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'The King And The Cobbler' | Circle Round 3621:08
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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

When’s the last time… you did something all by yourself?

Maybe you packed your own lunch… picked out your own clothes… or made your own birthday present for a family member or friend.

When we rely on ourselves, it can make us feel really strong. But in today’s story, we’ll meet someone who’d never felt that strength... even though he was the most powerful man in all the land.

This episode's story is called “The King and the Cobbler.” It was inspired by a folktale with origins in a number of places... from Germany and Italy... to Greece and Finland... to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

Voices on this episode include: MaConnia Chesser, Evan Casey, Keith David and James Naughton. You can see Keith David on Greenleaf; season 3 premieres on the Oprah Winfrey Network August 28th. He’ll also be appearing with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish in the movie, Night School, opening September 28th.

And James Naughton is a Tony Award-winning Broadway actor who’s voiced two really fun Scholastic DVDs for kids: Robot Zot and Creepy Carrots!.  This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Jessica Alpert.  Original music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis.  Our artist is Sabina Hahn.


ADULTS! Print THIS OUT so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Story continues below

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Things To Think About After Listening
When’s the last time you were in a challenging situation and then — like the Cobbler — you dreamed up a creative way to turn things around?

Think about what happened, then find someone you like to have fun with — a family member, a friend — and tell them your story. Then ask them to tell you about a time when… like the Cobbler says… a door closed, and they found a way to open a window!


Musical Spotlight: The Classical Guitar

(Martin Moller/Wikimedia Commons)
(Martin Moller/Wikimedia Commons)

The classical guitar (a.k.a. concert guitar, classical acoustic guitar, Spanish guitar) typically has nylon strings, which give it a warm, smooth, lilting tone. Nylon strings are softer than steel strings (i.e. what you’ll find on a typical acoustic guitar), so you play the classical guitar in a very particular way. The most common technique involves plucking individual strings with your fingernails, as opposed to strumming chords or playing with a pick. But don’t be fooled by the name; just because it’s called a “classical guitar,” it doesn’t mean you only use it to play classical music! Since all five fingers are at your disposal, you can play pretty much anything on this instrument. So it’s very versatile - just like the Cobbler in our story!


Story Transcript
NARRATOR: Once… there was a king.

The king had all the riches a person could want… not to mention countless servants waiting on him, hand and foot.

He had chefs who cooked him the best foods... tailors who sewed him the fanciest clothes... and dozens of other people who planned his parties, wrote his decrees and otherwise carried out his bidding.

Yet the king couldn’t help but feel that something… was missing.

Every day, the feeling nagged him more and more. Then… late one night… just as he and the Queen were about to go to bed... he had a grand realization.

KING: (big lightbulb moment) A-ha!

QUEEN: What is it, my king?

KING: I’ve figured it out, my queen! At last!

QUEEN: Figured what out?

KING: What it is I’ve been missing!

QUEEN: Oh...?

KING: Yes! All my life I’ve had things handed to me on a silver platter. Ever since I was a royal baby, I’ve barely had to lift a finger; other people have done everything for me. I want to know how it feels to do things! Solve my own problems! To rely on myself for once!

NARRATOR: The Queen thought for a moment.

QUEEN: I see. Well, we have thousands of subjects out there who do that very thing, each and every day! Why don’t you go out into the kingdom, and observe how they live? Disguise yourself as a humble peasant, and see what you learn!

KING: Brilliant, my love! I’ll start first thing tomorrow!

NARRATOR: So… bright and early the next morning… the king put on a simple shirt and vest, with scuffed-up work boots and a floppy cap. Then he slipped out of the palace and began wandering around the city… unrecognized!

By the time the sun set, the disguised king was exhausted… and hungry. As he wound his way down an especially narrow cobblestone street, he suddenly heard the sound...

COBBLER: (singing a merry tune)

NARRATOR: … of singing.

Accompanying the singing was a kind of rhythmic tapping.

[cobbler hammering shoes]

And both sounds were coming from inside a teeny-tiny cottage - no bigger than the king’s royal bathtub!

Peering through the window of the house, the king spotted a man sitting at a small wooden table. The man was picking at a loaf of bread while hammering the sole of a shoe.

[singing and tapping stop]

When he looked up and saw the king’s face, he broke into a wide grin.

COBBLER: (kindly) Hello there! May I help you?

NARRATOR: Now, remember: the king was in disguise, so the man didn’t recognize him.

KING: Why, yes! Perhaps you can help me! I am a weary traveler, looking to rest my poor bones and have a bite to eat. But I can see you don’t have much to spare and so I think I’ll just -

COBBLER: Nonsense! Come right in! I’m always happy to help a stranger in need.

NARRATOR: The king stepped into the cottage and pulled up a chair.

KING: I hope you don’t mind my asking, but here you are, working late into the night, with nothing but bread to eat… How can you sing such a happy song?

NARRATOR: The man smiled, and handed the king a crust.

COBBLER: I can sing a happy song because I am happy! You see, I’m a cobbler by trade. Long ago, I taught myself how to mend old shoes, and now I make just enough money to buy what I need, day by day. (beat) And today... today, I made enough money to buy this bread. Bread which I now have the pleasure of sharing with you!

KING: But what if tomorrow you do not earn your bread? You won’t have anything to sing about then.

NARRATOR: The cobbler shrugged.

COBBLER: You know what they say: if a door closes, open a window! And all my life I’ve always found a way to open that window.

NARRATOR: The king nodded. He glanced around the cobbler’s humble cottage, and suddenly had... an idea. He stood up, and headed for the door.

KING: You know? It’s getting late, my friend. I must go now. But may I please come again tomorrow?

COBBLER: Of course! I look forward to it. (starts singing again)

NARRATOR: And the cobbler went back to his singing.

Meanwhile, the king rushed back to the palace and called a meeting with his team of decree writers. The next morning, signs were posted all over the kingdom issuing a brand new royal edict. The cobbler found one of the signs hanging right outside his tiny cottage.

COBBLER: (reading) “It is henceforth and heretofore against the law for anyone to mend shoes. Any person caught fixing a pair of footwear will be appropriately punished.” (beat) Hmmm. No more cobbling for me, it seems. I guess I’ll just have to -

NARRATOR: The cobbler’s thoughts were interrupted by a sudden thunk. Then another. And another.

Looking up, he saw a man staggering toward him. The poor fellow was scrambling to carry a huge load of wood he’d just cut down in the forest. One by one, stumps were breaking loose from the pile and crashing down on the cobblestone street.

The cobbler ran for his wheelbarrow, then filled it with the man’s wood. He carted the wood to the man’s home, receiving two gold coins for his troubles.

That’s when it hit him.

COBBLER: (to himself) Ah! When a door closes, open a window!

NARRATOR: All morning long, the cobbler chopped wood in the forest. Then he carted it to town. Seeing all the other woodcutters selling plain firewood, the cobbler decided he’d do something else. He figured out how to carve... and before long he was crafting spoons and spears, bowls and bookends… and exchanging them for gold coins.

Meanwhile, at the palace, the king was brimming with excitement.

KING: I asked the cobbler what he would do if he could not earn his bread. Now that I’ve made it illegal to mend and fix shoes, it’s my chance to find out!

NARRATOR: Then he threw on his peasant clothes and ran straight to the cobbler’s house.

Little did the king know... he was in for a big surprise.

[theme music in]

We’ll find out what happens when the disguised king returns to the cobbler’s cottage... after a quick break.

[MIDROLL]

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The King and the Cobbler.”

When we left off, a curious king was trying to test a clever cobbler. Disguised as a humble traveler, the king had visited the cobbler’s cottage, and was mystified by how innovative, self-reliant… and happy… the cobbler seemed to be.

So the king returned to the palace and issued a decree forbidding anyone from fixing or mending shoes. But when the king returned to the cobbler’s teeny-tiny house… again, in disguise… he was shocked to hear the cobbler… singing!

COBBLER: (happy singing)

KING: Hmmmm. I made it against the law for the cobbler to fix and mend shoes! How can he possibly have anything to sing about?

NARRATOR: The king peeked through the window and there… at the small wooden table… was the cobbler... picking at a loaf of bread… and nibbling a round of cheese! When the cobbler looked up and saw his friend from the day before, his eyes lit up.

COBBLER: Ah - there you are! Come in! Please!

NARRATOR: As the king joined the cobbler at the table, he furrowed his brow.

KING: I don’t understand. How is it that tonight you eat bread… and cheese? I heard about the new royal decree. You didn’t defy the king’s orders and spend the day mending and fixing shoes, did you!?!

NARRATOR: The cobbler smiled.

COBBLER: Nope! But losing my old profession has made room for a new one! Today I earned even more money than before, by chopping, carving and selling wood!

NARRATOR: The king was impressed at the cobbler’s inventiveness… and annoyed that his plan had failed.

KING: I see... But what if tomorrow you do not earn your bread — or your cheese? You won’t have anything to sing about then.

NARRATOR: The cobbler shrugged.

COBBLER: Ah, I don’t worry about such things. Like I said, if a door closes…

KING: (peeved) … then you open a window. Yes, yes, I know. (beat as he catches himself, returns to politeness) Thank you for your hospitality, friend. But it’s late and I must be going. See you again tomorrow?

COBBLER: Yes, please! (starts singing again)

NARRATOR: And the cobbler went back to his singing.

Meanwhile, the king rushed back to the palace, grumbling all the way. The next morning, he ordered his soldiers to round up all the woodcutters in the kingdom and recruit them to form a new regiment with the palace guard.

Next thing the cobbler knew, he and his fellow woodcutters were at the palace, dressed in elaborate uniforms, with sparkling steel swords tucked into their leather sheaths.

After a long day of marching, the new guards were sent home, with a command to return to the palace the following day at dawn. When one of them asked when they’d be paid, the captain answered just as the king had ordered him to.

CAPTAIN: Payment won’t come til the end of the month! Til then, you’ll have to make do, men.

NARRATOR: Now, remember, up until now, the cobbler always had made enough money to buy what he needed, day by day. For the first time, he was heading home... with empty pockets! As he passed by a pawn shop, he gazed at his reflection in the window. He saw his fancy new uniform… and his new steel sword in its leather sheath.

That’s when it hit him.

COBBLER: (to himself) When a door closes...

NARRATOR: The cobbler dashed inside the shop and offered the pawnbroker his steel sword. In return, he received enough gold coins to buy bread and cheese to last the month.

Then he ran back to his cottage and took a long, solid hunk of wood out of his wheelbarrow. He carved the wood into a sword… the exact same size as the steel one he’d just sold… and slid the wooden sword into his sheath.

That night… when the disguised king returned to the cobbler’s cottage… he was certain the man would have nothing to sing about. Yet… as he approached… what did he hear…?

COBBLER: (singing)

NARRATOR: That’s right: singing!

The king burst through the door, more baffled than ever.

KING: I heard about the king’s newest decree: the one ordering all woodcutters to join the palace guard! Word has it they don’t get paid until the end of the month. What in the world do you have to sing about?

NARRATOR: The cobbler told the king how he’d received a sparkling steel sword, and how he’d pawned it to put food on the table.

COBBLER: When I am paid at the end of the month, I will buy the steel sword back from the pawnbroker. But until then, I made this wooden sword, which I will keep in my sheath.

NARRATOR: The king’s mind raced.

KING: (hatching a new plan) And what if you are called upon to use your sword…?

NARRATOR: The cobbler shrugged.

COBBLER: Well, you know what they say -

KING: (impatient, frustrated) Yes! If a door closes, open a window! (beat) I just hope, dear friend, that you do not discover the window… is locked.

NARRATOR: Then the king rushed out of the door and back to the palace, where he held yet another emergency meeting with his royal advisors.

The next morning... just as instructed... the cobbler returned for guard duty at dawn. It was a rainy day, and he and his fellow guards splashed through countless puddles as they marched around.

When evening fell, and it was time for everyone to go home, the captain pulled the cobbler aside.

CAPTAIN: Not so fast, friend! The king has appointed you for overnight patrol down by the river.

COBBLER: (confused) Down by the river?

CAPTAIN: Yes! He wants you to report for duty immediately... and stay until dawn. No time to pack anything. Just bring your steel sword, and you should be safe from, you know, the bears...

NARRATOR: The cobbler took in what the captain said. Then he pictured his sharp, steel sword... locked away in the pawn shop.

But an order is an order… especially when it comes from the king. So the cobbler went down to the river.

For hours, he marched along the river banks, keeping his eyes and ears wide open. Just as dawn was beginning to break, he heard a sound that made his hair stand on end.

COBBLER: Was that… a growl?!?

NARRATOR: Slowly, the cobbler turned around... and, sure enough, what was lumbering his way but a giant, snarling bear! And she looked hungry!

COBBLER: Now I see what the captain meant about those bears. (beat) But all I have is this wooden sword! (beat) Wait...

NARRATOR: The cobbler’s eyes fell on a ripple in the river, where a school of fish was zipping through the water.

COBBLER: (figuring it out) Looks like I found my open window!

NARRATOR: Without wasting a moment, the cobbler lifted his sword… plunged it into the water... and speared a bunch of fish. Then he took the fish… lined them up along the side of the sword… and laid it on the ground in front of him.

COBBLER: (nervous, but friendly) Hello there, bear! My, don’t you look hungry! Well - you’re in luck! I got you this delicious platter of fish, fresh from the river...

NARRATOR: The bear stopped growling and slowly padded toward the fish. She took a few sniffs... and began… to eat.

The cobbler heaved a sigh of relief.

COBBLER: (relieved) Bon appetit!

NARRATOR: Then… just as the sun was peeking its head above the horizon... the cobbler sprinted back to the palace.

Now, unbeknownst to the cobbler, someone had been watching him while he was down by the river: the captain of the guard. The captain reported to the king what had happened, and by the time the cobbler reached the palace, who should be waiting for him… but the king himself!

Overwhelmed at being in the presence of such a great ruler… but unaware that they had met before... the cobbler bowed.

COBBLER: Your Majesty! I have followed your orders and stood guard by the river all night long. I am pleased to report that all is well.

KING: Indeed. For the first time in my life, I believe all is well!

NARRATOR: The cobbler stood back up, and looked at the king with confusion.

KING: My friend! Don’t you recognize me?

COBBLER: Wait! Are you…?!?

KING: Yes! I am the weary traveler whom you took in as a guest three nights in a row. And you are the most independent, innovative, self-reliant person I have ever met! As such, I ask you… will you move here, to the palace, and be my most trusted royal advisor?

NARRATOR: The cobbler blushed. He thought for a moment. Then, he looked his new friend straight in the eye, and said…

COBBLER:  No.

NARRATOR: Instead, he proposed, what if the king came to the city more often, and observed the way his subjects lived, day by day? The way they did things... Solved problems... Relied on themselves!

The king already had a taste of it with the cobbler, but there were thousands of everyday people out there who could show him… and teach him… a thing or two.

Thousands of everyday people who knew what the cobbler knew:

That when a door closes… and you know how to open a window… well, that’s definitely something to sing about.

Jessica Alpert Twitter Managing Producer, Program Development
Jessica Alpert is the managing producer for program development at WBUR. In this position, she develops new podcasts and programs while also launching and nurturing WBUR’s newest projects.

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