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The Man Who Would Be King

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Overview

"The Man Who Would Be King" (1888) is a novella 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 locating the story in eastern
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0976140705 Melville House paperback

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The Man Who Would Be King

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Overview

"The Man Who Would Be King" (1888) is a novella 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 locating the story in eastern Afghanistan's Kafiristan and the European-like appearance of many of Kafiristan's Nuristani people, and an ending modelled on the return of the head of the explorer Adolf Schlagintweit to colonial administrators.

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 Child Stories in 1895, and in numerous later editions of that collection.

A radio adaption was broadcast on the show Escape on 7 July 1947 and again on 1 August 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 adventurers and Christopher Plummer as Kipling.

As early as 1954, Humphrey Bogart expressed the desire to star in "The Man Who Would Be King" and was in talks with director John Huston.
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 favour, because they are fellow Freemasons, and because he spoiled their blackmail scheme.

Two years later, on a scorching hot summer night, Carnehan creeps into the narrator's office. He is a broken man, a crippled beggar clad in rags and he tells an amazing story. Dravot and Carnehan succeeded in becoming kings: finding the Kafirs, who turn out to be white ("so hairy and white and fair it was just shaking hands with old friends"), mustering an army, taking over villages, and dreaming of building a unified nation. The Kafirs (pagans, not Muslims) were impressed by guns and Dravot's lack of fear of their idols, and acclaimed him as a god, the reincarnation or descendant of Alexander the Great. The Kafirs practised a form of Masonic ritual, and Dravot's reputation was further cemented when he showed knowledge of Masonic secrets that only the oldest priest remembered.

Their schemes were dashed when Dravot decided to marry a Kafir girl. Terrified at marrying a god, the girl bit Dravot when he tried to kiss her. Seeing him bleed, the priests cried that he was "Neither God nor Devil but a man!" Most of the Kafirs turned against Dravot and Carnehan. One chief (whom they have nicknamed "Billy Fish") and a few of his men remained loyal, but the army defected and the two kings were captured.

Dravot, wearing his crown, stood on a rope bridge over a gorge while the Kafirs cut the ropes, and he fell to his death. Carnehan was crucified between two pine trees. When he survived for a day, the Kafirs considered it a miracle and let him go. He begged his way back to India.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read."
—Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

"Small wonders."
Time Out London

"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works."
—Adam Begley, The New York Observer

"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series."
The New Yorker

"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are."
—KQED (NPR San Francisco)

"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package."
The Wall Street Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780976140702
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Series: Art of the Novella Series
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 5.05 (w) x 7.01 (h) x 0.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (30 December 1865 - 18 January 1936) was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He wrote tales and poems of British soldiers in India and stories for children. He was born in Bombay, in the Bombay Presidency of British India, and was taken by his family to England when he was five years old. Kipling's works of fiction include The Jungle Book (a collection of stories which includes "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"), the Just So Stories (1902), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including "The Man Who Would Be King" (1888); and his poems include "Mandalay" (1890), "Gunga Din" (1890), "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" (1919), "The White Man's Burden" (1899), and "If-" (1910). He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story; his children's books are enduring classics of children's literature; and one critic described his work as exhibiting "a versatile and luminous narrative gift".

Kipling was one of the most popular writers in England, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said: "Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known." In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize, and to date he remains its youngest recipient. Among other honours, he was sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, all of which he declined.

Kipling's subsequent reputation has changed according to the political and social climate of the age and the resulting contrasting views about him continued for much of the 20th century. George Orwell called him a "prophet of British imperialism". Literary critic Douglas Kerr wrote: "He [Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognised as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That, and an increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be reckoned with."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 19, 2011

    Excellent short story

    A very enjoyable short story. This was my first forray into kipling and i think i will be reading more of his work in the future. I read this after hearing about the movie. The movie closely follows the plot of this short story and i was suprised by the depth contained in this 30 page novella.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    One of my favorites

    Amazing short story

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2013

    Bucket of crap. Dont get it. It sucks.I hate it!

    CRAP!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    A tall willow

    Slightly bent over with long flowing leaves that reach down to the ground and surrounding a small circle with a curtain. Inside is a flat rock and a small stream filled with fish.

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  • Posted January 2, 2011

    digital artifacts

    too man digital artifacts, making it difficult to read - imporrible on some pages to make it out.

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    Posted August 26, 2012

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    Posted December 23, 2009

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