From Page to Screen: The Man Who Would Be King

We’ve been focusing on schools this month, but not everything worth knowing is learned in school. Sometimes the school of hard knocks delivers more memorable lessons. . . .

Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnahan have decided that the 1880s British Empire does not appreciate their talents. And the two former British army sergeants do have a point. They feel like they’ve contributed more to building the Empire than administrators and British authorities, who are less than appreciative of their military exploits or how they have occupied themselves once they were discharged. Specifically, the powers that be are not pleased with Danny and Peachy leaving a trail of blackmail, fraud, and smuggling, among other things, in their wake.

They know that going home to England would mean menial work, which doesn’t seem very enticing given their adventures in India. But they also realize that further prospects in India are now limited, as well.

The two friends, thus, decide that they will go away to the remote, mysterious kingdom of Kafiristan. Once there, they will use their martial skills to serve as mercenaries and ingratiate themselves with a local chief as a stepping stone for them staging a coup, setting themselves up as rulers, and robbing the locals of their wealth. It’s not a retirement plan endorsed by most financial planners, but Danny and Peachy are pretty sure it will work out marvelously for them. What’s the worst that could happen?

Over the years, I’ve had many people, including my dad, recommend the classic 1975 movie The Man Who Would Be King to me. I just now got around to watching it and enjoyed it so much that I felt foolish for not getting around to it sooner. (Thanks to everyone who told me to watch it–I should have listened to you about a decade ago!) When I found out that it was based on a Rudyard Kipling short story, I also had to give that a try.

Thoughts on the Book

For the sake of transparency, our library system only has this book as an audiobook. I personally can’t listen to audiobooks because I always go on autopilot and then don’t pay attention. The adults in Peanuts might as well be the narrators for me because I won’t retain anything. I actually listened to an audiobook all the way through one time and have no idea who the main character was or what the story was about. I laughed a lot, so I guess it was funny, but I really don’t know.

For that reason, I read my own copy of this story. However, I encourage you to try out the audiobook! Since I retain absolutely nothing from audiobooks, I’m 100% sure you will get more out of it than I would. . . .

Because this story is from the 19th century, it features prose that is typical of the time period. I know not everyone is a fan of writing from the 1800s, and I can understand that. I personally have to be in the right mood for it, but I thought the style was still easier to read than some other works I have read from then.

The biggest strength of the story is its characters. Danny and Peachy are not heroes and they are really quite awful at times, but they are still engaging characters to follow on their misadventures. In the book, Danny is sort of the golden boy of the duo–he’s the planner and the brain while Peachy is the sidekick. For that reason, they reminded me a little bit of Pinky and the Brain. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it’s definitely not an equal partnership of the mind.

The other major selling point is the ending, which I don’t want to ruin. Let’s just say it is pretty freaky even by modern standards. I would love to know how people reacted to it in the 1800s.

I’ve read a lot of analysis of this story debating the role of colonialism–whether Kipling intended it as a critique or whether because of his own background Kipling was not critiquing colonialism so much as he was colonialism conducted Danny and Peachy-style.

Personally–and at risk of spoiling some of the story’s plot–I am not sure colonialism is really as big of a factor as contemporary readers think of it as being. One of the pertinent plot points is that Danny and Peachy are both Freemasons. So, I actually think the main theme from Kipling, who was also a Freemason, is that one should never betray or do harm unto a fellow member of the “craft.” But that’s just my take. I would be curious to compare notes with others for their thoughts.

Follow the link below to the next page to read my thoughts about the movie.

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Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

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