'The Unfair Share' | Circle Round 134

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("The Unfair Share" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Unfair Share" by Sabina Hahn)

Have you ever heard the expression, “going 50-50”?

Going 50-50 means you split something in half — you divide it by two — then you share it with someone else.

Now, when you go 50-50 on something — whether it’s a box of crayons or a plate of cookies — everyone is supposed to get their fair share.

But in today’s tale, thanks to one man’s greed, that’s definitely not what happens!

Our story is called “The Unfair Share.” Around the world you’ll find so many versions of this tale — including Dutch, Spanish and Polish… German, Italian, and Russian… plus Burmese, Indian, Tibetan and Middle Eastern!

Voices in this episode include Ken Jackson, Nick Sholley, Jon Huertas and Faith Salie.

Faith Salie is an Emmy-Award-winning contributor to CBS Sunday Morning and a very funny panelist on the NPR quiz show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Jon Huertas stars on This Is Us on NBC, as well as the new thriller film Initiation. He directed and co-produced the short film Two Jacked, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021.

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

("Unfair Share" by Sabina Hahn)
("Unfair Share" 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

Want to bring more sharing into your life? Try making a Sharing Sidewalk!

Find a big piece of paper, and on each end, draw a place you love — like your house and your favorite restaurant, or a playground and the beach. In between those two places, draw a long sidewalk, and divide it into a whole bunch of squares.

Inside each square, write down one way you can share - like collecting canned goods for a food bank… donating toys you no longer play with… or baking enough cookies to split with a friend.

Start at one end of the sidewalk, and try to complete each act of sharing. Cross things off as you go, and when you reach the other side, you can celebrate, knowing you truly did your share!

Musical spotlight: The Baroque Flute

Eric Shimelonis playing the baroque flute at Circle Round’s live performance at the Boston Jewish Film Festival. (courtesy of Stuart Bernstein)
Eric Shimelonis playing the baroque flute at Circle Round’s live performance at the Boston Jewish Film Festival. (courtesy of Stuart Bernstein)

The baroque flute rose to prominence between the 1670s and 1900s. Unlike the modern flute, the baroque flute is made from wood - most typically boxwood, ebony, or grenadilla (i.e. the wood from the African blackwood tree). This flute has six finger holes plus a seventh hole on the far end that is closed unless opened by a single key. And its body is divided into three or four joints: a head joint that contains the embouchure hole (i.e. where you blow), one or two middle joints with six finger holes divided among them, and a foot joint with a seventh hole and key. As a result, the baroque flute has a very supple, flexible sound that flips easily from one register to another.


NARRATOR: Once upon a time, in a peaceful kingdom far away, there lived a Queen.

The Queen had an enormous palace of gleaming marble.

She had an enormous staff of cooks and guards, footmen and stewards.

She also had an enormous heart.

So when the kind and generous ruler first assumed the throne, she issued a proclamation to all her people.

QUEEN: My royal subjects! Let it be known that henceforth and forthwith, whenever a citizen of my kingdom has suffered a misfortune, fallen on hard times, or is otherwise having a rough go of it, they may come to the royal palace, where I will hear their case, then decide how best to assist them. Then they shall return home with a gift from me, no strings attached.

NARRATOR: Well, what the Queen didn’t know was that actually...?

...There were strings attached!

You see, standing guard outside the palace was the royal gatekeeper. And every time a citizen came to ask the Queen for help, the greedy man wouldn’t let them through the palace doors until they promised him one thing.

GATEKEEPER: Whatever gift the Queen gives you… you must give me half.

NARRATOR: So when a miller lost his mill in a storm, and the Queen offered him twenty silver coins…?

GATEKEEPER: ...You must give me ten!

NARRATOR: And when a struggling tailor needed new clothing for his children, and the Queen granted him ten yards of fabric…?

GATEKEEPER: ...You must give me five!

NARRATOR: This kind of thing went on and on.

Now, you may ask — why didn’t anyone complain about this crooked, unscrupulous man? Why didn’t they tell the Queen about his underhanded hijinks?

Well, in short, they worried no one would believe them. After all, he was the royal gatekeeperthey were mere peasants. 

So nobody breathed a word.

It just so happens that in a far-off corner of the kingdom there lived a farmer. The farmer grew corn on a tiny plot of land beside the ramshackle cottage he shared with his son, his daughter, and his rickety-crickety old father.

But one year, after a dry, hazy summer, the farmer’s harvest was miserable. The few cornstalks he managed to coax from the dusty earth were ravaged by rats and mice. The pesky rodents didn’t even leave a kernel behind.

The farmer thought about his family... and how loudly their bellies would rumble during the long, cold winter ahead. So… over a meager dinner of stale bread and water... the farmer made an announcement.

FARMER: Listen, my loves. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to visit the Queen! Surely she can help us. She’s always been so generous with her people, so she’s bound to give me something if I ask… Isn’t that right, Father?

NARRATOR: The ancient man shrugged his bony shoulders.

FATHER: Oh, you can go see the Queen if you’d like, son… just don’t expect to bring home everything she gives you.

NARRATOR: The farmer cocked his head.

FARMER: I don't understand! What do you mean?

FATHER: Son! Haven’t you heard? The Queen’s gatekeeper! He’s a crook! He only lets people past the palace gates if they promise to give him half of whatever gift they receive from the Queen!

FARMER: But that’s so wrong! Taking advantage of people like that…

FATHER: I know! Somebody should teach that squirrly scoundrel a lesson. But, alas, nobody has… yet.

NARRATOR: That night, the farmer couldn’t sleep a wink. As he lay in his bed, staring at the cottage’s patchy, leaky ceiling, all he could think about was going to see the Queen… and getting past the gatekeeper.

FARMER:  Father’s right! Someone should teach that greedy fellow a lesson! But how?

NARRATOR: The farmer thought and thought… and as the rooster let out its first crow… the humble fellow had the inklings of an idea.

Groggy — but excited — he threw on some clothing, choked down a crust of bread, then kissed his family goodbye and set off for the palace.

The farmer climbed sun-splashed hills and crossed lush, green valleys... he traipsed through deep, leafy forests and traversed swift, rushing rivers.

When he reached his destination, he couldn’t help but marvel at the sparkling marble palace… its circular moat clear and blue, its lofty towers nearly brushing the sky. But then...

GATEKEEPER: You there! State your business!

NARRATOR: … a brusque voice snapped him from his reverie. The farmer blinked and swiveled his eyes toward… the royal gatekeeper.

GATEKEEPER: Well? Don’t just stand there! I said, “State your business!”

NARRATOR: The farmer smiled.

FARMER: Ah, good morning, sir! I’m here to see Her Majesty the Queen!

NARRATOR: The gatekeeper looked the farmer up and down, then screwed up his face as if his nose had detected a truly terrible smell.

GATEKEEPER: Ohhhh… So you’re here to see the Queen, are you...? And what business does a grubby commoner like you have with Her Royal Highness?

NARRATOR: Again, the farmer smiled.

FARMER: Well, thank you for asking! I’m here because of my crops, you see — my corn! I worked my tail off during the growing season, but my harvest was just miserable this year! And I have two young children at home, plus an aging father, and I was hoping that Her Majesty could, you know… help me out.

NARRATOR: At those words, the gatekeeper’s eyes lit up.

GATEKEEPER: I see! You want the Queen to help you out, do you?! To give you a gift…? Well, I could make that happen...

NARRATOR: He rubbed his hands together.

GATEKEEPER: ...provided you give me something, too. If I allow you to pass through these gates, then whatever gift you receive from the Queen, you must give me half. Do you understand...?

NARRATOR: The farmer nodded.

FARMER: Of course, sir. I understand. And, um, to ensure that I keep my word... and you get your half of my gift... how about we write up a contract?

NARRATOR: The farmer rooted through his satchel, pulled out a pen and paper, and began to write. The gatekeeper looked on in surprise. Of the hundreds of peasants he had strong-armed and swindled through the years, not one of them had ever offered to make a contract! But hey — what better way to make sure he got his share?

FARMER: Alright… That should do it! Now please sign here… and we’re good to go!

NARRATOR: The gatekeeper’s heart leaped with joy… and swelled with greed... as he scrawled his signature on the contract. Then he handed the paper back to the farmer.

GATEKEEPER: Here you go. You may now enter the palace. And don’t forget. We have an agreement. I must get half of your gift!

NARRATOR: The farmer’s eyes sparkled as he stuffed the contract in his back pocket.

FARMER: Oh, don’t you worry, good sir. You’ll get half of my gift. Just you wait!

NARRATOR: What do you think the crafty farmer is plotting?

We’ll find out what it is, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Unfair Share.” Before the break, a down-and-out farmer journeyed to the royal palace to ask the generous Queen for help. The greedy gatekeeper told the farmer he must hand over half of whatever gift the Queen gave him. The farmer agreed, even going so far as to write up a contract!

The gatekeeper ushered the farmer through the gates. Then a steward led the farmer down a corridor, and through two of the tallest doors he had ever seen. His footsteps echoed as he entered a massive room with priceless paintings adorning the walls and crystal chandeliers shimmering from the ceiling. On the far end of the room, clad in radiant robes of ruby red, and sitting on a high-backed throne glittering with gold... was the Queen!

QUEEN: Greetings, my good man. What brings you to my palace today?

NARRATOR: So the farmer told the Queen his woes. How the plot of earth he farmed was dry and dusty, and the few cornstalks he managed to grow were ravaged by rats and mice.

FARMER: ...And now my children and I will never make it through the winter! To say nothing of my father. He’s so old and weak, and I just don’t know what we’re going to do!

NARRATOR: As the farmer dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief, the Queen’s heart swelled.

QUEEN: I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, sir! And it would please me very much to help you get back on your feet. So! What shall I give you?

NARRATOR: The farmer took a deep breath.

FARMER: Well... if it pleases Your Majesty... I wonder if you could give me three things…?

NARRATOR: The Queen tilted her head to one side, then the other. Then her face broke into a benevolent grin.

QUEEN: Absolutely! I would be delighted to give you three things! What is the first?

FARMER: The first, Your Excellency… is two-thousand pounds… of manure.

NARRATOR: The Queen’s eyebrows shot up.

QUEEN: Manure?!? As in, cow droppings?!?

FARMER: Yes, Your Highness. Manure is just what I need to make my dry and barren soil more fertile and rich. It’ll do wonders for my corn.

NARRATOR: The Queen stroked her chin, then nodded.

QUEEN: Very well. A rather unusual request, but two-thousand pounds of manure is yours! Now! What is the second thing you’d like?

FARMER: Well, like I said, Your Majesty, this year my crops were ransacked by rodents! Pesky rats and mice that nibbled my corn to pieces. So… if you’re willing… I would like two-dozen… snakes.

NARRATOR: The queen wrinkled her nose.

QUEEN: Snakes?!?

FARMER: Yes, Your Excellency! Not poisonous snakes or anything. Just some regular snakes to scare the rats and mice away — or eat them for lunch. Whichever comes first.

NARRATOR: The Queen gave the farmer a long, thoughtful look. Then she threw back her head and let out a laugh.

QUEEN: Alright, you’ve got it! Two-dozen snakes are yours! And what is the third thing you’d like?

FARMER: The third thing, Your Highness…

NARRATOR: The farmer’s eyes roved around the opulent room with its plush velvet curtains and gleaming wood-paneled floors. When his gaze returned to the Queen, he looked the generous sovereign right in the eye.

FARMER: The third thing… is to spend two weeks in the palace dungeon. Two weeks. All alone. No visitors.

NARRATOR: The Queen’s jaw dropped open. She clamped her hand to her chest. This poor farmer could ask for anything, anything at all — jewels, coins, sumptuous food — and yet he was requesting two weeks in the dank and dreary palace dungeon?

The Queen searched the farmer’s face for some sign that he was joking… but it was clear. The man was absolutely serious.

QUEEN: Well, if that’s really what you want, very well then! Two weeks in the palace dungeon are yours! Guards? Take this man away!

NARRATOR: Two guards stepped forward and took the farmer by the arms. As they led him out of the throne room, a piece of paper went fluttering out of his pocket.

QUEEN: Oh! My dear farmer! You dropped something!

NARRATOR: The Queen leaped from the throne and snatched the paper from the floor. She unfolded the paper and began to read.

QUEEN: (reads to herself) Wait a minute. What is this…?!? It couldn’t be!!! Guards! Bring the farmer back! Please!

NARRATOR: The guards swung round and led the farmer back to the Queen. She held out the paper, and fixed the farmer with a quizzical look.

QUEEN: My good man… What is the meaning of this?  A contract...?!?? Between you and the gatekeeper...?!??

FARMER: Why yes, Your Majesty! The gatekeeper has made the exact same deal with countless other subjects of your kingdom. He won’t let them move past the royal gates and into the palace unless they promise to give him half of whatever gift they receive from you. But unlike everyone else, I thought it best to put such an important agreement in writing.

NARRATOR: The Queen took a moment to let the farmer’s words sink in. She turned her royal eyes to the paper. Then she turned them back to the farmer.

QUEEN: Soooo… “half of whatever gift they receive from me,” you say…? The gatekeeper has always taken “half of whatever gift they receive from me”...?  You know what...?

NARRATOR: Her lips curled into a mischievous grin.

QUEEN: In your case, I think we can do far better than half. (beat) Guards! Go fetch the gatekeeper! And give him everything!

NARRATOR: The guards marched out of the palace and grabbed the gatekeeper.

Before the selfish scamp knew what was happening, he was being led down to the royal dungeon. The guards locked him in a dark and dismal cell, and left him there.

But they didn’t leave him there alone.

Oh no!

Inside the gatekeeper’s cell they left two things: two-thousand pounds of manure… and two-dozen snakes.

Which is much better than one-thousand pounds of manure and one-dozen snakes… right?

Now as for the farmer, he didn’t leave the palace empty-handed. The Queen was so impressed by the clever fellow’s wit and wisdom, she sent him home in a carriage full of jewels, coins, and sumptuous food.

As for the rest of the queen's subjects… the gatekeeper had to give back everything he had unrightfully taken from them… and what once was half was made whole again.

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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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