Once There Was a King by Rabindranath Tagore
In Once There Was a King by Rabindranath Tagore we have the theme of innocence, story-telling, escape and respect. Taken from his Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator who is looking back at an incident when he was seven years old and after reading the story the reader realises that Tagore may be exploring the theme of innocence. The narrator wishes that his tutor would not come to teach him. In an effort to escape his studies he feigns a sickness telling his mother that he has a headache. It is as this point of the story that Tagore begins to highlight the innocence of the narrator. As his grandmother is telling him the story the narrator does not look for flaws in the story rather he longs to be entertained. Something that older readers would not stand for. Tagore in the opening section of the story suggesting that many older readers are more critical of the story-teller and will pick out discrepancies that the story-teller may have made. There is a sense that Tagore is suggesting that the modern story or at least the job of the modern story-teller is getting more difficult as time passes.
If a story is not plausible the listener will contradict and scorn the story-teller. Where once people had respect for a story-teller. Times have changed. However the narrator is not affected by any of this. He just wants to hear a story that will allow his young mind run wild. It does not have to be believable in the adult sense of the word. It just needs to be believable to a young seven year old boy. Who can identify with some of the characters in the story. For the narrator the goal is to escape while for the older listener their role is to highlight flaws that they perceive are happening in the story. Making the job of the story-teller harder. It also helps that the narrator respects his grandmother and this would suggest that he will find it easier to believe her story no matter how unreasonable the story may be. This is not the case for older listeners. Older listeners want to know more detail and if the story-teller cannot provide the detail. The listener will openly criticize the story-teller for telling an unbelievable story.
Listeners of stories also play a role in story-telling. They have to suspend their disbelief for a period of time. Where they may seek a complicated story to satisfy their minds. Sometimes a simple story can have an even more powerful message. Though not many listeners of stories think like this. They want to know the hows and whys of a story. Why a character might act a certain way. The narrator is not like this. He just wants to know what happens next. He does not over analysis the story where many older listens of stories would. An example of the narrator being less analytical than the older listener is the fact he sees nothing wrong with an eight year old boy marrying a princess who has reached the full bloom of her youth. To the narrator this scenario opens possibilities in his mind. That maybe someday he too could marry a princess. Whereas the older listener of the story might suggest the marriage and the selection of the boy to marry the princess is impractical.
There is also an advantage of the narrator continually asking ‘what next.’ As it in many ways forces the grandmother to explore the story even further and more imaginatively. Rather than having a sad ending. Though the young boy who is married to the princess has died. The grandmother gives him eternal life. Something that pleases the narrator. Though again many older listeners would consider this ending to be impractical. However the point hat Tagore might be trying to make is that there are two people involved in a story. The story-teller and the listener. The listener has to be open to the unexpected and at times irrational. Not all stories are plotted out in a cohesive manner. Some stories have different types of endings. Endings that will please some readers like the narrator and disappoint other readers who believe that a story has to follow a set plot and list of guidelines. At the end of the day the power of story-telling is not only in telling the story but freeing up the listeners imagination. Asking them to come to a story with an open mind no matter how implausible they might think the story is. At the end of the story the narrator is happy with the story his grandmother has told him. His mind has been opened up and he sees possibilities he had not previously seen. In many ways despite the tutor being sent home by the narrator’s mother. The narrator has learnt a lesson from his grandmother.