"What can I do for you, your Majesty?" asked the Court Jester.
"Nobody can do anything for me," said the King mournfully. "The Princess Lenore wants the moon, and she cannot be well till she gets it, but nobody can get it for her. Every time I ask anybody for the moon, it gets larger and farther away. There is nothing you can do for me except play on your lute. Something sad."
"How big do they say the moon is," asked the Court Jester, "and how far away?"
"The Lord High Chamberlain says it is 35,000 miles away, and bigger than the Princess Lenore's room," said the King. "The Royal Wizard says it is 150,000 miles away, and twice as big as this palace. The Royal Mathematician says it is 300,000 miles away, and half the size of this kingdom."
The Court Jester strummed on his lute for a little while. "They are all wise men," he said, "and so they must all be right. If they are all right, then the moon must be just as large and as far away as each person thinks it is. The thing to do is find out how big the Princess Lenore thinks it is, and how far away."
"I never thought of that," said the King.
"I will go and ask her, your Majesty," said the Court Jester. And he crept softly into the little girl's room.
The Princess Lenore was awake, and she was glad to see the Court Jester, but her face was very pale and her voice was weak.
"Have you brought the moon to me?" she asked.
"Not yet," said the Court Jester, "but I will get it for you right away. How big do you think it is?"
"It is just a little smaller than my thumbnail," she said, "for when I hold my thumbnail up at the moon, it just covers it."
"And how far away is it?" asked the Court Jester.
"It is not as high as the big tree outside my window," said the Princess, "for sometimes it gets caught in the top branches."
"It will be very easy to get the moon for you," said the Court Jester. "I will climb the tree tonight when it gets caught in the top branches and bring it to you."
Then he thought of something else. "What is the moon made of, Princess?" he asked.
"Oh," she said, "it's made of gold, of course, silly."
The Court Jester left the Princess Lenore's room and went to see the Royal Goldsmith. He had the Royal Goldsmith make a tiny round golden moon just a little smaller than the thumbnail of the Princess Lenore. Then he had him string it on a golden chain so the Princess could wear it around her neck.
"What is this thing I have made?" asked the Royal Goldsmith when he had finished it.
"You have made the moon," said the Court Jester. "That is the moon."
"But the moon," said the Royal Goldsmith, "is 500,000 miles away and is made of bronze and is round like a marble."
"That's what you think," said the Court Jester as he went away with the moon.
The Court Jester took the moon to the Princess Lenore, and she was overjoyed. The next day she was well again and could get up and go out in the gardens to play.
Excerpted from MANY MOONS by James Thurber and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. Copyright 1943 by James Thurber. Copyright renewed 1971 by Rosemary A. Thurber. Published by Harcourt Brace & Company.
Pub Date: 11/22/98