The Three Questions, based on a 1903 short story written by the Russian moral philosopher, social reformer, and renowned novelist Count Leo Tolstoy, was written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth and published by Scholastic Press in 2002. It’s my favorite story, except for The Fourth Wise Man.
Remember the story of The Fourth Wise Man? He sets out with the other three astrologer kings to follow the Star wherever it leads, to do homage to a newborn king they think is greater than any other, and will bring peace to humankind. However, the fourth wise man gets left behind because he keeps stopping to help first one person in crisis, then another in dire straits, and of course, then another with a serious problem. Meanwhile, he continues on his quest to find this wonderful king, whom he hears more and more about through the years. At last, old and ill, he laments that he didn’t hurry. Now he will die, and he’s given away all his money along the way, and he’s never met the wonderful king he set out to find. He learns, in the end, that he did meet the king, for Jesus Christ was there in the face and heart of every needy person he helped in his life.
The child in The Three Questions reminds me of the fourth wise man: both set off on a quest for answers; both are interrupted by unimagined events requiring an immediate decision from them; and both realize in the end that they had their answers in hand all the time.
I won’t relate the story of the boy’s journey and the creatures and problems he meets along the way. However, I’ll put the answers to the Three Questions beneath this picture of them, in case you just can’t wait. Click on the picture, and you’ll be able to read the questions. Knowing the answers–they are very simple–won’t spoil your experience of reading the story with your children, and I hope you will.
1. When is the best time to do things?
This answer never varies, as it’s the only time we have: Now.
2. Who is the most important one?
The one you are with.
3. What is the right thing to do?
Something good for the one who is standing at your side.
The second and third answers are an interesting lesson in relativity for children, who often have a hard time accepting any but the Absolute, All-time, One Hundred Percent Right Answer.
Kids can understand, though, that The Most Important One changes in their own lives, sometimes every other minute of the day.
The Right Thing To Do is both absolute and relative. The spirit of Goodness is absolute, but the way it plays out is relative to who you are, and depends upon who that person is, “standing by your side.” I hope you will enjoy this peaceful, calming story as much as I do. Please let me know what you think of it.