshoo Lama,” for example, Kipling uses for his modest monk the title of the second highest incarnation of the Gelukpa sect, described by Bogle and Turner and cited by Blavatsky. His portrayal of the lama seems to draw specifically on the Markham’s edition of Bogle’s writings, but because Kipling does not cite sources (naturally enough for a work of this sort), it is as if the novel has swallowed Bogle whole.1 Kipling’s book also accepts the textual attitude portrayed in the works of Hodgson and Waddell. Further, the novel significantly uses the trope of epiphany to solve a question of colonial identity. In this way, once epiphany has come into close proximity to a Tibetan character, it will then travel along when the figure of the lama transfers yet again into Younghusband’s account.


Emphasis Mine Walk Away Textual Attitude Common Thing Travel Motif 
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  1. 1.
    For more on the ways in which texts can be “consumed,” see T. S. McMillin’s“The Consumption of Emerson,” in Our Preposterous Use of Literature (Champaign: University of Illinois, 2000).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rudyard Kipling, Kim (NewYork: Penguin, 1989 [1901]), p. 281. Subsequent citations are noted by page number in the text.Google Scholar
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    Clements Markham, Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa (New Delhi: Manjusri, 1971 [1876]), p. 177.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 171.Google Scholar
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    Barry V. Quall’s The Secular Pilgrims of Victorian Fiction explores how pilgrimage and conversion are re-shaped for secular use in theVictorian novels of Carlyle, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
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    Kipling, Something of Myself (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990 [19371), pp. 39–40, emphasis in original.Google Scholar
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    Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 64. Subsequent citations are noted by page number in the text.Google Scholar
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    For more on Kim’s healing, see J. M. S. Tompkins’ “Kipling’s Later Tales: The Theme of Healing,” Modern Language Review 45 (1950), pp. 18–32.Google Scholar
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    Francis Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).Google Scholar

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© Laurie Hovell McMillin 2001

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  • Laurie Hovell McMillin

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