IN THE LAND OF THE BLIND … A PARABLE
In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King – Desiderius Erasmus, Catholic Priest and scholar
In a land, far away from ours, there lived a race of people who were all blind.
Many ages ago, the people had the ability to see, but had lost it in what was known in their history as the Great Disaster. The people didn’t mind much; they were an ancient race and were quite used to it by now. It didn’t hurt that their other senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch were quite acute. Their blindness was characterized by white cataracts that clouded their pupils—not that they knew this, or cared.
One day, the people of the Land gathered together outside the King’s Palace to watch the annual Contest of the King. The Contest of the King was the great contest held once a year to decide who would rule the Land. The Contest consisted of three trials designed to test hearing, smell, and taste. Since anybody could enter, one would have to be outstanding in all three categories to win. Oftentimes, the same person ended up reigning as King for many years until a worthy challenger came along.
At the time the great contest was being held all the people in all the land gathered outside of the King’s palace, even those not competing, to observe. Bells were rung, with contestants standing many yards away to figure out who could hear them, and faint odors were released into the air to figure out which contestants could smell them and from how far away.
As was expected the same person who had won for the previous ten years had won again. This was no surprise, and nobody minded; he had ruled them well. Not that there hadn’t been occasional problems, but always he had managed to guide them back to prosperity.
The King was ready to once again be crowned for another year when a voice floated through the crowd shouting, “Wait! Wait!”
The crowd turned toward the direction of the voice. It was recognized as the voice of Grogan the Cripple. Grogan was 33 years old, and his ambition was always to become King. Due to injuries sustained from a fire, he found this impossible. The fire had crippled him so that he could only walk with a limp, and the smoke had damaged his sense of smell so that there was no way for him to win any of the scent contests.
It was Grogan who had been shouting, and he limped up to the front of the crowd and cupped his hands to speak.
“My people!” he shouted, shoving the King aside, “My people! You cannot let this man become King! He is not ready to deal with the danger!”
The crowd started murmuring amongst themselves. The King, who was not happy about being shoved aside, tapped Grogan on the shoulder and yelled loud enough for the crowd to hear, “Danger? What danger is there that I have not led my people through before? I can face any danger!”
Grogan did not even turn his head toward the King, choosing instead to address the crowd. “My people, you do not know about the monster!”
The people’s murmuring grew louder.
“Yes! The great monster! Fifty feet long and one hundred feet high, with wings that stretch the length of his body on either side! The monster who sweeps through our lands! I tell you now, my good people, that the monster is hovering above our heads this very second!”
The crowd had started to shout when the King yelled, “Surely you realize how ridiculous this is? If there were a monster why has it not attacked before?”
Grogan shouted, “But it HAS attacked! Remember the plague, my people? Remember the famine? Remember the tornado? The plague was the beast breathing its horrible breath into your lungs. The famine was caused when the beast spewed fire onto your crops! The tornado was the beast beating its horrible wings!”
The King tried to pick on flaws in Grogan’s story. “But how do we not hear this monster? Surely, he’d be making noise doing all these terrible things to our people?”
This time, Grogan did turn in the direction of the King but yelled loud enough for the crowd to hear. “This monster is magical! He cannot be heard or smelt or felt! He can only be seen!”
The King sneered, “Then how do you know he is there? You are blind, just like the rest of us, and a liar!”
Grogan turned in the direction of the crowd once again. “I know he is there,” said Grogan, “Because I can see! The day after the fire, I woke up, and it was as if a window was opened, and the sights of the world were revealed to me! The fire that destroyed my heartiness and my sense of smell has gifted me with sight in one eye!”
The noise in the crowd started swelling. Grogan bellowed to make his voice heard over the din.
“But there is more, my people! Our beloved King is not free from blame! I told him of the beast! He knew of its existence since before the plague! But he did not try and fight the monster! He did not build walls to protect us from this foul beast! Oh no! Instead of taking action, he thought only of his own wretched skin and begged the monster for mercy. He has bribed the beast by stealing YOUR crops and giving it to the monster as payment!”
At this comment, complete chaos erupted in the crowd. One man shouted, “Get the King!” There was a mad scramble in the direction of Grogan and the King. To this day, nobody knows if the King was ever caught or if he had escaped. He was never found again.
In the midst of the hysteria, Grogan once again stepped to the front of the crowd. After the King was long gone, Grogan yelled, “SILENCE!”
The people obeyed.
“I,” said Grogan, “Can help you. But only if you help me. I would do all the work myself, my people, except”-and here he groaned loudly-“my leg is twisted and burned from the fire. I cannot carry heavy objects, and I would only hinder your progress. But I know the Beast’s weakness. I only ask for your cooperation to protect us from this hideous creature.”
The crowd cheered. Of course, Grogan was made the King; this seemed to be the only logical course of action for the people to ensure their safety. Under Grogan’s direction, the people built walls around the country’s capital and attached giants spears to them, then spent weeks casting complex defensive spells and creating potions to ensure people’s safety from the beast. Whenever Grogan himself was asked to help, he’d get up and limp heroically forward, then cry out, “My leg! My leg!” The people, who hated to know that their King and Savior was in pain, would rush toward him and rest his leg, then get him any luxury he desired.
At last, after three long months of securing their capitol from the beast, Grogan asked the people to surround the castle. He walked onto his balcony and announced, “My people, there is great news! The beast has died! The beast knew that I, your King, was organizing you in defense and so targeted me in the castle! But before he could reach my bedside at night, he was stopped by one of our defensive spells and fell to the ground. Unable to fly, he battled me on land. And my people, even weakened by the spells, he was a fearsome opponent; after many hours of fighting, I managed to stab his evil heart with one of the spears from the castle walls. Once hit in the heart, the beast was no more, and dissolved into smoke. As proof, I give you, the bloodstained spear!”
And then Grogan dropped the spear, point upwards, into the crowd below, and indeed the people could feel wetness on the blade. They gave a great cheer, and the celebrations lasted for a month. King Grogan was hailed as a hero, and he was loved by all the land.
Years passed. Of course, the Contest of Kings was not held anymore; what was the point with a King as great as Grogan? Indeed, he was so beloved that he became known as Grogan the Great. There was a famine, a sickness, and even a civil war, but as Grogan reminded them, these horrors were nothing compared to the atrocities the beast could have committed had he lived for much longer. The King liked retelling the story of how he risked his own life to save his people, especially in times of hardship, lest the people should forget; and the people, remembering, never stopped loving their King.
In the tenth year of the reign of Grogan the Great, traders came into the Land of the Blind. The traders were the first people in thousands of years (besides Grogan, of course) who had the ability to see; indeed, the Land of the Blind was so far away from any other land that these were its first visitors ever.
Throughout their stay, the traders kept hearing about Grogan the Great and his fight with the beast. In fact, they heard the story of the one-eyed King so many times over that the traders were adamant about meeting His Majesty at the royal palace.
The traders marched up to the Castle with a great crowd of people following behind them. The King, hearing the crowd talking excitedly, walked onto his balcony and yelled, “Why all the noise, my people?”
The traders stepped forward to get a look at the King. There was a moment’s pause.
Finally, one of the traders spoke. “What are all of you talking about? The King’s blind too.”
Food For Thought
Do you think the reactions of the people in the story were believable? Why were they so quick to believe the things Grogan told them? What do you think of the narrator? He seems to be somewhat unreliable, telling the story from a third person point of view but with a certain bias. And what do you make of the character of the King? Do we really know if he was a better ruler than Grogan? Or is he just a very canny politician?
What do you think of the decision to tell the story in parable form? How did this add to the story, if it did?
About the Author
Anthony Marchetta is a 20 year old college student who started reading science fiction last summer and loved it. He has previously been published in the Journal under the name Marc Anthony, and changed it at the request of his parents, who really wanted to see his name in print. He is currently working on several short stories and a novel that makes good use of the Arthurian legends. This story is dedicated to his Grandma Marie, who he knows would have appreciated it. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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