Study Guide

Kim Writing Style

By Rudyard Kipling

Writing Style

Active, Descriptive

In our section on "Tone," we mentioned that there is a good mixture of conversation and description in this book. We never go too long without two characters talking to each other, but we also never get so lost in dialogue that we forget where the novel is set or what is going on at any given time. At the level of the book's style, let's take a look at how this balance between conversation and description works.

Here's a sample passage from Kim and the lama's travel into the Himalayas:

"Certainly, since we know the way to Freedom, the question [of whether the world would last forever] were unprofitable, but—look, and know illusion, chela! These are the true Hills! They are like my hills by Suchzen. Never were such hills!"

Above them, still enormously above them, earth towered away towards the snow-line, where from east to west across hundreds of miles, ruled as with a ruler, the last of the bold birches stopped. Above that, in scarps and blocks upheaved, the rocks strove to fight their heads above the white smother. Above these again, changeless since the world's beginning, but changing to every mood of sun and cloud, lay out the eternal snow. (13.21-22)

First off, in terms of content, the lama is telling Kim that the mountains of the Himalayas are not really eternal, since according to his Buddhist faith, nothing in this human life goes on forever. But even if the mountains aren't everlasting, they sure as heck look as though they aren't going anywhere any time soon. (That is the illusion that the lama is talking about: even though the mountains may not go on forever, they certainly look like they are going to.)

And then, to back up the lama's admiration of the Himalayas's massive beauty, the third-person narrator gives us this amazing description of the mountains's huge size as the peaks project above the cloud line (the "white smother"). Kipling does a fabulous job of portraying the mountains as both unchanging ("changeless since the world's beginning") and constantly changing according to the weather ("changing to every mood of sun and cloud").

There is poetry to the narrator's description of these mountains that really reinforces the lama's speech. And in other passages of the book, where the dialogue is more ironic or funny, the narrator appears to echo those tones as well. Kipling's style is really dynamic, in the sense that it constantly shifts back and forth between character conversation and narration and between serious and funny moods.

The book is always moving, both in terms of plot and in terms of style. And you can see this sense of stylistic energy in the active verbs that Kipling uses, as the mountains "tower," the bold birches "stop," and the rocks "[strive] to fight their heads above the white smother." Not even the rocks are sitting still in this passage. Both the word choice and the content of Kim gives the reader a sense of constant, jostling movement, which keeps us reading along as fast as we can.