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In 1888, Rudyard Kipling published a collection of stories in a volume with the title The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Tales. The collection includes the short story The Man Who Would be King, in which Kipling's alter ego, a British journalist in India, makes the acquaintance of a pair of adventurers, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, who demand his help as a fellow Mason. The two shady characters have set out to take advantage of divisions among the natives and are determined to install themselves as kings in Kafiristan, a remote region inhabited by pagans in the north of the subcontinent. The journalist supplies them with maps; but it is only after two years that he hears from them again, when Carnehan, half-dead, returns to the journalist's office. Recounting their fate, he describes how they had first succeeded in securing themselves ever higher positions of power by playing off the tribes against each other. Dravot was declared a god and son of Alexander the Great. Their rise was facilitated by their familiarity with Masonic symbols in a temple used by the elders. Then, however, Dravot decided to marry a Kafiri girl; and when the reluctant bride bit him in the cheek during the wedding ceremony, the sight of their ‘god's’ blood betrayed his thoroughly human nature. The natives chased him onto a bridge which crossed a deep gorge and cut the ropes. Carnehan was crucified, but let go after he survived until the next day. In John Huston's film version of this story, released in 1975. the Alexandrian hoax is more prominent. The Kafiri girl becomes Dravot's very own Roxana, and the short scene in the temple from Kipling's story turns into an elaborate cult of the holy city of Sikandergul. Equally pronounced is the Masonic background of the two fraudsters.


This article was originally published in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, available at

This work is © 2009 by The Warburg Institute and distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).



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