“The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) is a novella by Rudyard Kipling. It is about two British adventurers in British India who become kings ofKafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan. The story was inspired by the exploits of James Brooke, an Englishman who became the first White Rajah ofSarawak in Borneo; and by the travels of American adventurer Josiah Harlan, who was granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity for himself and his descendants. It incorporates a number of other factual elements such as the European-like appearance of many Nuristani people, and an ending modelled on the return of the head of the explorer Adolf Schlagintweit to colonial administrators.
The story was 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). It also appeared in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories in 1895, and in numerous later editions of that collection.
The Man Who Would be King
by Rudyard Kipling
The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not easy to follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again under circumstances which prevented either of us finding out whether the other was worthy. I have still to be brother to a Prince, though I once came near to kinship with what might have been a veritable King, and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom–army, law-courts, revenue, and policy all complete. But, to-day, I greatly fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go hunt it for myself.