The Man Who Would Be King

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"The Man Who Would Be King" (1888) is a short story by Rudyard Kipling. It is about two British adventurers in British India who become kings of Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan. The story was inspired by the exploits of James Brooke, an Englishman who became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in Borneo; and by the travels of American adventurer Josiah Harlan, who was granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity for himself and his descendants. It incorporates a number of other factual elements such as the European-like appearance of many Nuristani people, and an ending modelled on the return of the head of the explorer Adolf Schlagintweit to colonial administrators.[1]

The story was first published in The Phantom 'Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales (Volume Five of the Indian Railway Library, published by A H Wheeler & Co of Allahabad in 1888). It also appeared in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories in 1895, and in numerous later editions of that collection.

A radio adaption was broadcast on the show Escape on July 7, 1947 and again August 1, 1948. In 1975, it was adapted by director John Huston into a feature film of the same name, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine as the heroes and Christopher Plummer as Kipling.

Contents

Plot summary

The narrator of the story is a British journalist in India–Kipling himself, in all but name. While on a tour of some Indian native states he meets two scruffy adventurers, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan. He rather likes them, but then stops them from blackmailing a minor rajah. A few months later they appear at his office in Lahore. They tell him their plan. They have been "Soldier, sailor, compositor [typesetter], photographer... [railroad] engine-drivers, petty contractors," and more, and have decided India is not big enough for them. The next day they will go off to Kafiristan to set themselves up as kings. Dravot can pass as a native, and they have twenty Martini-Henry rifles (then perhaps the best in the world). They plan to find a king or chief, help him defeat his enemies then take over for themselves. They ask the narrator for the use of any books or maps of the area–as a favor, because they are fellow Freemasons, and because he spoiled their blackmail scheme.

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