The Three Questions
|"The Three Questions"|
A 1916 cover illustration by Michael Sevier
|Translator||Aylmer and Louise Maude|
|Published in||What Men Live By, and Other Tales|
|Publication type||Short story|
The Three Questions is a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By, and Other Tales. The story takes the form of a parable, and it concerns a king who wants to find the answers to what he considers the three most important questions in life.
The thought came to a certain king that he would never fail if he knew three things. These three things were
- What was the right time to begin everything?
- Who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid?
- What was the most important thing to do?
He proclaimed that the ones who give the right answers shall be rewarded. Many learned men attempted to answer the king's questions, but they all came up with different answers. The king decided that he needed to ask a wise hermit in a nearby village. The hermit would only see common people, however, so the king put on common dress, left his guards behind, and went to see the hermit. The hermit was digging flower beds when the king arrived. The king asked his questions, but the hermit went on digging. The king offered to dig for him for a while. After digging for some time, the king again asked his questions. Before the hermit could answer, a man emerged from the woods. He was bleeding from a terrible stomach wound. The king tended to him, and they stayed the night in the hermit's hut. By the next day the wounded man was doing better, but was incredulous at the help he had received. The man confessed that he knew who the king was, and that the king had executed his brother and seized his property. He had come to kill the king, but the king's guards had wounded him. The man pledged allegiance to the king, and he went on his way. The king asked the hermit again for his answers, and the hermit responded that he had just had his questions answered.
- The most important time is NOW. The present is the only time over which we have power.
- The most important person is whoever you are with.
- The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with.
- "The Works of Tolstoi." Black's Readers Service Company: Roslyn, New York. 1928.
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