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12 July 2008 @ 08:28 pm
the truth that proves it's beautiful to lie  
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling

I read my textbooks by counting the number of pages in a given section - say cardiac pathology - and dividing them up by the number of days I have to read them. I did the same with Kim, which says it all really.

On finishing, I was left with a faint sense of bewilderment and a side of 'bleurg.' I fail to see any precise reason why Kipling bothered to write this. It was an amalgam of semi- and sometimes wholly offensive stereotypes, contrived plot points and pointless wandering. Why Kim was educated, or needed to be European at all - except, presumably, to placate the European audience of the book - is never demonstrated, because he never finds any use for these attributes. With that in mind: Kim - the world's first Gary Stu y/y? He's good looking and everyone loves him, without any apparent effort or merit on his part.

The flavour of the story reminded me strongly of MM Kaye's The Far Pavilions. Now, the Far Pavilions is one of my favourite books of all time. It has many elements in common with Kim: an abandoned European boy growing up as a street arab, learning the ways of India from the inside before being plucked out and re-educated in the manner of his heritage. But Ash is everything Kim isn't, just as the Far Pavilions is everything Kim isn't. The Far Pavilions has danger, intrigue, and romance. On the other hand, I never once felt that Kim or his companions were in the slightest danger. They should have been! I refuse to believe that anyone could travel the length and breadth of India with no money and just be ... welcomed everywhere. And fed like a king. Way to scratch your internal validity, Kipling.

The intrigue was dead flat because Kipling never made an effort to elucidate what the Great Game actually was. Obviously I can tell it's 'spying on behalf of the Raj' and that the spies don't and can't know all the links in the chain - but Kipling could have told us, the readers. Moreover, I fail to see why any native would be so delighted to help out the Raj. Obviously some did, but the concept that any or indeed most would not care to is not even addressed, let alone explored. The insights into British colonial meddling left me disgusted. The government will 'change the succession in Hilas and Bunar, and nominate new heirs to the throne', will it? Huh. On the other hand, American imperialists would love this validation. Obviously the inhabitants of any given country don't know how to run it! They need 'civilised' help, y'all. After all, they've only been living there for oh, THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

Also ... three hundred and eighty-three pages with a male, teenage protagonist and not even a hint of sex? Give me a break.

I gather Kipling actually lived in India at one point - but you'd never know it from his descriptions. He even manages to describe Irish people in a way that leaves me gaping:

...but for all his training he was Irish enough to ... [desire] the visible effect of action; so, instead of slinking away, he ... wormed nearer the house

What does that even MEAN? That we're nosy or something? Okay, fine but that's hardly a trait you can disseminate among an entire race. You can use that for customs, habit, religion, dress and mannerisms, but not thought. No matter your ancestry, your thoughts and drives are new and personal.

where a native would have lain down, Kim's white blood set him upon his feet

That's more of the same, even leaving aside the racist connotations. Gosh, I bet even natives like to stand up occasionally!

Kim is also a dickhead, for all that the exposition never fails to praise him. Mahbub and Hurree and the lama spend a lot of time adoring his very shadow, but they never actually listen to him. Here's what I heard:

"I will beat thee in the morning. I do not love Hindus."

Because a little kid didn't speak to Kim when the kid's master ordered him not to. That's real sweet of you, honeybun.

Kim [spoke] jealously. He preferred to sway the lama by his own speech - not through the wiles of Hurree Babu.

That speaks for itself, I think. The lama is as good as a father to him. Yay manipulation?

One does not own to possession of money in India

Yeah, I give up. Kipling's writing about some imaginary land where you just have to dress up like a priest and the whole world will fall over itself to worship, house and feed you so you can get on with not caring about earthly things like happiness, shelter and hunger. Like. WHATEVER.
Current Mood: rushedrushed
Current Music: ashes of american flags (wilco)
Geoviki: J-Rockgeoviki on July 12th, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)
Oddly enough, I have until, um, Wednesday to start and presumably finish this book for our little bookclub. Maybe I'll just fake it with your essay! I'll look so smart.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: redhot flowersscoradh on July 12th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
Checking back to my last book post, it took me nine days to read this. (It only FELT like centuries longer.) Then again, I was studying six or eight hours a day, writing and reading fic as well, so you could totally do it in four days if you did nothing else and were willing to keep shocking yourself awake with a frayed electric cable.

I'd be interested to hear from other people who've read it! I think there's something missing in me that can't appreciate the capital G greatness of all these classics.
uminohikariuminohikari on July 12th, 2008 09:24 pm (UTC)
*giggle* This was the book I was supposed to read for history. I only read the first chapter, but it was predictable enough to BS an A out of :Db
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: frangipaniscoradh on July 12th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
The history of what? Cures to insomnia? MEH. Even without studying Indian history in any form, I can tell this isn't an accurate account of ... well, anything.

See? I bet I could have got an A too.
Matchy西matchynishi on July 12th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)
lol yeah, a lot of the stuff that he's written about Indian life is totally off the charts. XD *is indian* I'd read his stories starting from middle school and was still bewildered with some of his descriptions. XD
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Pretty shoesscoradh on July 12th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
It's almost like he lived in India but held up a distorted glass in front of him everywhere he went, and cut off the bits that didn't fit. At least, it read that way.
kestrelsparhawkkestrelsparhawk on July 13th, 2008 06:17 am (UTC)
I am truly horrified to hear that anywhere in the world this is required reading. It was written as a kid's adventure book, really (well, adventure with a young protagonist), not great lit -- which is fortunate, because although I read almost everything I ever got my hands on, I could never get far in this. Your essay does help me see what I didn't like.

Kipling was an imperialist. Here are a couple of fun summaries for those who apparently have to address his work: http://www.ligali.org/rioarticle.php?id=25
and http://www.britishempire.co.uk/biography/kipling.htm. I think a small quotation from the second source might say everything:
His imperial reputation was to be crowned with the story of Kim published in 1901. This heady mixture of admiration for Imperialism and for Indian mysticism was to be a recipe that inspired and entertained many imperial sons and daughters. It also left subliminal messages doused in the Social Darwinism of the day in the form of a strict heirarchy and the idea of dominion over others; ideas not unlike those espoused in the Mowgli stories.

This article comments that his patriotism (read: imperialist jingoism) took a heavy blow when his son died in the Great War. Sad that it took such a devastation to notice that in invasions, people die. Even your sons.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: frangipaniscoradh on July 13th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
Heh, it wasn't required reading for me. I subjected myself to it all on my own.

I can't see any kid getting behind this, what with all the thees and thous and lack of, you know, ADVENTURE. Then again, maybe it was duller in 1901? They made shadow puppets for fun? idk.

subliminal messages doused in the Social Darwinism of the day in the form of a strict heirarchy and the idea of dominion over others

I have to say I didn't pick those up. Unless the constant references to 'hillmen do this' and 'plainsmen do this' and random deployment of stereotypes is what it means.

The imperialistic orgasm that spawned this book is just so ... it's like reading it in a different language, that's what. It's a constant 'what does this MEAN? Does it mean THIS? ... WHY?'

Like I said. Bleurg.
fat girl rules the worldfatgirlrules on July 13th, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
I remember picking up a collection of short stories by Kipling a few years ago, fully expecting to love it. I couldn't believe what an ass the guy was! I am surprised his work is as well-known as it is.

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: deerscoradh on July 13th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
I read one of the Just So stories - the Cat who walked by himself? - and I was like, meh, you don't like cats? LOSER.

(i am so five.)