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Old 10-20-2014, 12:54 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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October 2014 Discussion: The Man Who Would Be King (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the October 2014 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling. What did you think?
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Old 10-20-2014, 04:33 PM   #2
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Short and sweet. The Freemasonry element was interesting. Was the narrator only a newspaper editor, or was he a British political agent?
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Old 10-20-2014, 11:21 PM   #3
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The narrator was a thinly disguised Rudyard Kipling. He spent many years as an assistant editor for a newspaper in India. He was loyal to the Crown, but I don't think he was ever an agent.
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Old 10-21-2014, 01:12 AM   #4
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I read it but wasn't that impressed. Not sure whether or not it was my expectations or what, but this story just didn't do anything for me.

My only other exposure to Kipling is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (which is one of my daughter's favorites now). I plan on reading the rest of the Jungle Book with her at some point, hopefully it is better.
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Old 10-21-2014, 06:20 PM   #5
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Eh?

It seemed full of kooky characters and kooky behaviors, like Kipling was writing it on an imaginative lark. So I couldn't even trust that it was giving an accurate view into those places and that time. If I were able to trust it, then I would be able to say that it seems that Afghanistan has always had rough terrain and fighting.

I was made to memorize Kipling's poem "If" when I was a boy, and found it quite amazing. So I expected more from my first other Kipling.
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Old 10-26-2014, 07:21 AM   #6
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I didn't mind this. Was it actually more about India than Afghanistan do you think? There was something about the Kafiristan people being more English than the English that reminded me of comments made about Indians under British rule.

It was interesting that Kipling chose two distinctly biblical images in the ejection of our rogues from Kafiristan. The beheading of one, a little like John the Baptist - the head is later presented to the narrator, and the crucifixion of the other - proclaimed more a God because he survived the act. Given that they had set themselves up as gods, I found this quite interesting.
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Old 10-26-2014, 02:48 PM   #7
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Kipling's poetry was extravagantly admired during his life time and even for a while after his death. This was certainly because he wrote quite vigorously and was regarded as a great advocate of the great British Empire upon whom the sun never set. While some of his poetry is still appreciated, it hasn't aged well and one can only read about "The White man's burden" with embarrassment and give him a pardon for being a child of his times.

But the same cannot be said about his prose--the short stories in particular. He had an astonishing versatility and fecundity of inspiration and this frequently includes a darkly cynical edge with the British characters who are neither enlightened nor civilised. This is the case with "The Man Who Would Be King". The two main characters are certainly rogues, swindlers, liars and cheats.

But do they deserve what happens to them? They are both defeated by their humanity and the all-powerful, strange, alien world they try to control. When Peachey makes his final trip, he speaks in the third person as if his basic self is gone and his sanity has been usurped by the power of the terrible land he tried to control:

"They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they said he was more of a God than old Daniel that was a man. Then they turned him out on the snow, and told him to go home, and Peachey came home in about a year, begging along the roads quite safe; for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said, 'Come along, Peachey. It's a big thing we're doing.' The mountains they danced at night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peachey's head, but Dan he held up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He never let go of Dan's hand, and he never let go of Dan's head. They gave it to him as a present in the temple, to remind him not to come again; and though the crown was pure gold and Peachey was starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You know Dravot, Sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him now!"

And what of the strange ambiguous ending?

Indeed who are the villains in this amazing evocative story set in India?

This is the "dark" Kipling at his best.
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Old 11-01-2014, 01:04 PM   #8
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Excellent review, fantasyfan!

I unfortunately only thought this was mediocre, and it's a shame since I was looking forward to it. I like a good adventure tale, I like the time period and setting, but I just found the story lacking. Perhaps I'm overlooking some interesting meaning to it.

I think it was very interesting to set a story in Kafiristan; it's "exotic" and no longer really exists anymore in the present day (the whole area has basically been "Islamified" and the people either killed or converted excepted for a very small minority now). But the story's much more a fantasy than anything realistic, and even that's fine if it were interesting, a sort of an "into the jungle" adventure tale with treacherous mountains instead. I just found everything so obvious or random in the story and the characters and situation not particularly engaging. I did enjoy the last few pages, but it didn't make up for the rest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by caleb72 View Post
I didn't mind this. Was it actually more about India than Afghanistan do you think? There was something about the Kafiristan people being more English than the English that reminded me of comments made about Indians under British rule.
I don't know but there actually is (was) a region of Afghanistan called Kafiristan that was different. I don't think they were "English" but they weren't Muslim. Either Kipling knew their particulars and still chose to fantasise them to be something else, or (my guess) it was something of a less known realm then with wild stories about it in India and Kipling ran with it. I haven't looked anything about this story up on the internet so perhaps there's more details known about what Kipling knew.

Quote:
It was interesting that Kipling chose two distinctly biblical images in the ejection of our rogues from Kafiristan. The beheading of one, a little like John the Baptist - the head is later presented to the narrator, and the crucifixion of the other - proclaimed more a God because he survived the act. Given that they had set themselves up as gods, I found this quite interesting.
Yes, that was interesting. I feel like perhaps there just might be a more complex symbolism or allegory or metaphor at work here, but if there is I'm not seeing it. After all, Jesus was the last person who would've decided to become a king through war. That would be much more like Muhammed, but I think you're right about the Jesus/John the Baptist parallel. If anyone has any other ideas on any "meanings" in the story I'd be interested in hearing them.
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