Summer Reading

“The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) is a novella by Rudyard Kipling about two British Freemason adventurers in British India who traveled to Kafiristan (a remote part of Afghanistan) to become kings, but instead became “gods” and ultimately lost everything. The story was inspired by real exploits of Englishman James Brooke; and by the travels of American adventurer Josiah Harlan.

The narrator of the story is a British journalist in India (Kipling himself). While on a tour of India, he meets two scruffy British adventurers; Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, who claim to be experts in “whiskey, women, waistcoats and bills of fare.” The pair of Masons, deciding that India is not big enough for them, plan to depart for Kafiristan to set themselves up as kings – with the help of twenty Martini-Henry rifles (then perhaps the best in the world). They plan to find a village chief, help him defeat his enemies, then take over for themselves; enabled by support from Kipling, which they ask for as a favor because they are all fellow Freemasons. As you would imagine, their schemes were dashed in spectacular fashion.

In addition to the book, an excellent film was made in 1975 starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer (which is available for rent on iTunes, etc.) and is highly recommended. The Craft is featured prominently in both versions (though more so in the book).