The Littlest Storyteller: A Fable

Once upon a time, there was a far away land that was ruled by three bossy Queens.

There was a Red Queen, a Green Queen and a Black Queen.

Each Queen had a big castle with a guard at the front gate (that's a picture of the gate to the Black Queen's castle, under construction, above).

And each Queen loved stories.

But they also enjoyed being bossy.

For example, the people who lived near the castles were not allowed to tell their own stories.

Instead, the right to tell stories was strictly controlled.

Each Queen had a favorite kind of story.

Now this was a time before writing and books. So the only way to hear stories was if someone stood up and told one.

So each Queen appointed a favorite storyteller.

And the Queen's official storyteller could only tell the type of stories that the Queen allowed.

For example, the Red Queen liked stories of action and adventure. So the Red Queen's Storyteller could only tell stories about fights and soldiers and things like that.

And the Green Queen like stories with lots of kissing and hugging. So the Green Queen's Storyteller could only tell stories where people fell in love.

And the Black Queen only liked scary stories - with monsters and ghosts and terrible surprises. So the Black Queen's storyteller was an expert in the kind of stories that give you nightmares.

In those days, when a Queen got bored with her storyteller and wanted to appoint a new storyteller, there would be a competition for the best storyteller. This contest was the only way to become an official storyteller.

As we've already said, each Queen was very bossy.

You could get into a lot of trouble if you made up your own story.

And no one was allowed to tell a story except in a special room in each castle where stories were told.

Then one day, in the shadow of the Black Queen's castle, writing was invented.

It happened when a peasant girl, who lived in a little house just outside of the Black Queen's castle, accidentally spilled some water onto the ashes in the fireplace. The peasant girl, whose name was Jane, stirred the puddle of water and ash with a stick. Then Jane rubbed the end of the stick onto a piece of paper.

It left a mark.

Jane had invented ink!

Soon Jane, using her stick and the puddle, was writing down words and ideas onto pieces of paper.

By the time she fell asleep, Jane had written a whole new story.

Jane's story was a kind of story that had never been told before. It was about real people - Jane and her friend David.

When Jane showed her new story to her friend David, he was very excited but also very frightened: "What if the Black Queen finds out?"

But Jane was not afraid. She had a plan.

Jane knew that the Black Queen had called for a contest to appoint a new storyteller.

Jane would enter the contest. Jane was confident that her new story would so impress the Black Queen that Jane would win the contest.

On the day of the contest, Jane made sure her face and hands were clean. She carefully folded the pieces of paper where she had written her story. Then Jane put the folded paper into her pocket.

Then Jane walked outside her little house and through the castle's front gate, past the guards and into the Black Queen's special story room.

The Black Queen's story room was already filled with grown-ups from all over the world. They all had come to win the contest to become the Black Queen's official storyteller.

Soon the Black Queen entered the official story room. She sat upon her royal black throne and the storytelling began.

As the storytellers spoke, Jane started to get nervous. She tried to pay attention, but she couldn't even listen to the other stories. Her confidence had disappeared and her tummy felt strange. She wondered, had she made a mistake?

Then it was Jane's turn.

When she took the pieces of paper out of her pocket and unfolded the wad, the room grew quiet.

No one in the Black Queen's story room had ever seen writing before.

In a voice that cracked and wobbled Jane began to read from the paper: "Once upon a time..."

The crowd of people gasped - what was this little girl doing?

Jane looked up.

The Black Queen wasn't smiling. And an old man with a long white beard under a floppy black hat was whispering in the Queen's ear.

The Black Queen nodded. And the man in the black hat spoke: "In the name of the Queen, I command you to stop. I am the Queen's chief technologist and Wizard and I must immediately examine the papers that you hold in your hands in private. The competition is cancelled."

With that, the Black Queen stood up, turned, and walked out of the room.

Soon the room was emptied and all that remained were Jane and the Wizard.

The Wizard and Jane talked for hours. He asked the little girl many questions about the paper and the words that Jane had written with the mixture of water and ash.

The Wizard explained to Jane that - while her invention was very exciting - to protect the system of storytelling, they would need to invent a form of writing that could only be read once. That way the Black Queen could make sure that new stories were only read to her in her special story room - and that no one else could read that story anywhere else ever again.

Jane asked: "What if someone accidentally reads such a story before it is read before the Queen? A story that could only be read once would be unreadable if accidentally read before the official presentation to the Queen."

And Jane also asked: "What if other people, perhaps the other storytellers who were in the room today, start creating and freely sharing their own stories using my invention. After all it's just ink and water and paper. Now that other storytellers have seen my invention, will it be possible to stop storytellers from making and sharing stories that can be read over and over again?"

The Wizard frowned: "Our system of storytelling requires scarcity. These new stories might make our special story room irrelevant. And the openness and exchange of ideas that you suggest, while it might make the world a better place, will mean that the Queen can no longer control the creation of stories."

So Jane and the Wizard decided to invent something they would call encryption and keys. That way a story could be read only once and only the Queen would have the key.

Jane and the Wizard agreed that a tightly controlled form of storytelling is better than millions of stories being created and circulated by just anyone.

Jane became the official storyteller for the Black Queen and they lived for a very long time - telling the old type of stories over and over and over and over and over again.

The End

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