• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #36: Danny Dravot


He just can't wait to be king.

The Man Who Would Be King is my favorite Kipling work. His original 1888 book is a tale of greed, hubris, and a subtle critique of western colonialism. Danny Dravot and Peachy Carnahan are former British soldiers with experience in the Empire's 19th-century Asian adventures, experience they believe has prepared them to penetrate the depths of the Hindu Kush, pose as gods, and "plunder the place four ways from Sunday". It's a good plan, and Dravot and Carnahan prove adept travelers as they find their way into the remote historic area of Kafiristan (now eastern Afghanistan). Everything goes swimmingly until Dravot begins to inhabit the role of divinity a bit too enthusiastically, and declares his intention to set up permanent shop as an immortal king in the mountains. It's a fatal departure from the plan, and it screws everything up, as hubris usually does. Dravot is a victim of the seduction of power, to his doom.

The 1975 film version is a breathtaking adaptation, with star turns by Christopher Plummer (as Kipling himself in an observer/narrator role), Michael Caine as the broadly humorous and tragic Peachy, and Sean Connery as Dravot. Connery's arrogant bluster is a perfect fit for Dravot's character, and as he descends into his mad flirtation with carving a kingdom out of the wilderness, Connery's regal imperiousness is on full display. It's a wonderful film by the titan John Huston, with a stirring score that to this day has the lyrics of The Minstrel Boy clattering around in my head. The story is one of overreach, of the perils of forgetting our goals in the noise of the moment. I'm reminded of the George Clooney vehicle Three Kings, set during the first Iraq war, in which he repeatedly tries not to get sucked into saving women and children, repeating his mantra, "We stick to the plan. The plan is for the gold." It doesn't work out for him, either. Most of our plans never do.

Special thanks to Bill and Gwen Pentland for introducing me to this epic tale in the summer of 1993. It's been one of my favorites for the 23 years since.

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