Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Man Who Would Be King

Rudyard Kipling's "Daniel Dravot"

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Rudyard Kipling's novella, The Man Who Would Be King (1888), follows two British adventures, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan in British India, and how Daniel Dravet becomes king of Kafrirstan, a remote province of Afghanistan.

The book was inspired by the adventures and exploits of two men, an American, Josiah Harlan, who became the Prince of Ghor, Afghanistan, and an Englishman, James Brooke who was the first white Rajah of Sarawak, Borneo.

John Huston adapted the book and directed the movie version in 1975 starring, Michael Caine and Sean Connery as the two adventuring heroes, whilst Christopher Plummer played Kipling.

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The Man Who Would Be King

The two main characters are jacks of all trades, masters of none, and done the rounds in India, from soldiers, contractors, rail-workers and photographers. A British journalist touring India happens across the two main characters and immediately likes them.

They turn up at his office a few weeks later and tell him of their plan to leave Indian and become kings of Kafiristan, and asks him if he could give them any maps of the area, after all, they were also freemasons. They set off with pack horses loaded with twenty Martini-Henry rifles, which at the time were thought to be the best in the world and of some value.

They both set off for Afghanistan with the hope of finding a village and help its ruler to fight his enemies. First by training his men and using the riffles and then when the time is right, take over as kings themselves.

Two years later one of them sneaks into the British journalist's office, and he hardly recognises him, as he looks like an old broken and crippled beggar. Flabbergasted at his dishevelled appearance, he sits and listens to the story of their exploits and how one of them did achieve their initial goal and became King of Kafristans.

Rudyard Kipling


The First American King

Josiah Harlan, a Quaker, young adventurer, writer and naturalist from Pennsylvania was the first American to venture into Afghanistan.

The year was 1838 and Josiah Harlan with a strong desire to be a king, declared himself Lord of the Hazarahs and Prince of Ghor atop the summit of the Hindu Kush, complete with the American flag in hand and surrounded by his troops, as he sat on an Elephant, like Alexander the Great.

Ben Macintyre researched in great depth the life and exploits of this American explorer, and only American King, Elvis notwithstanding.

Macintyre was a correspondent for the London Times, and had travel to Afghanistan a few times, eventual hearing stories of Josiah Harlan's adventure and could not help notice that they sounded similar to Rudyard Kipling's "Daniel Dravot" from his story The Man Who Would Be King.

All documentation, including Harlan's autobiography, were thought to have been lost in a house fire in 1929. Back in America and a small museum in Chester County, was home to a worn out manuscript, letters, drawings together with a hundred and seventy year old document naming Harlan the King of Ghor, Afghanistan.

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The Man Who Would Be King

The First American in Afghanistan


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