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The kindest con
on April 26, 2004
It's funny how a single story changes with the telling. These days the classic tale of how to make stone soup has been told in a myriad of different tellings and versions. But if you harken back a little to Marci Brown's 1947 concoction, you see clearly that the story can be a little more sardonic than its alternate versions. In this tale, villagers are tricked out of their greed and fear into sharing and enjoying life with their neighbors. And it's all thanks to a soup that doesn't even exist.
Three soldiers make their way home from an unnamed war in an unnamed country. Passing a village, the men ask the townspeople for some food and warm beds. Unsurprisingly, the peasants (who, one presumes, have been violently scared into this state of distrust through years of misuse at the hands of soldiers such as these) feign a lack of food or room for the men. Thinking on their feet, the soldiers proclaim that there is nothing for it then but to make stone soup. The astonished town watches and aids the men in their task, providing them with a huge soup cauldron, water, and whatever ingredients the soldiers casually mention. By the end of the evening everyone sits down to a hearty meal and after a good night of carousing the men are given the best beds in town. "And fancy, made from stones!"
The soldiers in this tale are jovial fellows, just as comfortable fooling foolish peasants into acts of selflessness as they are dancing with pretty maids and drinking. That so much joy can come simply from sharing with your fellow man is a moral insinuated from the tale, rather than explicitly spelled out to the reader. Brown's accompanying illustrations encompass roughly four colors; red, black, white, and grey. Though a subtle palette, the figures readily express all the emotions, fears, and energy of the people and their soldier guests. I was charmed by the final throwaway line in the book, written below the peasants as they wave goodbye to the three men. "Such men don't grow on every bush". You could say the same for this book.