'The Fire Within' | Circle Round 129

Download Audio
("The Fire Within" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Fire Within" by Sabina Hahn)

Close your eyes, and imagine you’re at your favorite place.

Maybe it’s a park, maybe it’s a city, maybe it’s the home of someone you love.

Think hard about that place. What do you see? What do you hear? Do you smell anything? Taste anything?

Now open your eyes… and poof! You’re back where you started.

That is the power of imagination. And in today's tale, we’ll get reacquainted with a fellow who harnesses that power masterfully.

Our story is called “The Fire Within.” You’ll hear variations of this tale in many places, from the Southwestern United States to Ethiopia, Kenya, and the West Indies to the Balochistan  region of South and Western Asia. Our adaptation is especially influenced by versions from Turkey, which feature Nasruddin: a legendary trickster whom you may remember from our season-two story, “The Unwelcome Guest.”

Voices in this episode include Jefferson A. Russell, Alexia Trainor, Chris Tucci, and Maz Jobrani. Grown-ups: Maz’s comedy special, Pandemic Warrior, is streaming now on Peacock. You can find his podcast, Back To School With Maz Jobrani, wherever you get your podcasts. And tune into your local NPR station to hear Maz as a panelist on Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

("The Fire Within" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Fire Within" by Sabina Hahn)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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.

Things To Think About After Listening

Use your imagination to dream up the most lavish feast you can think of.

What kinds of food would you serve? And where would you serve it? At your house? In a castle? On the beach?

Find some paper and draw a picture of your feast — each and every appetizer and entree, drink and dessert. You can even draw your lucky guests!

Share your picture with someone you love. Then, if you’d like, share your picture with us! Grown-ups, our email address is

Musical spotlight: The Oud

Eric Shimelonis playing the oud. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis playing the oud. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

With 11 or 13 strings running up and down its short, fretless neck and gourd-shaped body, the oud is believed to have originated in Persia more than 3,500 years ago.

The Arabic word “oud” translates to “stick” or “from wood”; appropriately, oud-makers use rounded strips of wood to craft the backside of the instrument, and one flat sheet of wood to create the front. Traditionally, oud players have plucked or strummed the oud’s strings with a ‘plectrum’: a long, flat pick that resembles a nail file.

You can also hear Eric Shimelonis playing the oud in our other Nasruddin story, “The Unwelcome Guest”, as well as “The Sultan’s Figs”!


NARRATOR: It was a blustery autumn afternoon, and three scholars were sipping cups of sweet, hot tea in a cafe off the town square.

Through the cafe’s windows, the scholars could see their fellow townspeople rushing by with chattering teeth and upturned collars as the bitter wind whistled and howled.

SCHOLAR 1: My goodness, friends! It’s so cold out there, when I went to the barn this morning and milked my cow... she gave me ice cream!

SCHOLAR 2: You’re telling me! When I went into the kitchen and opened my icebox... my house actually got warmer!

SCHOLAR 3: And when I stepped outside to come meet you all, my shadow froze to the ground -- and when I took a step, it snapped right off!

SCHOLAR 1: / SCHOLAR 2: / SCHOLAR 3: (ad-lib laughter)

NARRATOR: As the scholars chuckled and chortled, the front door burst open...

[SOT: door]

NARRATOR: … and a familiar voice rang out.

NASRUDDIN: (especially energetic/boisterous) Greetings, friends!

NARRATOR: The scholars put down their teacups and swiveled their eyes toward the door.

There, standing in the cafe’s entrance, wearing his usual mischievous grin, was their clever old friend, Nasruddin.

NASRUDDIN: My, my! Look at the three of you! You’re shaking harder than a bowl of rice pudding on the back of a galloping donkey!

NARRATOR: The scholars smiled and rubbed their hands together.

SCHOLAR 1: Well, can you blame us Nasruddin?

SCHOLAR 2: It’s frigid out there!

SCHOLAR 3: Downright freezing!!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin pulled up a chair and joined his friends at the table.

NASRUDDIN: Well… I suppose it is a bit chilly outside… but really, it’s not so bad. (beat) (nonchalant yet cocky) I suppose when your brain works as hard and fast as mine does... it generates enough power to keep you nice and toasty!

NARRATOR: The scholars felt themselves bristle. They had always envied Nasruddin’s brilliant mind… and they had always resented how boastful he could be about it.

But perhaps here was a chance to take their smart-alecky pal down a notch…?

The scholars exchanged a look, then leaned back in their chairs and folded their arms.

SCHOLAR 1: (hatching a plan) You know, Nasruddin...

SCHOLAR 2: ...if you really think the weather is “not so bad”...

SCHOLAR 3: …why don’t you prove it?

NARRATOR: Nasruddin raised an eyebrow. He could tell his comrades were up to something.

NASRUDDIN: “Prove it,” you say…?

SCHOLAR 1: Yes! We dare you to stay outside all night

SCHOLAR 2: ...twilight to daybreak

SCHOLAR 3: ...with nothing to keep you warm!

NARRATOR: Now Nasruddin leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.

NASRUDDIN: Hmmm… Stay outside all night, huh…? (beat) With no coat?

SCHOLAR 1: No coat!

NASRUDDIN: And no blanket?

SCHOLAR 2: No blanket!

NASRUDDIN: And no fire?

SCHOLAR 3: No fire! (beat) Not even a thermos of hot, sweet tea.

NARRATOR: Nasruddin stroked his chin and thought for a moment. Then he sat up straight and tall and fixed the scholars with a twinkling gaze.

NASRUDDIN: Alright, friends… I accept your challenge! From twilight to daybreak, I will stay out in the town square with nothing to keep me warm but the shirt on my back. (beat) If I make it through the night, the three of you will treat me to a lavish dinner. … But if I give up before sunrise, then I will treat you to a lavish dinner. In fact, I’ll invite you all to my house, and I’ll prepare a meal that you’ll never forget. (beat) What do you say?

NARRATOR: The scholars leaned in toward one another and exchanged some whispered words. Then they turned back to their friend.

SCHOLAR 1: Alright, Nasruddin!

SCHOLAR 2: We accept your bet!

SCHOLAR 3: (certain Nasruddin will lose) And we look forward to that lavish dinner of yours!!

SCHOLAR 1: / SCHOLAR 2: / SCHOLAR 3: (ad-lib laughter)

NARRATOR: That night, as darkness fell and the stars popped out one by one in the vast, blue-black sky, Nasruddin strode into the town square. The air was so brisk he could see his breath. Yet he wore nothing more than his usual tunic and pants, and carried nothing more than a big, thick book.

He found a bench in the middle of the square, plopped himself down, and, by the light of the bright, golden moon, he began to read.

The air grew chillier, but Nasruddin kept reading.

The wind grew fiercer, but Nasruddin kept reading.

Then, finally, as the clock struck twelve, Nasruddin laid his book down on the bench. His hands were so cold and stiff he could no longer turn the pages!

Nasruddin’s eyes roved around the shadowy square. He spied shops and markets, restaurants and houses, all of them closed up and sleeping for the night.

But inside one house, all the way across the square, Nasruddin caught sight of something that made his freezing-cold face break into a warm, toothy grin.

NASRUDDIN: (slowly) A-ha!

NARRATOR: And suddenly… Nasruddin knew… he was going to win the bet.

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think Nasruddin spotted across the town square?

And is the wise man right?

Will it help him win the bet?

We'll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Fire Within.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, three jealous scholars issued a challenge to Nasruddin. If he could stay outside all night, in the freezing cold, without anything to keep him warm, they would treat him to a lavish feast. But if he couldn’t do it, he would owe them a lavish feast.

After a few hours outside, Nasruddin could hardly feel his fingers or toes. But suddenly, he spotted something that made his heart leap with joy.

NASRUDDIN: (slowly) A-ha! (beat) A candle!

NARRATOR: Indeed, all the way across the square… in the window of a quiet little house... burned a single candle… its white wax dripping as its golden flame danced and leaped.

Nasruddin fixed his eyes on the candle; it was about a-hundred yards away. And as Nasruddin stared at the flickering flame, he imagined it to be a roaring, blazing fire. He pictured himself curled up beside that fire, fragrant, grey smoke curling into his nostrils as he basked in the heat radiating from the crackling, popping, red-hot wood.

And thus Nasruddin sat all night long. And when the stars disappeared and up came the sun, the wise man went back home... took a hot, bubbly bath... then returned to the cafe, where the three scholars were waiting at their usual table, sipping their sweet, hot tea.

NASRUDDIN: Good morning, my friends! (playful, confident) I think we’d better talk about where you’re taking me to dinner!

NARRATOR: The scholars dropped their teacups with a clatter.

SCHOLAR 1: Nasruddin!!

SCHOLAR 2: Are you saying you won the bet?!?

SCHOLAR 3: But how did you make it through the night?!?

NARRATOR: Nasruddin pulled up a chair and told the scholars the whole story. How he’d sat in the town square, feeling his fingers and toes growing number and number, until — right around midnight — he’d caught sight of a candle in a far-off window...

NASRUDDIN: ...and do you know what I did? I pretended that candle was a raging, blazing fire! I used the powers of my mind to imagine its warmth, its heat! And thus, in doing so, I managed to stay out until day break!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin clapped his hands together in triumph.

NASRUDDIN: (pleased with himself) So… since I won the bet… where are you three taking me to dinner? I want that lavish feast!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin flashed the scholars a grin.

They did not grin back.

Instead, they leaned in toward one another, exchanged some whispered words, then turned back to their friend with a shrug.

SCHOLAR 1: We’re sorry, Nasruddin...

SCHOLAR 2: … but we aren’t taking you to dinner!

SCHOLAR 3: You lost the bet!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin shook his head.

NASRUDDIN: I didn’t lose the bet! I did exactly what you challenged me to do! I stayed outside, all night long, with nothing to keep me warm! No coat, no blanket, no fire — (gets interrupted)

SCHOLAR 1: (interrupting) See, that’s where you’re wrong, Nasruddin.

SCHOLAR 2: You did have a fire!

SCHOLAR 3: You had

SCHOLAR 1: / SCHOLAR 2: / SCHOLAR 3: (slowly, emphatic) ...a candle!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin was quiet for a moment. Then, he slapped his hand on the table and let out a laugh.

NASRUDDIN: (laughing) Ahhh! Ha ha ha! I see! You three are pulling my leg! Surely you know I couldn’t possibly keep myself warm with the heat from that candle! It was a-hundred yards away! Behind a closed window! (beat) That’s a very funny joke, friends! A very funny joke!

NARRATOR: But Nasruddin’s friends were not joking.

SCHOLAR 1: Don’t you see, Nasruddin?

SCHOLAR 2: A candle gives off heat!

SCHOLAR 3: And you warmed yourself by the heat of that candle!

SCHOLAR 1: So... you lost the bet!

SCHOLAR 2: And we won!

SCHOLAR 3: And now you owe us a lavish feast!

SCHOLAR 1: / SCHOLAR 2: / SCHOLAR 3: (ad-lib laughter, etc.)

NARRATOR: Nasruddin crossed his arms and scowled. These three actually believed that the heat of a candle, one-hundred yards away, could keep a person warm through the night? And they dared to call themselves “scholars”? How could such wise people be so foolish? 

But Nasruddin gave in and told his friends he would make good on his promise and have them over for dinner.

On the appointed evening, the scholars made their way to Nasruddin’s house with grinning faces and grumbling bellies. When they stepped into his dining room, they noticed the table was bare.

NASRUDDIN: Welcome, my friends, welcome! As you can see, I’m still cooking your lavish feast. But please, have a seat, make yourself comfortable, and I’ll bring your food out the moment it’s ready.

NARRATOR: As Nasruddin disappeared into the kitchen, the scholars gathered around the table. They waited ten minutes... then twenty... then thirty... After sixty minutes went by — an entire hour — they called out to Nasruddin in the kitchen.

SCHOLAR 1: (calling out, hungry) Um, Nasruddin...?

SCHOLAR 2: (calling out, hungry) It’s been an hour already!

SCHOLAR 3: (calling out, hungry) How’s that food coming?

NARRATOR: Nasruddin stuck his head out the kitchen door.

NASRUDDIN: Oh, it’s coming, it’s coming! It shouldn’t be much longer now.

NARRATOR: Eventually, another hour went by, and there was still no sign of the food. In fact, the three scholars couldn’t even smell anything cooking! Surely by now a cloud of delicious aromas should be drifting from the kitchen and wafting out into the dining room!

SCHOLAR 1: (calling out, even hungrier) Um, Nasruddin?

SCHOLAR 2: (calling out, even hungrier) Is everything okay?

SCHOLAR 3: (calling out, even hungrier) Are you really still cooking the food?

NARRATOR: Again, Nasruddin popped his head out the door.

NASRUDDIN: Actually, I am still cooking the food! (beat) Here! Come see!

NARRATOR: The ravenous scholars leapt from their chairs and scurried into the kitchen.

And what they saw made their empty stomachs do a flip-flop.

Hanging from the ceiling, suspended by a silver chain, was a huge black pot.

Sitting on the floor, about a foot beneath the pot, was a flickering candle.

NASRUDDIN: So you see, friends? Like I said, dinner is cooking! (beat) I appreciate your patience!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin grabbed a spoon and gave the pot a good stir. The scholars shook their heads.

SCHOLAR 1: But Nasruddin! You’ll never cook the food in that pot with the heat from that candle!

SCHOLAR 2: The flame is too small! Too weak!

SCHOLAR 3: Not to mention too far away!

NARRATOR: Nasruddin stopped stirring and batted his eyes.

NASRUDDIN: (faux-innocent) Oh! Is it…? (pointed) ...Because I figured that if a candle can keep a person warm as it burns one-hundred yards away… then surely a candle can cook a pot of food from just one foot away! (beat) (slower, pointed) Or do you scholars disagree...?

NARRATOR: The scholars fell silent.

For they knew their goose was cooked… even if their food wasn’t.

They also knew what the brilliant fellow standing before them had always known — that the old saying is true... and revenge truly is a dish best served cold.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

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



More from Circle Round

Listen Live