'The Answer You Seek' | Circle Round 16

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

If you had the chance to meet the wisest person in the world... and ask that person anything, anything at all… what would it be?

Well, in today’s story, a generous young man gets to do that very thing.
He goes on a long journey to find the wisest person, but when he gets there… things don’t go at all as he’d planned!

Our story is called “The Answer You Seek.” Versions of this tale have been told for many years; our version comes from the country of Thailand.

Voices in this episode include NPR favorites Ari Shapiro and Wade Goodwyn.  Our talented cast also features Mary Ann Hubbard, Norm Thibeault, Maizy Scarpa, Jefferson A. Russell, Laura Gardner, and Hana Kenny.

This story was adapted by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Jessica Alpert. Original music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis.

ADULTS! Print out this picture so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album on Instagram, and we’d love to see what you color. If you’d like to share your picture on Instagram, post your artwork and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it!

Things To Think About After Listening
What’s a thoughtful deed that you can do this week? Maybe you can set the table at dinner. Or help a friend with his homework.

Think about a favor that you can do for another person… and tell a grown-up in your life all about it. Then have them tell you a favor they can do for someone. You’ll both be on your way toward brightening someone else’s day!

Story Transcript
NARRATOR: There once was a boy who lived… on a farm.
It wasn’t a big farm, but the boy and his family had just enough to live comfortably. Behind the cozy farmhouse, there was a small field where they grew vegetables. There was also a ramshackle red barn, where they kept an old horse and some chickens.

But the boy’s favorite thing on the farm was in front of the farmhouse: a banana tree. The tree was planted hundreds of years ago by the boy’s great-great-great-great-great grandparents.

The boy loved helping his parents with chores on the farm. Every morning, he’d head out back behind the house and check that the crops had water, and the animals had food. Then he’d go in front of the house, and gaze at the beautiful banana tree. He would pick two of the brightest, yellowest bananas he could find, and bring them inside for his parents.

BOY: Mother! Father! Breakfast time!

FATHER: Oh, thank you, son! You always bring us the most gorgeous bananas!

MOTHER: And after you’ve spent all morning tending to the animals and crops! It’s so generous of you!

BOY: Oh, you know I’m always happy to lend a hand. (beat) Come on – let’s eat!

NARRATOR: One morning, after checking on the crops and animals, the boy walked to the front yard to pick bananas. When he got there, he stopped with a jolt.

BOY: The bananas! They’re gone!

NARRATOR: It was true. The banana tree… was bare! Someone, or something, had snuck over in the night and left nothing but branches and leaves!

Looking around the yard, the boy spotted… a banana peel. Then another, and another, and another! He followed the trail of banana peels all the way… to a monkey!

BOY: You! You’ve stolen all our bananas!

NARRATOR: The monkey looked up at the boy, her mouth full of squishy, ripe banana.

BOY: Well? Explain yourself! Why in the world would you take something from me and my family? Couldn’t you take from someone else? Someone with a bigger house? A bigger farm? I mean, this banana tree: it’s one of the few things my family and I have!

NARRATOR: The monkey swallowed her last bite of banana. Then, she began to speak.

MONKEY: Young man. You talk about “having things.” Well, listen here. I have seen your destiny, and it is this: you can only have eight items in your possession. Only eight! No matter how much you beg, or how much you gather, eight items is all you’ll ever be able to have.

NARRATOR: The boy tilted his head to one side.

BOY: Wait – why is it my destiny to own only eight things?

MONKEY: I don’t know! Maybe you should try and ask the wisest person in the world!

NARRATOR: And with that, the monkey scampered off. As the boy stared at the trail of banana peels she’d left behind, he thought for a moment.

BOY: I have to find out what my destiny means. I have to find the wisest person in the world!

NARRATOR: So, the boy kissed his mother and father goodbye and set out on his journey.

He walked and walked, all day long, asking everyone he met where he could find the wisest person in the world. Eventually, it grew dark.

BOY: I should rest for the night, then continue my journey tomorrow. Here’s a nice-looking house. Maybe they’ll let me stay for the night!

NARRATOR: The boy knocked on the door of a grand mansion.

WEALTHY WOMAN:  Young man! What are you doing out so late? It’s so dark! And getting so cold!

NARRATOR: The boy shivered, and smiled.

BOY: Good evening, ma’am. This might sound crazy, but I’ve been traveling all day because I have a question for the wisest person in the world. Do you think you could let me stay the night? First thing in the morning, I’ll be on my way!

NARRATOR: As the woman listened to the boy speak, her eyes lit up.

WEALTHY WOMAN: The wisest person in the world, you say? Could I – could I give you a question to ask, on my behalf? You see, my husband and I, we have a daughter, and she simply will not speak. She’s never said a word to us, or to anybody! So, if it isn’t too much trouble… could you please ask what we must do to make our beloved daughter talk?

NARRATOR: The boy answered without hesitating.

BOY: Of course I’ll ask your question for you! I’m always happy to lend a hand!

WEALTHY WOMAN: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much! Now, please: come inside! And make yourself comfortable in whatever room you like. Our daughter is away at her grandmother’s; otherwise, I would love to introduce you to her.

NARRATOR: The boy thanked the woman for her hospitality, and headed upstairs. After a good night’s sleep, he continued on his journey. Before long, he came to a spiky mountain range.

BOY: Yikes! These mountains must be a zillion feet tall! I’ll never be able to cross over them!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, there was a flash of light, then a puff of smoke. Once the smoke cleared, the boy saw he was standing next to… a wizard!

WIZARD: You’re right, kid! Those mountains are a zillion feet tall! So tell me: why would a young’n like yourself want to cross over them in the first place?

BOY: Well, you see, I’m on a journey. I have a question for the wisest person in the world. Please, do you think you could use your magic to help me cross these mountains? As soon as we get to the other side, I’ll be on my way!

NARRATOR: As the wizard listened to the boy’s story, he stroked his long, white beard.

WIZARD: You’re going to the wisest person in the world, eh? To ask a question?  I wonder… could you maybe ask a question for me? You see, I’ve been trying to master the final spell in my magic book… for a-thousand years! It’s been so long, and I’ve been practicing so hard, I’ve barely seen a glimpse of my wife, or my kids. Could you please ask the wisest person in the world what I have to do to finally master this one last spell?

NARRATOR: Just as before, the boy answered without hesitation.

BOY: Of course I’ll ask your question for you! I’m always happy to lend a hand!

WIZARD: Thank you, my boy! Thank you so much! And now… let’s go!

NARRATOR: The wizard waved his magic wand, and he and the boy floated high in the air, before soaring over the snow-capped mountain tops. When they reached the other side, the boy continued on his way. Soon, he found himself on the bank of a wide river.

BOY: Oh, man. There’s no way I can make it across this river. What am I going to do? I have to sit down and think.

NARRATOR: He plopped down on what looked like a giant rock.

TURTLE: Hey! Easy there, buddy! I’m a turtle, not an easy chair!

NARRATOR: The boy leapt up and saw that, indeed, the so-called rock was actually a giant turtle!

TURTLE: So, uh, tell me. What’s got you so hot-to-trot to cross this river here? There’s no way a kid like you can swim that far.

BOY: I know! But I have to get across! I’ve been traveling for days because I have a question for the wisest person in the world. (beat) You’re a good swimmer. Do you think you could take me to the other side? As soon as we get to the shore, I’ll be on my way.

NARRATOR: As the boy explained his situation, the turtle nodded his green and brown head.

TURTLE: Well, this is really something. You’re heading off to the wisest person in the world, and it just so happens that I –  Listen. You may not believe it, but I have been trying to become a dragon for 500 years. I’ve been trying so hard, I’ve barely left this spot. Do you think you could ask the wisest person in the world what I have to do to become a dragon?

NARRATOR: Again… just as before… the boy answered without hesitation.

BOY: Of course I’ll ask your question for you! I’m always happy to lend a hand!

TURTLE: Wow. Thanks, kid! Thanks a lot! Now let’s get you to the other side of this river!

NARRATOR: The boy hopped on the turtle’s back and they glided across the crystal-clear water. Once they reached the other shore, the boy walked until he reached a deep, dark forest. He wove his way through the bushes, shrubs and trees, until he came… to a clearing.

In the middle of the clearing was a bright orange bonfire. Sitting cross-legged next to the crackling flames was an old woman, her gray hair streaming down her back.
She greeted the boy with a toothy grin.

OLD WOMAN: I’ve been expecting you, my child. You’re here to ask me a question… aren’t you? Well, my boy? What is the answer you seek?

NARRATOR: The boy was so amazed at being in the presence of the wisest person in the world that, for a moment, he couldn’t speak.

BOY: Well, it isn’t so much an answer as answers. I mean, I came here to ask you a question – one question — but, now? It’s more like…

NARRATOR: The boy counted on his fingers.

BOY: … four. Four questions.

NARRATOR: The old woman raised an eyebrow.

OLD WOMAN: Well... Perhaps no one told you. (pause) I can only answer three questions… and three questions only. (pause) So… which three questions would you like to ask?

NARRATOR: The boy thought about the turtle, who’d been trying for 500 years to become a dragon. He thought about the wizard, who’d been trying for a-thousand years to master his one last spell. And he thought about the girl in the grand mansion: the one who’d been living her entire life, unable to speak.

Then... he thought about himself.

BOY: The monkey told me it’s my destiny to only have eight things.  Well, now that I think of it, my family and I don’t have much more than that, and you know what? We have everything we need! Compared with everyone else’s problems, mine suddenly seems... so small!

OLD WOMAN: Well, my son? Have you decided which three questions you’re going to ask?

BOY: I… I have!

NARRATOR: So the boy asked the old woman everyone else’s questions – the turtle, the wizard, the family with the daughter. When he was done, the old woman reached for her cane and slowly rose to her feet. She shuffled over to the boy and laid a soft, wrinkled hand on his shoulder.

OLD WOMAN: Alright. Let’s start with the turtle. The turtle is unwilling to leave his shell! As long as he is unwilling to leave the comfort of that shell, he will never become a dragon.  And the wizard! The wizard always carries around that wand of his, and never puts it down. Once he looks beyond that wand, then he will find the magic he truly seeks.

BOY: And the girl? The one who cannot speak? What about her?

NARRATOR: The old woman smiled, her eyes twinkling in the light of the bonfire.

OLD WOMAN: The girl? Well, that one’s easy: she’ll be able to speak… once she is introduced to her truest, friend, ever.

NARRATOR: The boy took in everything the old woman said. Then he offered his deepest thanks before running back through the woods, to the river. Once he got there, he found the giant turtle, who was resting on the shore.

BOY: Hey! Turtle! I talked to the wisest person in the world. All you have to do is come out of your shell, and you will become a dragon!

NARRATOR: Quickly, the turtle climbed out of his shell. Inside the shell were priceless pearls from the deepest parts of the ocean.

TURTLE: Thank you, kid! Listen – why don’t you take these pearls. If I don’t need my shell, I definitely don’t need these.

NARRATOR: As he handed the pearls to the boy, the turtle suddenly sprouted a long forked tail, and a glittering pair of wings.

TURTLE: Well, whuddya know? I’m a dragon! I’m a dragon!

NARRATOR: …And he flew away.

The boy dropped the pearls in his knapsack and hurried back to the spiky mountain range. When he got there, he saw the wizard waving his wand, trying again and again to perfect the final spell in his book.

BOY: Hey! Wizard! I talked to the wisest person in the world. All you have to do is put down your wand and you will find the magic you seek!

NARRATOR: The wizard took a long look at his wand. Then, he held the wand out to the boy.

WIZARD: Well, I suppose I won’t be needing this thing anymore. Here – take it. As a token of my thanks.

NARRATOR: As soon as the wand was in the boy’s hands, there was an explosion of colors, like the most spectacular fireworks. Then, a woman and three children came running down the mountainside. They threw their arms around the wizard and covered him in kisses.

WIZARD: My family! I’ve been practicing so very long, I’ve barely seen you! (beat) This is the very best magic of all!

NARRATOR: As the wizard and his family rejoiced, the boy raced back to the grand mansion, where the daughter who wouldn’t speak lived with her family. The woman and her husband were delighted to see him.

BOY: Listen. I’ve talked to the wisest person in the world.

WEALTHY WOMAN: And…? What must we do to get our daughter to speak?

BOY: It’s simple! You must introduce her… to her truest, friend, ever.

NARRATOR: Just then, the boy heard gentle footsteps coming down the stairs. He turned around and there… in the doorway… he saw a young girl, her face lit up in a smile.

GIRL: Mother? Father? Is that the boy you were talking about? The one who was here last week?

NARRATOR: The girl’s parents couldn’t believe their ears. But they knew the truth. This helpful, generous boy… the one who had crossed mountains and rivers to get answers to questions asked by complete strangers… Could there be any truer friend… than he?

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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