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The Looking Glass | Ep. 189

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

Have you ever heard the phrase, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”?

What it means is if you demand perfection – if you insist that something be flawless or faultless – then it decreases your chances of getting a good result in the end.

We’re about to meet a king who learns that lesson the hard way. But in his quest for perfection, he discovers something infinitely more valuable!

Our story is called “The Looking Glass.” Versions of this story come from Spain and Portugal, neighboring countries in southern Europe.

Voices in this episode include Jason Ennis, Chelly Li, Steve Coulter, Mark Gagliardi, and Linedy Genao.

Steve Coulter appears in the Disney+ series She-Hulk. Watch for Steve in two feature films in early 2023: Shotgun Wedding (on Prime Video) and We Have a Ghost (on Netflix). Mark Gagliardi can be seen in Blood and Treasure on CBS, and the Comedy Central series, Drunk History. Linedy Genao will star in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Bad Cinderella, opening at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on March 23rd, 2023. Previews start February 17th.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. 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

Need a reminder about how amazing you are? Try making a Confidence Mirror!

1. Find some paper or poster board and draw a mirror: any shape, any size.
2. Divide the mirror’s face into three parts.
3. Brainstorm three things about yourself that you like and that you’re proud of. Maybe you have a strong mind for problem-solving. Maybe you have a kind heart. Maybe you have a wild and wonderful imagination!
4. Once you’ve got your three things, use colored pencils, crayons, or markers and draw your attributes: one for each section of the mirror.
5. When you’re done, cut the mirror out and hang it somewhere you can see it – to help remind you how much you truly shine!

Musical Spotlight: Classical Guitar

(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)
Eric Shimelonis plays the classical guitar: a member of the guitar family used in classical music and many other styles. (Courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

The classical guitar is known by many names, including concert guitar, classical acoustic guitar, and Spanish guitar. It usually 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 just about anything on this instrument!


NARRATOR: There once was a king — a newly-crowned king who had just inherited the throne from his father.

The king’s father had been a beloved ruler who governed his subjects with fairness and honesty.

And now that the new king was in charge, he wished to do the same.
But he didn’t wish to do it alone. As he explained to his royal advisor, an old, silver-haired fellow named Luciano …

KING: I must have a partner to help me govern the people! A queen with whom I can share my throne — and my life!

NARRATOR: Luciano had spent decades advising the king’s father. And the wise, clever man had never led the former monarch astray.

LUCIANO: Your Majesty, I understand your desire to find an ideal partner. And I will do whatever I can to help! Tell me: what qualities do you seek in a queen?

KING: Oh! That’s easy! First, she must be as perfect as fresh snow!

LUCIANO: As perfect as fresh snow…

KING: Second, she must be as pure as morning dew!

LUCIANO: As pure as morning dew…

KING: And third, she must be as flawless as a diamond!

LUCIANO: As flawless as a diamond. With all due respect, Your Highness, aren’t you setting the bar a little high?

KING: I most certainly am not! As the newly-crowned king, I refuse to accept any less! So, Luciano — can you help me?

NARRATOR: Remember: Luciano was a wise, clever man. And that’s when he got a wise, clever idea.

LUCIANO: Actually, Your Majesty, I can help you! I have just the thing you need. Wait here!

NARRATOR: Luciano shuffled out of the room. When he came back, he was holding a small round mirror with a sparkling gold handle.

LUCIANO: Here it is, Sire! The answer to finding what you seek!

NARRATOR: The king was confused.

KING: A mirror?!? You’re giving me a mirror?!? I’m sorry, Luciano, but how can an ordinary looking glass help me find my queen?!?

LUCIANO: Well, Your Excellency … this looking glass may seem ‘ordinary.’ But its powers are anything but! Think, if you will, about a regular, everyday looking glass. What does it reflect?

KING: It reflects your image, of course! What you see on a person’s outside!

LUCIANO: Exactly! But this looking glass is different. It’s been said that this looking glass reflects what you can’t see! It reflects what’s on the inside!

KING: I don’t understand …

LUCIANO: Alright … let’s say you’re the best-looking person in the world. On the outside you’re flawless. But on the inside you’re definitely not flawless. You’ve told a few lies, perhaps. You’ve picked a few fights. Perhaps you’ve felt instances of jealousy or greed. If your character has any of these stains or spots or blemishes, then that is what you will see when you gaze into this mirror. That is what its glassy surface will show! Would you like to give it a try?

NARRATOR: Luciano held the mirror out to the king. The king waved it away.

KING: Actually, no. I’m good. I’ll save the mirror for the ladies of this kingdom!

LUCIANO: As you should, Sire! After all … you’ve been dreaming of finding a woman who is as “perfect as fresh snow,” and as “pure as morning dew,” and what was the other thing again?

KING: As flawless as a diamond!

LUCIANO: Right, right! Well, I can guarantee, Sire, this looking glass will help you find exactly what you need!

NARRATOR: Well, as you can imagine, the king was sold. That very day, he dispatched his royal messengers across the kingdom. They galloped from town to town, village to village, spreading the word about the king’s magic mirror, and inviting the women of the land to come and gaze into its shiny surface. Back at the palace, the king could hardly contain his excitement.

KING: News of my magic looking glass is traveling like wildfire! At the end of the week, I’ll have my guards open the palace gates, and let in the throngs of potential queens who will have flocked to my door! I’ll bet hundreds of ladies will be lining up outside — if not thousands! It’s going to be amazing!

NARRATOR: The king was on pins and needles all week long. At last, it was time to open the gates.

KING: Guards! Open the gates!

[SOT: big gates creaking open]

NARRATOR: The king could hardly stand still as the tall wooden doors creaked open. But when he peered through the doors and looked outside, he received the surprise of his life.

KING: What?!?? There’s nobody here!

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: Where do you think everyone is? And will the looking glass actually help the new king find what he seeks?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[Theme music out]


[Theme music in]

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

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: When we left off, the newly-crowned king was seeking a queen who was “as perfect as fresh snow, as pure as morning dew,” and – what was the other thing again?

KING: “As flawless as a diamond”!!!

NARRATOR: Right. Right.

To assist with the quest, the royal advisor — a wise, clever man named Luciano — presented the king with a looking glass. The gold-handled mirror could, supposedly, reflect anyone’s inner flaws and blemishes.

But when the royal messengers invited the ladies of the land to come to the palace and gaze into the mirror … no one showed up.

The furious king summoned Luciano to the throne room.

KING: Luciano! What’s going on? Thousands of women must have gotten the news by now! Why are none of them here?

NARRATOR: The old man tugged his silvery beard.

LUCIANO: Well, Sire, from what I hear, the eligible maidens of this kingdom … are otherwise engaged.

KING: Engaged to be married?!?

LUCIANO: No, Your Highness! Some say they’re too busy … others declare they’re feeling under the weather … And others insist they must leave the kingdom on important business at once!

KING: Ach! So many excuses! I don’t understand! Kings in other lands have no trouble finding a partner to join them on their thrones. Why am I falling short? You must help me, Luciano! I must find what I seek!

LUCIANO: As you wish, Your Majesty. I will see what I can do.

NARRATOR: That evening, Luciano traveled out to the mountains at the very edge of the kingdom. That was where his niece, Anabel, lived. Anabel was a shepherdess, and spent her days leading her flock up and down the rolling hills.

When Anabel spotted Luciano, she wiped her hands on her raggedy old dress, then sprinted over in her scuffed-up boots and wrapped her uncle in a hug.

ANABEL: Uncle Luciano! What a surprise! What brings you all the way out to the mountains?

LUCIANO: Two things, actually! First, I’ve come to see the most marvelous niece in the world!

NARRATOR: He planted a kiss on Anabel’s cheek.

LUCIANO: And second, I’ve come to see if you’ve heard the news from the palace!

NARRATOR: Anabel rolled her eyes.

ANABEL: Oh! You mean the news about the new king’s quest to find his ideal queen? To track down a maiden who’s “as perfect as fresh snow, as pure as morning dew, and” — what was the other thing again?

LUCIANO: “As flawless as a diamond.”

ANABEL: Right. Right. And he’s asking maidens across the kingdom to report to the palace and gaze into some silly mirror?! One that supposedly reflects what a person is like on the inside, not just on the outside?

LUCIANO: Indeed! That’s the news!

ANABEL: I’ve heard all about it, Uncle. But what I haven’t heard is whether it’s actually working! Is our young monarch finding the perfect, pure, and flawless partner that he seeks?

LUCIANO: Well, the truth is…

NARRATOR: Luciano shrugged.

LUCIANO: … No one has shown up yet!

ANABEL: Of course they haven’t shown up, Uncle! They’re all too afraid!

NARRATOR: Luciano cocked his head.

LUCIANO: “Too afraid”? Whatever do you mean?

ANABEL: Come now, Uncle. You know as well as I do that nobody is perfect! Or pure! Or flawless! Including the king himself! We all have faults. We’ve all made mistakes. And that’s why everyone’s afraid to look into the mirror! They’re afraid to admit they’re human!

NARRATOR: A proud smile spread across Luciano’s face.

LUCIANO: Oh, Anabel. You’ve always possessed such honesty and insight. If only our young king were half as wise as you are! There’s an awful lot you could teach him. But let’s talk more over dinner, yes? You work so hard tending your beloved sheep all day. How about taking a well-deserved break? I’ve packed us a lovely picnic!

ANABEL: Wow! Thanks, Uncle Luciano! You’re the best!

LUCIANO: No, my dear. You are.

[SOT: music shift]

NARRATOR: The next morning, inside the palace, the newly-crowned king was slumped on his throne, his head in his hands.

KING: Ugh! This is so depressing! Not one person has shown up to gaze into the looking glass. Not one! At this rate, I'll never find a queen! And I'll be forced to rule this land all alone!

NARRATOR: Just then, a royal messenger came bursting through the door … with news that a maiden had arrived, and was asking to see the king’s looking glass!

KING: Well, show her in! Please! And summon all the members of my court — the lords, the ladies, everyone! I want them to see this!

NARRATOR: Within moments, the throne room was buzzing and humming with people. But everyone fell silent as a young woman came striding through the door. She wore a raggedy old dress and scuffed-up boots, and leading her by the arm … was Luciano!

LUCIANO: Your Majesty. I am honored to introduce my niece ... Anabel! She’s a shepherdess in the mountains.

NARRATOR: The king looked Anabel up and down, taking note of her shabby clothes and shoes.

KING: A shepherdess? And you’ve come to look into the mirror?

ANABEL: Indeed I have, Your Majesty. I have come to look into the mirror.

KING: I see …

NARRATOR: The king frowned.

KING: And you do understand, shepherdess … that if you look into this mirror … and you’re as perfect and pure and flawless as the queen of my dreams, then that’s what the mirror will reflect. But if you’re not the queen of my dreams, then your flaws and blemishes will all make themselves apparent on the looking glass’s surface. Is that clear?

NARRATOR: Anabel’s eyes twinkled.

ANABEL: As clear as crystal!

KING: Very well then.

NARRATOR: The king held out the mirror.

KING: Have a look.

NARRATOR: All eyes were on Anabel as she took hold of the mirror. She wrapped her fingers around the golden handle. She lifted the glass to her face.
And then … she smiled!

At first, nobody moved; they didn’t even dare to breathe! But then, the lords and ladies could no longer control their curiosity. They all came rushing forward, craning and straining their necks toward the mirror.

WOMAN 1: Look at this woman’s reflection!

MAN 1: It’s stainless!

WOMAN 2: Spotless!

MAN 2: Blemish-free!

NARRATOR: The king felt his heart leap inside his chest.

KING: Is it true?!? Shepherdess! Is your reflection unblemished?!?

ANABEL: Actually, Your Majesty … it is! But look at her reflection!

NARRATOR: Without warning, Anabel thrust the mirror into the face of the lady on her left. The lady winced and closed her eyes.

ANABEL: Her reflection is unblemished too!

NARRATOR: The surprised lady snapped her eyes open.

WOMAN 1: So it is!

ANABEL: That’s right! And his is too!

NARRATOR: Now Anabel thrust the mirror into the face of the lord standing to her right. The stunned man’s hand flew to his mouth.

MAN 1: So it is!

NARRATOR: Anabel moved from one member of the court to another, pausing long enough so they could catch a glimpse of their reflection. At first, they all flinched, afraid of what they would see. But then, they were astonished to discover that their reflection was completely unblemished!

The king sat frozen on his throne … his jaw dropped open, his unblinking eyes wider and rounder than the mirror in Anabel’s hand!

KING: But, but everyone looks just like themselves! Just as they would in a regular mirror! Luciano told me this mirror had magic in it!

NARRATOR: Anabel cast a glance at her uncle. He flashed her an encouraging grin.

ANABEL: Luciano was right, Your Majesty. This mirror does have magic in it. Just not the kind you think.

KING: Whatever do you mean?!?

ANABEL: Well, Your Highness … All this time, you’ve been dreaming of finding an ideal queen. A person who is “as perfect as fresh snow, as pure as morning dew, and”... what was the other thing again?

KING: “As flawless as a diamond”!

ANABEL: Right! Right. But don’t you see, Sire? Even a diamond has flaws! And that’s part of its beauty! Nothing, Your Majesty – and no one – is perfect!

NARRATOR: Anabel gestured toward her old dress and boots.

ANABEL: I am a humble shepherdess. And goodness knows I’ve made mistakes with my flock! Yet no matter how I mess up, or slip up, every day those sheep let me take care of them all over again. If they sense danger is coming, they come to me to protect them. They know I’m not perfect, but they also know I’m trying, and learning, and doing my best.

KING: But what about the magic?!?

ANABEL: The magic, Your Majesty?

NARRATOR: Anabel held a hand to her heart.

ANABEL: The magic happens when we’re brave enough, and confident enough, to know that yes! We are flawed! But nevertheless, we go out there and we try our best! We live the absolute best life we can … so that we can look into the mirror and not be afraid … or embarrassed … but happy with what we see.

NARRATOR: Anabel gazed into the king’s eyes. The king gazed back. Then, slowly, he rose from his throne and stood before her.

KING: Good shepherdess … You are right. None of us is perfect — especially me. You have opened my eyes to a great many things. Which is why, dear lady, I must ask …

NARRATOR: He knelt down on one knee.

KING: … Will you marry me? And become my queen?

NARRATOR: Now … if you were Anabel, what would you say?

Yes or no?

Well, at first the shepherdess said nothing. She just took a slow, deep breath and let it out again. Then she looked down at the king, smiled a little smile, and said …


KING: No?!? You’re saying “no”? You don’t wish to become my queen?!?

ANABEL: No, Your Majesty. I don’t. Can’t you see? I’m happy with my life as it is! Very happy! And I hope that someday, somehow, you’ll be happy with your life, too.

NARRATOR: And with that, the shepherdess turned on the heel of her scuffed-up boot and marched out of the room, through the gates, and back to her beloved sheep in the mountains.

As for the king, well … never again did he expect anyone in his life to be “as perfect as fresh snow, as pure as morning dew” or — I’m sorry. What was the other thing again?

KING: "As flawless as a diamond”!

NARRATOR: Right. Right. “As flawless as a diamond.”

KING: Uch! I can’t believe I actually ever said that!

NARRATOR: Instead, he grew to embrace the flaws and foibles that make all of us so wonderfully imperfect … and so wonderfully human.

As a result, he became confident enough to rule the kingdom on his own.

So in the end, the young ruler didn’t just live happily ever after.

He lived humanly ever after, too.

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



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