'The Wiser Adviser' | Ep. 152

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

Do you know what it means to be humble?

When you’re humble, you don’t go around thinking you're better than everyone else is. You appreciate the smarts and skills of others.

In today's tale, we’ll meet a character who learns the importance of humility, even in the heat of competition!

Our story is called “The Wiser Adviser.” Versions of this tale come from Jewish and Persian folklore.

Voices in this episode include Anthony Palmini, Jessica Rau, Dawn Ursula, Elaine Hendrix, Mark Pellegrino, and Devyn McDowell. Elaine Hendrix stars in the CW reboot of Dynasty. You may also know her from Disney’s The Parent Trap. Mark Pellegrino has appeared in such shows as Lost and Supernatural, and can currently be seen in American Rust on Showtime. And Devyn McDowell plays the title character in the feature film, Annette, available on Amazon Prime Video.

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

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

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

If it really is true that This Too Shall Pass, then it can be really important to live in the moment, and appreciate where and how we are, right now.

As soon as you’re done listening to this Circle Round episode, think about how you’re feeling. Look inside, and focus on what you feel. Are you feeling joyful? Hungry? Super-eager to listen to another episode? Whatever it is, either write it down or draw a picture.

Then tonight, before you go to bed, focus on what you’re feeling then. Write it down or draw a picture and compare it with what you wrote or drew earlier in the day. Is it the same? Is it different? If it’s different, then there you go!

This too shall pass!

Musical Spotlight: The Harpsichord

(Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikipedia Commons)
The sharp yet mellow sound of the harpsichord defines the sound of the Baroque era, and is played by many modern musicians. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons)

This stringed keyboard instrument is shaped like a grand piano, and most likely was developed in the late Middle Ages.

The harpsichord can have one keyboard or two. Either way, when you hit a key, a small piece of material known as a “plectrum” plucks a metal string and voila — you have sound!

The problem is, you don’t have control over how loud or soft that sound is. So when the more dynamic piano came along, it pretty much superseded the harpsichord.

Still, you’ll hear plenty of the harpsichord’s charming, elegant, even “formal” sound in Renaissance and Baroque music — and in 1960s “baroque pop” songs by such bands as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.


NARRATOR: Long, long ago, back in earlier times, there lived a Queen. The Queen had no daughters, or sons… and her lack of children always tugged at her heart.

But she did have a team of chefs to cook her royal meals, a crew of tailors to sew her royal garments, a cadre of cobblers to craft her royal shoes, and a group of advisers to make her royal decisions.

...Or to help make her royal decisions, anyway.

You see, the Queen was a very wise woman. But if she happened to encounter a question she couldn’t answer, or a problem she couldn’t solve, she turned to her learned team of counselors for advice.

The Queen’s chief adviser was a sage old man named Saul. She had known Saul ever since she was a princess, back when he advised her mother, the former queen. But Saul was growing more stooped and crinkly by the day, so it wasn’t long before the aged fellow told the Queen it was time for him to move on.

The morning after Saul’s retirement party, the Queen’s remaining advisers gathered in the palace study… and celebrated.

ADVISER 1: At last! Saul is out of the picture!!

ADVISER 2: He always was the Queen’s favorite — her mother’s, too.

ADVISER 3: But now Her Grace can choose one of us to take his place! (cocky) ...And it’s obviously going to be me.

ADVISER 1: Um, not so fast! I’m just about positive she’s going to choose me!

ADVISER 2: (pshaw!) In your dreams! Everybody knows she’s going to choose me!

ADVISER 1: / ADVISER 2: / ADVISER 3: (squabbling about which one of them the Queen is going to pick, and why each one “deserves” to be chosen, etc.)

ZACHARIAH: (over the hubbub) Friends! Friends! Please!

NARRATOR: The advisers stopped their squabbling and stared at Zachariah. It was Zachariah’s first week on the job, so he was the newest adviser in the group… and he’d already decided he was the smartest adviser, too.

ZACHARIAH: Look! You folks can quibble and quarrel as much as you want. But I can assure you: the Queen is going to choose me. Because let’s face it. I’m not just the new guy around here. I’m the sharpest tool in the shed! The smartest cookie on the tray! The brightest bulb in the --

ADVISER 1: Bulb?!? What’s a “bulb”?!?

ADVISER 2: Didn’t you hear the narrator at the beginning? (quoting the opening narration) This story takes place “long, long ago, back in earlier times”!

ADVISER 3: They haven’t invented electricity yet!

ZACHARIAH: (blustery/flustered) Well — that just goes to show — I’m ahead of my time!! (back to over-confident) But my point is, with my super smarts, Her Majesty is bound to pick me. Just you wait.

NARRATOR: And the advisers did wait. First a few days… then a few weeks... then a few months. Until, at last, the Queen called them to her throne room and made an announcement.

QUEEN: Ladies and gentlemen. As you know, saying goodbye to Saul wasn’t easy for me. He was the wisest, shrewdest, most sensible man I’ve ever known. But, I hope and trust that someone new can fill his shoes. Which is why I’ve spent all these months devising… a test.

NARRATOR: The advisers clapped their hands.

ADVISER 1: (intrigued, delighted) Ooooh! A test!

ADVISER 2: Like... a brain teaser, Your Majesty?

ADVISER 3: (cocky) Goodness knows we have plenty of brains to tease!

ZACHARIAH: And I have more than all of you combined!

NARRATOR: Zachariah flashed the Queen a simpering smile.

ZACHARIAH: Please. Do continue, Your Majesty.

QUEEN: (a bit annoyed with the new guy, but determined to move on) As I was saying, I’m issuing each of you… a test. First thing tomorrow, I want you to leave the palace gates, venture out into the world, and bring me a very particular item. (slowly, carefully) An item that has the power to make a happy person sad… and a sad person happy.

NARRATOR: The advisers leaned in closer.

Zachariah leaned in closest of all.

ZACHARIAH: So sorry to interrupt, Your Highness, but did you say “the power to make a happy person sad, and a sad person happy”?!? You’re looking for one item that can do both things???

QUEEN: I am, Zachariah! (carefully) Say a person is feeling content... and full of cheer... One look at this item and their heart will grow heavy, and their joy will drain away! But if a person is feeling mournful... and full of grief… they need only glance at this item and hope will rise in their soul and their sorrows will be a thing of the past! The person who finds this one item will be my new chief adviser.

NARRATOR: The advisers spent the rest of the day scratching their heads and racking their brains.

ADVISER 1: I’m sorry, but what is up with the Queen’s test!?

ADVISER 2: I know! “An item that can make a happy person sad and a sad person happy”?!!

ADVISER 3: I can’t make heads or tails of it!

ZACHARIAH: (condescending) Oh, can’t you now???

NARRATOR: Zachariah puffed out his chest like a peacock.

ZACHARIAH: Look, If you ask me, people — (gets cut off)

ADVISER 1: (interrupting, sassy) Um, we didn’t ask you???

ZACHARIAH: Whatever! But if you ask me, I say the Queen’s test is a piece of cake! Easy as pie! As simple as A-B-C!

NARRATOR: Then he went striding out of the room, with his head held high.

When he got back to his chambers, however...

ZACHARIAH: (freaking out, to himself) “A piece of cake”!?!!

NARRATOR: ...he sang a very different tune.

ZACHARIAH: “Easy as pie”!? “As simple as A-B-C”!? What was I even talking about? I have no idea how to pass the Queen’s test! (psyching himself up) But I’ll figure something out. (slow, dramatic) And when I do, they’ll all be looking at the Queen’s new right-hand man!

NARRATOR: What will happen next?

And can you think of an item that could make a happy person sad and a sad person happy?

Our story continues, after a quick break.


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

NARRATOR: Before the break, the Queen issued a test to find her new chief adviser. She told her team of royal counselors they must bring her one item that could make a happy person sad, and a sad person happy.

So the next morning, the advisers embarked on their quest.

The first adviser rambled out to the countryside, where she spotted a farmer harvesting corn. The adviser observed the farmer as he moved up and down the rows of cornstalks, picking the plump, healthy cobs and tossing them in his sack... and throwing away the icky cobs that had been ruined by maggots, mice or mold.

Suddenly, the adviser had an idea.

ADVISER 1: Food!!! What if the Queen is talking about food?! After all, if you’re feeling happy and excited about your next meal, and your food is all moldy and nibbled-up, you’d be sad. But if you hadn't eaten in days, and you were all bummed and starving, and you saw some delicious, fresh food, you’d be happy! (not 100% certain about this) Right…?

NARRATOR: So the adviser bought a bushel of corn from the farmer, then returned to the palace.

Meanwhile, the second adviser went walking through the hills. When he reached the top of an especially steep knoll, he glanced toward the horizon and saw black storm clouds gathering. Moments later, the wind picked up, and great big raindrops came hurling down from the sky. As the adviser scrambled under a tree to take cover, a thought popped into his head.

ADVISER 2: Rain!!! What if the Queen is talking about rain?! After all, if you’re happily having a picnic, or you’re splashing around at the beach, a sudden fall of rain would definitely make you sad. But if you were in the middle of a drought, say, and raindrops began to fall, you’d be happy! (not 100% certain about this) Right…?

NARRATOR: So the adviser took off his hat, turned it over and filled it up with rain, then he returned to the palace.

The third adviser, meanwhile, meandered to the marketplace, where peddlers were selling everything from pots to potatoes to pants. At one of the stalls, a man was dipping long white strings into hot wax, to make candles. As the adviser watched the candlemaker craft each candle and wick, something in her mind clicked.

ADVISER 3: Light!! What if the Queen is talking about light?! After all, if you’re sleeping in the dark, and you’re having a wonderful, happy dream, when the sun shines its morning light and wakes you up, you might be sad. But — if you’re afraid of the dark, then the rays of a newly-dawning sun will fill you with joy! (not 100% certain about this) Right…?

NARRATOR: So the adviser bustled over to the candlemaker’s stall, purchased a bag full of candles, and returned to the palace.

Now, we’ve heard what the first three advisers did, but what about the Queen’s fourth, and newest, adviser? Zachariah?

Well... it just so happens that Zachariah…

ZACHARIAH: (moans/groans)

NARRATOR: ...was beside himself. After boasting to his fellow counselors how easily he could solve the Queen’s challenge, he found himself staggering through the city in desperation.

ZACHARIAH: (beside himself, frenzied) An item that can make a happy person sad, and a sad person happy... An item that can make a happy person sad, and a sad person happy… How am I supposed to find an item that can make a happy person sad, and a sad person happy!?!???

NARRATOR: After wandering for hours, Zachariah wound up in a quiet part of town, where the rickety wooden houses were no bigger than one of the palace’s broom closets.

In front of one of the houses, Zachariah spied a young girl standing behind a little table. On the table were trays and baskets filled with inexpensive trinkets — beaded necklaces, brass cufflinks, rings made of tarnished bronze. As people in patched and faded clothing scurried past, eager to get home to their humble dinners, the girl called out.

GIRL: Jewelry for sale! Homemade jewelry for sale!

NARRATOR: Zachariah waited for someone to stop and buy some jewelry — or at least pause and browse the poor girl’s wares — but no one did.

Then, suddenly, the girl caught sight of Zachariah.

GIRL: Excuse me, sir? Would you like to buy some jewelry?

NARRATOR: Frustrated and exhausted from the day, Zachariah gave the girl a shrug.

ZACHARIAH: (frustrated and exhausted from the day) Ah, I’m not sure jewelry is what I’m looking for right now…

GIRL: That’s okay! But will you at least take a look, then? You see, when my mother and father got too sick to work, I decided I would get myself a job. I always enjoyed making jewelry, so I set up this business! My parents are gone now… so it’s just me and my shop... but –

NARRATOR: The girl stopped short. She peered at Zachariah with a furrowed brow.

GIRL: I’m sorry, sir — pardon me for saying it — but you look miserable! Truly down in the dumps! What’s the problem?

NARRATOR: Without knowing quite why, Zachariah broke down and told the girl everything. How he had just joined the Queen’s team of royal advisers, and wanted more than anything to become her new chief.

ZACHARIAH: ...but I can’t become her new chief unless I ace this silly “test” of hers! She wants us to bring her an item that can make a happy person sad, and a sad person happy. Pretty crazy, right?

NARRATOR: The girl gave Zachariah a long look.

GIRL: Actually, sir… it’s not crazy at all. Wait right here.

NARRATOR: Before Zachariah knew what was happening, the girl whirled around and raced into her house. When she came out again, in her hand was a sharp little tool.

GIRL: This is the tool I use to engrave my jewelry. I can write names, numbers, whole sentences if I want to!

NARRATOR: Zachariah watched as the girl fished through the tray of bronze rings. She picked a ring that was just about his size. Then she set about engraving it, focusing closely as she etched and inscribed.

GIRL: (as she engraves) Alright… okay… almost got it… (finished!) There! 

NARRATOR: The girl held the ring up toward the setting sun.

GIRL: Perfect!

NARRATOR: Then she dropped the ring into a paper bag and handed it to Zachariah.

GIRL: Give this to the Queen. I think it’s exactly what she’s looking for.

NARRATOR: Without a moment to lose, Zachariah darted back to the palace. He had no idea what the girl had engraved on the ring, but he hoped it was enough to satisfy the Queen.

By the time Zachariah dashed into the throne room, the other advisers were already proudly displaying their items to the Queen.

QUEEN: Food...? And rain...? And light...? These are all admirable guesses, friends, but I’m afraid none of them are what I was looking for!

NARRATOR: As the Queen gave her advisers a shrug, she spied Zachariah in the doorway.

QUEEN: Zachariah! You’re just in time! Everyone was showing me the item they brought. Where’s yours?

ZACHARIAH: It is here, Your Majesty.

NARRATOR: Zachariah held out the paper bag. The Queen reached inside.

QUEEN: A bronze ring…

ZACHARIAH: Yes, Your Highness. But please, take a closer look.

NARRATOR: The Queen held the ring up to the light and squinted her eyes.

She was silent for a moment.

And then…

QUEEN: (joyful laughing)

NARRATOR: ...she began...

QUEEN: (joyful laughing)

NARRATOR: laugh!

QUEEN: (joyful laughing)

NARRATOR: The advisers looked on in confusion.

ADVISER 1: What does it say, Your Majesty?

ADVISER 2: What does the ring say?

ADVISER 3: Please! Tell us!

NARRATOR: The Queen collected herself, then held the tarnished bronze ring up for all to read.

Inscribed on it was one simple sentence:

QUEEN: (slowly) “This Too Shall Pass.”

NARRATOR: In other words, nothing is permanent. No matter how happy you are today... or rich... or powerful... tomorrow you could become sad... or penniless… or weak.

And if today you’re full of sorrow... or drowning in debt... or plagued by loneliness… tomorrow you could be full of joy... flush with riches... or surrounded by friends.

Whatever “this” is — happiness, or sadness — “This Too Shall Pass.”

QUEEN: Zachariah! You’ve done it! You’ve passed the test! From now on I am honored to call you my “chief adviser.”

NARRATOR: The Queen held out her hand.

To her surprise, Zachariah didn’t take it.

ZACHARIAH: (humbled for the first time) I’m sorry, Your Majesty. But it isn’t I who should become your chief adviser.

QUEEN: It isn’t?

ZACHARIAH: No. You see, the ring wasn't my idea! It was actually — (gets cut off)

GIRL: (interrupting) ...Mine!

NARRATOR: Everyone turned their heads toward the door. And who should they see standing in the towering entryway, but the young jewelry maker! She crossed one foot behind the other and gave a little curtsy.

GIRL: It’s an honor to meet you, Your Majesty.

QUEEN: (full of heart) No, no, my dear.

NARRATOR: The Queen’s face broke into a grin.

QUEEN: (slowly, meaningfully) …The honor is all mine.

NARRATOR: So that’s the story of how the Queen got a new chief adviser… and, at last, a daughter.

And the wise pair lived the rest of their days remembering that in the blink of an eye, joy could become grief… and grief could become joy.

Just... like... that.

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



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