Primary Genre(s): Short Story, Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Published: 1882 in The Century Magazine
Page count: 10
My Format: free online (various sources)
Cover: Dark (from the 1884 short story collection)
Ending: Frustrating and thought-provoking
Would I recommend it: Yes
My rating: ★★★★★
Synopsis from Wikipedia
The short story takes place in a land ruled by a semi-barbaric king. Some of the king’s ideas are progressive, but others cause people to suffer. One of the king’s innovations is the use of a public trial by ordeal as an agent of poetic justice, with guilt or innocence decided by the result of chance. A person accused of a crime is brought into a public arena and must choose one of two doors. Behind one door is a lady whom the king has deemed an appropriate match for the accused; behind the other is a fierce, hungry tiger. Both doors are heavily soundproofed to prevent the accused from hearing what is behind each one. If he chooses the door with the lady behind it, he is innocent and must immediately marry her, but if he chooses the door with the tiger behind it, he is deemed guilty and is immediately devoured by it.
The king learns that his daughter has a lover, a handsome and brave youth who is of lower status than the princess, and has him imprisoned to await trial. By the time that day comes, the princess has used her influence to learn the positions of the lady and the tiger behind the two doors. She has also discovered that the lady is someone whom she hates, thinking her to be a rival for the affections of the accused. When he looks to the princess for help, she discreetly indicates the door on his right, which he opens.
I’ve heard the phrase about choosing the lady or the tiger before, and I knew it was from a story, but I have never read it… until now. If you haven’t read this story before, I encourage you to click here and read it first because there are potential spoilers below. Here are my pros and cons for The Lady, or the Tiger?:
- This is the ultimate choose your own ending story! I loved those books when I was a kid, but at least those stories had endings to actually read after you made your choices! This story is completely wide-open and left entirely to the reader to decide what happens.
- This is a typical fairy tale/allegory, complete with a King, a Princess, a young man (unworthy of, but in love with the princess), and a conflict that keeps the lovers apart. However, this tale does not have a Happily Ever After ending – at least not for the princess, because she is in an impossible situation and regardless of her choice, she loses. The young man has a chance for a good ending, but his fate is completely dependent upon the decision of the princess. What an incredible conundrum! The only winner here is the King who is successful in keeping the young man away from his daughter no matter what decision is made.
- I am beyond frustrated that I don’t know how this ends! This is a pro because honestly, as frustrated as I am, this short story had me thinking quite a bit about morals and values and love and consequences and trust and selfishness and selflessness and choices and so many other things since I have read it. Any story, particular a short one, that can make me think so deeply about things like this is a spectacular story in my opinion.
- This story is a third person narrative and the narrator even speaks directly to the reader at the end of the story. I thought this was effective because the narrator was directly challenging the reader to determine which choice was made.
- Impossible choices always make for compelling reading. This book was the epitome of the impossible choice or the unsolvable problem. So much so that the phrase “the lady or the tiger” has become synonymous for an unsolvable problem.
- I have say that the frustration of not knowing for sure what fate the princess chose for the young man still drives me nuts… even considering all the pros I wrote about above!
It comes down to this… since we don’t know what the princess chose to do, we have to decide what we would do.
The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,–the lady, or the tiger?
Even considering the princess was “semi-barbarian” and extremely jealous of the lady who would be presented to the young man if he selected the correct door, I have to believe that love would ultimately win and the princess would allow the young man to live, even if it meant she had to watch him marry another. That is what I would have done, even if it would have been painful to do it. So, how would you chose… the lady, or the tiger?
I actually think this is a great story to start off the New Year because it makes you think about the consequences of your decisions. Even with unsolvable problems, or in situations where there are no favorable outcomes, how will you react? Will you choose to do the right things this year, whether or not it is personally painful, or will you make decisions that only benefit yourself or make things easier for you? Will you be selfish or selfless in 2020? The answer always depends on the situation, of course, and hopefully no one is ever in an actual lady or tiger situation! However, I think the start of a new year is always a good time to reflect upon ourselves and decide what kind of person we want to be going forward.
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(image from Goodreads)