Title of a short story by Rudyard Kipling, originally published in The Phantom 'Rickshaw in 1888. Made into an excellent feature film in the 1970s, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The story follows the (ostensibly fictional) exploits of two discharged British soldiers (otherwise known as "loafers") in nineteenth-century India who attempt, by dint of a cache of firearms, to establish themselves as kings in the remote area of Kafiristan.

This comes to mind as, at this very damn moment, there is a crew of workmen tearing off the roof of my building. Later this week they will be installing a new one. The noise is deafening. When I first heard the work begin at 7:30 this morning, I exclaimed, "God's Holy Trousers!" (something from the story that I've been trying to work into my vocabulary). If anyone has any idea how I can sue these individuals and recover for the pain and suffering they are already causing me, not to mention the loss of productive work time (did I mention that I'm on a deadline?), please let me know.

Indeed, an excellent film. This is evidenced by the fact (as much as I love her) that my wife seriously dislikes (dare I say hates) it. I have found, over the course of many years, that often there is a direct inverse proportional relationship between the lasting quality of a film and her basic opinion of it.

I remember being struck by several key elements of the tale. Most notably the inherit tempation of man. I also recall the role of the Masonic Order, which at the time fascinated me, as my father is Mason. For this, that I saw as a rather dry and deathly adult thing, to figure in something I considered to be quite cool was an interesting quandry.

Don't fret, I survived the experience and continue to consider Masonry to be a deathly dry adult thing to do - though historically they have been given the shaft by a certain organized religion with its weak knock-off fraternal order.

I'm sure it's a terrible thing to "inherit tempation", but I'd be more sure if I knew what "tempation" is. O tempura, O morays!

This is a short story which Rudyard Kipling wrote between around 1888. It's about two cashiered British soldiers adrift in India who wander up to a little kingdom (or nation, or something) called "Kafiristan" (click the link), located in northeast Afghanistan. Their aim is to take the place and set themselves up as kings. They travel in disguise as a mad priest (which religion is not stated, but clearly not Christian) and his servant. They bring two camel-loads of Martini rifles to shoot locals, bribe and arm other locals, and so on. Their names are Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravot.

Then it gets a little bit weird: Just as the story gets going (after about five pages of aimless nineteenth-century rambling and scene-setting), we're told that the people of Kafiristan believe themselves to be English or European, or something1. This is purely gratuitous, as far as I can see.

When our lads finally arrive on the scene and establish themselves after some stirring episodes of red-blooded manly combat at the far unknown edges of the world, we discover that the locals are Free Masons. Carnehan and Dravot are Masons, too, and they take advantage of that in establishing power. They convince the local people that they are divine.

Now, these two guys are both British colonial soldiers in a Kipling story. They've got certain predictable weaknesses of character, as one expects of the lower orders. Recognizing this defect in themselves, they agree with each other to avoid women and strong drink. It seems that only the middle class or better can handle broads and liquor. Dravot and Carnehan's downfall is inevitable!

Here's what happens: Dravot decides to marry a local girl. This is perceived as un-godly, but he goes ahead anyway. She bites his lip; he bleeds. He bleeds?! He's no god! The locals kill him by driving him out onto rope bridge over a ravine and then cutting it. They then crucify Carnehan. When they find him alive the next day, they feed him and release him to make his way back to India as best he can. After a year of begging on the roads, he finally arrives in the narrator's office in a small town newspaper in northern India. He tells the story and produces Dravot's hideous mummified head, with crown.

The moral of the story seems to be Know Your Place. Kipling has no problem with colonialism, and he has no problem with Englishmen impersonating gods. That all suits him fine. The problem with these two is that they're the wrong Englishmen. England is fit to rule, but only some Englishmen are fit to do the actual ruling. Dravot and Carnehan fit to take orders from those who rule, and to give orders in a small way to the "natives", but they were never meant to be kings. Dravot's diction improves with his station in life, but he still says "you was" from time to time, and that's his death warrant.

There it is: They over-reach themselves and come to a bad end. It seems that you can set yourself up in Afghanistan as a petty idol only for so long.

Moral or no, it's a fine, colorful, exciting story. They even made a movie based on it.


I regret that I am unable to provide any architectural detail or fascinating facts about the fraternal affililations of my recent forebears.



1 Alexander the Great figures into it somewhere. See also under Tocharian about the (apparently) Celtic mummies in Central Asia. No joke. They were found in 1978, a good long time after Kipling went to his reward, so it's really just coincidence. It was also some distance east of Afghanistan, in western China.

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