Review of “The Man Who Would Be King”

“The Man Who Would Be King” by Rudyard Kipling

This is a funny and odd short story that I quite enjoyed. I had to read it slow, since I’m not all that great with 19th century writing styles, but it rewarded me with a lot of funny stuff, especially in the first third of the story.

Summary: In India, the narrator, a British journalist, meets up and thwarts the plan of two British rascals, Daniel Dravot and Pechey Carnehan, who intend to blackmail a minor rajah. They find him later and ask him to help them research the area of Kafiristan where they plan on making themselves kings. One of the guys shows up two years later, very screw up, and tells the narrator what happened to them. The story takes a dark turn once their fantastic plan does succeed, but you’ll have to read that yourself.

One of the reasons to read this story is the humor. These guys are hilarious at the beginning. They want to be kings, and to show that they are serious about it, they’ve made a contract with each other vowing to stay away from drink and women. Well, if that doesn’t guarantee kingship, I don’t know what would. But the humor is a lot of underhanded wit and needs a slow, patient read to catch. The beginning description of what happens in the newspaper office is quite funny as well, so it’s worth not skimming over. Here’s an example of the wit in this section of the story: the “Colonels who have been overpassed for command sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten, twelve, or twenty-four leading articles on Seniority versus Selection.”

I recommend this to anyone who can deal with the floral language and twisty sentences of the 1800s. This would be a good short-story for a discussion group, so I’ve included discussion questions.

Things to know before reading the story: One, this is based on a true story, and the places are real, including the fair-skinned people of Kafiristan. Two, a Martini is a Martini-Henry rifle. Three, the Fellow Craft Grip is a secret freemason handshake. Four, you can differentiate between the two adventurers with this mnemonic:  Dravot has the red beard, hence the V in his name looks like a beard. Carnehan has a long name just like his long single eyebrow.

Click here to see my discussion questions for this story.

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