The Man Who Would Be King

After all these years, I finally made it to Three Lives Books--thanks to Bud, who took me there. What’s been the matter with me? Well, let’s see--tight purse strings, little babies, and a poor sense of direction in the West Village which had me confusing Biography Books (which is fine but not great) with Three Lives which is both great and incredibly clost to the PATH train. Hooray!!

On my first trip, I bought, among other things, a very, very pretty little Melville House edition of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King which I gobbled one night in the tub, dreaming of Sean Connery, of George Clooney in a remake.

The novella, set in Afghanistan, is not only a terrific adventure story but also a great fable for our times. Two English loafers tire of the strictures and civilization of colonial India and head off to a remote part of Afghanistan, hoping to be greeted as liberators--oops! wrong century--to be made kings. The story is framed by a newspaper man who first lends the two adventurers his atlas and then, three years later, listens to the whole tale from the surviving one.

I can think of no quicker or more delightful way to read about the beginnings of “The Great Game” (as the Anglo-Russian land-grab over Central Asia was then called) than this.

The Melville House edition--from Hoboken!--is lovely. Still, it’s too bad to misspell Noble (!) Prize and the name of one of the two protagonists (Carnahan for Carnehan) on the dustjacket…).