Déjà vu: The Man Who Would Be King cover

Déjà vu: The Man Who Would Be King

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For The Man Who Would Be King, the journey from scheming adventurer to worshipped ruler wasn’t so far.
He came with the wealth of an empire in his blood fueling an arrogance that he could deceive and subjugate an entire nation.
With him he brought the promise of power and riches beyond imagination, and a godlike hand to wave away the troubles of his swooning supporters.
It mattered not that he was winging it, making it up as he went along.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
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Déjà vu: The Man Who Would Be King

Winging It

For The Man Who Would Be King, the journey from scheming adventurer to worshipped ruler wasn’t so far.

He came with the wealth of an empire in his blood fueling an arrogance that he could deceive and subjugate an entire nation.

With him he brought the promise of power and riches beyond imagination and a godlike hand to wave away the troubles of his swooning supporters.

It mattered not that he was winging it, making it up as he went along.

The people were prepared to throw everything they knew and trusted out of the window for the promise of something brash and new.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Rudyard Kipling’s story of two chancers who targeted long ago Kafiristan in the mountains of Afghanistan to make themselves kings was seen as a morality tale to illustrate the perils of the British Raj.

Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan didn’t concern themselves with their mission much beyond taking power and, as it turns out, the twenty Martini-Henry rifles (then the best firepower in the world) proved ample to show they meant business.

Whatever came next would take care of itself, or so they thought.

Encore

George W. Bush and Tony Blair would try a similar ruse much later not so far away in Iraq.

In Kipling’s story - 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) and in ‘Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories’ in 1895 - the pretenders go first to a journalist for help and advice.

Although the journalist, taken to be Kipling himself, took it upon himself to put a stop to one of their earlier schemes, he helps them on their way this time, perhaps thinking their success unlikely.

Painting by Francis Hayman

But in life, as in politics, timing is everything. The ruffians talk their way to the top, persuading the locals that they are not mere kings, but gods, as well. They build an army and dream of nation building.

All seems to be going so well.

There was some historical inspiration to draw on; Kipling is thought to have based his characters, at least in part, on American adventurer Josiah Harlan (1799-1871) who traveled to Afghanistan and India with the intention of making himself a king.

Mounted on an elephant, Harlan raised the American flag on the summit of the Hindu Kush in the mountainous wilds of Afghanistan and declared himself Prince of Ghor, Lord of the Hazarahs, spiritual and military heir to Alexander the Great.

Kipling also ties his fake king to Alexander, with whom Dravot claimed heritage.

Although he died at 32, Alexander created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India, and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders.

But this is a morality take, after all, and Kipling had a point to prove.

Two years after leaving the journalist on their ‘royal’ quest, Carnehan crept back a broken man, the head of his partner, still resplendent with golden crown, in his bag.

Duped

Duped

Dravot had been found out. He was “Not a God nor a Devil, but only a man!” the people declared, belatedly realizing they’d been duped.

NoteStream readers, or at least those not already familiar with the novella, will learn for themselves how the story ends in the serialized version of the book described by many critics as Kipling’s first masterpiece.

The first installment can be read on the app today and NoteStream will be publishing new episodes daily.

It’s no great spoiler to reveal the outcome isn’t pleasant for either man. The wrath of a people wronged can be a terrible thing.

It may be a lesson Donald Trump should bear in mind for this November or November 2020, whichever comes first.