Long ago in a far off kingdom there was a place called “The Land of Forgetting”. It was the sort of place that was once considered normal in the world with farms, well-tilled fields, towns, orchards, grocers, and blacksmiths. It was called “The Land of Forgetting” because of how little people who lived there knew. They were much like you and I, certainly no less intelligent, but for one peculiarity.
Every week the people of the town gathered together in a rickety,old building. A man called the “Beedle” would remove a dusty sheet from over a dusty bookshelf and pull a threadbare and tattered book from the shelf. Every week he stood before the townsfolk and read from the book, cover to cover. Every week he recited the same beginning and the same ending. If you asked the townspeople what the subject of the book was they would easily tell you, “Everything”. Everything was indeed the subject matter. The peculiar thing was that at the end of the reading the people would rise, return to their homes for a hearty meal, and if you asked them what had been read they would not be able to tell you. They had quite simply forgotten what they had heard.
“I’m sure it is important, or the Beedle wouldn’t say it every week,” the people would reply if you asked them what the value was in attending so regularly without being able to remember.
Every week of the year the Beedle read from the book, and every week of the year the townsfolk entirely forgot what had been read within five minutes.
Now, in this town was a boy; a rare boy whose name I have myself forgotten. As such I will refer to him as, “the boy”. The boy was rare among the people of the town because he actually liked to ask questions. Although his inquisitiveness was a defect he tried hard to keep hidden, he couldn’t help but on occasion release a particularly insistent question into the world.
The boy found that his father was the best person to ask questions of. Although his father would look at him and grunt quizzically every time he did so, it was better than subjecting himself to the withering glares and outraged glances that he received from most of the townsfolk when he approached them with a question.
“Papa,” he began one day.
“Eh?” his father replied. It was more of a grunt than a true reply.
“Why does the Beedle read to us every week from the dusty book?”
“‘Cause it’s important,” his father replied off-handedly without even bothering to look up from from the yellowed pages of his farmer’s almanac.
“Do you remember what he read to us yesterday?”
“Huh?” he grunted quizzically to his son. “What do you mean? Of course not. No one does. Why? Do you?”
His father said the last accusatorily, as if he believed such a thing might a blight upon their family honor.
“No,” his son admitted quietly. “I don’t remember either. I never remember. But how can we say it’s so important if we don’t remember?”
The boy’s father let out an aggravated sighed, shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and begrudgingly closed his almanac.
“Even though we don’t remember, I’m sure it’s good enough that way,” his father replied. “We know enough; enough to keep us safe, enough to keep us fed, and, most importantly, enough to keep us content. We know all we’ve ever needed to know. We get along fine with what little we know of the book.”
“But wouldn’t knowing more be better?” the little boy asked with caution.
At that question his father leaned down to look his young son in the eye and said,
“More isn’t always better, my boy. Oftener times it’s just more.”
The boy found that he couldn’t argue against that point. More work often meant being sore and exhausted come the morning. More sweet, golden honey than just a little meant that his stomach would keep him up all night with aching. Despite this, the question still remained firmly in his mind.
He threw himself into his chores, repeated the words of blessing over the evening meal and before he lay down to sleep. He flung himself in the familiar rhythms of life to try and distract himself from the question. When he was not doing chores he plunged himself into entertainments of all sorts so as to be distracted from it entirely.
While lying upon his floor mat the night before the weekly Reading, the boy’s dam of resolve burst and the question consumed him. Why did they forget? The question turned into intention as he determined within himself that the next morning, after they put on their best clothes for Reading Day, he would try desperately to remember everything the Beedle read to them.
The day came, the words were read and, after a fine picnic lunch under a great oak, our boy still could not remember a thing that had been said. Certainly his heart felt lighter from having listened, the world seemed brighter about the edges, but still he couldn’t remember and the forgetting perplexed him. Would not his heart feel even lighter and the world even brighter if he could remember? The words opened up sensations of love, peace, and joy in him. That much he was certain off, but where did such things come from to begin with? If he could just remember he thought he would know these things rather than feel them.
That afternoon our boy lay down on a broad stump that had long ago turned weathered and grey. It showed no signs of life except for a single green shoot on one side that reached desperate, though feebly, towards the sun. His eyebrows slanted towards one another in frustrated thought. His mother quickly noticed her son’s disquiet.
“What troubles you, son?” the fair woman asked as she hung linens on the nearby drying line.
“Not remembering,” he replied blandly.
“You know, not remembering can be a gift,” his mother replied after a moment’s thought.
“I mean not remembering what the Beedle reads us.”
“Even then it can be a gift. Remembering leads to knowing and knowing means you have to act on what you know,” She listened for some sign that her son took her meaning. When no evidence appeared she pulled a wooden clothes pin from her apron pocket and secured one end of a bed sheet to the line before she continued. “What if you knew something that you should do but couldn’t? You’d want to because you know it but you’d be incapable, and then you’d feel worthless because it wasn’t in your power.”
“But if we could remember, couldn’t we live better?”
“Better isn’t always better,” his mother replied with all the dispassion of an oft repeated proverb and secured the other end of the sheet with another wooden pin.
“That’s what Father said too.”
“Well, it is a wise saying.”
The boy’s heart and mind were still troubled. He laid back on the stump and stared at the clouds. Part of him hoped for an easy answer; that the clouds would rearrange themselves into letters and tell him the answers his heart longed for. A deeper part of him recognized that the answer was the kind that one longed for, sought after, and chased down.
“Mother,” he called plaintively.
“Yes, son?” she replied.
“How would it be if I went into town and asked the Beedle about the forgetting?”
There was a long pause that lead him to wonder if he had somehow offended his mother; that she was silently outraged out of his line of sight with her lips pursed, eyes aflame, and hands on her aproned hips.
He lifted himself up on his elbows to be certain her reaction. She stood with a bed sheet in hand, clothespins between her fingers and was staring off far into the distance. The look on her face was nothing like he expected.
“I suppose that would be fine,” she replied dreamily, shifting her eyes to look at him as if she had never considered the possibility. His mother’s eye soon sought the laundry basket and her dreaminess fled.
The next day the boy woke bright and early and wound his way down the road to the Reading Building where he found the Beedle sitting on one of the many long benches that fanned out in front of the podium from which the man read. The boy entered the old building cautiously, unsure whether or not he should be there on a day other than Reading Day.
“Beedle, sir?” he asked quietly as he approached.
The man did not reply. Torm found him hunched over on the foremost bench rocking back and forth very slightly. The boy came closer and could see that the old man’s arms were crossed over his chest, his gnarled hands clutching at his shoulders. The man himself was a reflection of the building around him; grey, aged, unkempt, with bare beams showing through, and a few broken patches on the roof through which the elements often invaded.
The Beedle’s bushy eyebrows were knit together in concentration as his chapped lips moved forming words that our boy could not hear. The boy knew him to be a kindly old man, and he felt a pang at the thought of disturbing him.
The man hadn’t yet noticed his presence. He could easily walk away, leave his questions unanswered, and accept what the wisdom of his father and others of the town. There was a more persistent feeling bubbling deep within; the need to know, to understand, and the frail man in front of him had the answers.
Maybe the answers would do him no good in the end. Maybe all he would succeed in doing was disturbing an old man, a respected man, and would be declared a troublemaker; a disturber of the peace. But the need became more pressing the closer he drew to the man, and not knowing was a far more insistent danger than the alternative.
“Mr. Beedle, sir,” the boy prompted.
The old man’s soundless lip movements and rocking, bundled in his own embrace, continued unabated.
Our boy took a tentative breath, and reached out his little hand with a single finger extended and poked the Beedle’s shoulder.
The old man jumped at the unexpected contact, unfurled his arms suddenly and looked back at the boy with surprisingly clear blue eyes. They much brighter than the boy had been able to see from his bench on reading day.
“Goodness gracious me,” the old man spoke in a raspy whisper clearly in the boy’s direction, but not to the boy.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the boy replied, “I tried to call out to you. Twice.”
The old man’s eyes adjusted, appraised our boy, and his aged face broke into a warm smile.
“Oh, that’s quite alright. I’m sure you did. I get lost in…thought…sometimes. I say, you’re the thatcher’s son, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” our boy replied.
The old man’s smile increased and broke into even more warmth than before. His mouth opened to say something further but then looked about the Reading Room as if confused of where he was.
“Oh, dear me. I’ve spent too much time…thinking. That’s what I was doing before, yes?”
The Beedle waited for the boy’s nod and then sprang into another room. He came back into the main room again with a dust pan and broom in his hand, and set about sweeping behind the lectern.
Our boy waited a moment, unsure what to say or what the old man was up to. Reading day was not for another few mornings and, given the holes in the roof and the poorly patched bits of the walls, sweeping seemed pointless so far ahead of time.
The old man had a good pile going when our boy walked up onto the platform and asked if the Beedle would like some help.
“Would I like some…”
The old man paused and looked off into the distance as if he had never been asked the question before and wasn’t certain how to respond to such a question. The piercing blue eyes looked back at our boy and the smile broke out again that made the boy feel warm all over.
“Why yes, young man. I suppose I would like some help. Here, put this dust pan to the floor and I’ll push the dirt into it. There’s a good lad.”
The dust tickled the boy’s nose so much that he let fly a very unexpected sneeze directly into the dustpan. A cloud of dust erupted all over the platform. The boy looked up at the Beedle sheepishly, expecting him to be furious, but instead the old man tried to stifle a laugh and failed. After a few seconds of shock the boy joined him in rolling laughter.
‘Oh, dear me,” the old man replied after recovering from the mirth and set about to begin sweeping again. “Always something keeping me busy around here, but that’s a first. And one I gladly embrace. Here we go again. There. Well done. Tip the dust into the can in the other room.”
The boy held his nose with one hand to avoid a repeat of the previous episode, and carried the battered dust pan with the other. In the adjoining room he found a metal bucket, though he noted a few holes in it that worried him. Our boy looked up and saw the rest of the room which consisted of a flat looking pillow, a threadbare and equally flat mattress, a holey blanket, and a bookshelf whose top shelf had long ago fallen on one end to rest on the shelf below it. There, underneath the fallen shelf sat the big dusty book from which the Beedle read every week and inside it the words which most people could not remember.
“Did you find it? It’s one of the very few things in that room,” the old man said as he came around the corner and behind the boy.
“Oh,” the old man replied as if suddenly ashamed. “You found it alright.”
“Is this where you live?” the boy asked quietly after a moment.
“Home sweet home,” the Beedle replied with a practiced grin. “It’s not as much as some, but…well, people tell me it keeps me humble. And they’re right. It does. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some holes in the walls to patch up. They say a storm’s coming and if I don’t take precautions…”
The old man went into a dark corner and pulled out a hammer and a few bent and rusty nails that the boy could tell had been used many times over and again. Some were bent at right angles, others curved like a crescent moon.
“Would you like some help?” the boy asked again.
The bewildered look and the warm smile returned again and beamed down on the boy.
“Why yes…yes I would. I mean, if you have time,” the old man replied kindly.
“I came here to talk to you so, I’ve got plenty of time.”
“Me?” the old man said after a single sharp laugh but continued about his business undetered..
The Beedle moved behind a wall that stood as a backdrop to the lectern. The white paint there was as chipped and weathered as the outside walls of the building. The Beedle returned with a few thin boards that hardly thicker than the shingles on the roof. Each had no less than four holes colored with the orange tell tale sign of rust, an indication that they had been used more than once before.
“Why in the world would a boy like you have nothing better to do than come talk to an old man like me? Here we are. Put one hand here and the other there. That’s good. Hold it as tightly as you can against the wall.”
“I’ve been thinking about something, and nobody seems to be able to give me an answer.”
The old man set up the bent nail and gave it a strong wack, driving the crescent shape all the way through in one blow.
“Me? A man with answers?” he said looking skeptically at the boy. “You’ve asked both your mom and your dad, and they didn’t know?”
Two swings at opposing angles drove the rusted half square nail in. The boy hadn’t thought that such a nail would go in properly if at all, but the Beedle forced it through with practiced ease.
“And they know you’re here asking me?”
Another whack and the straightest nail drove home through the hole that was as orange as the same nail.
“My mom actually gave me permission. She thought it would be a good idea.”
“Ok then, feel free to ask away. You can move your hands now. The other three will hold it.” The Beedle said setting up another nail and reared back the hammer over his shoulder.
“Why is it that we forget what you read to us every week?”
The boy braced for the loud “thwack” of the hammer but heard only the soft “tink tink” of the nail hitting the floor.
For a moment the boy worried that he’d offended the respected man. Maybe the Beedle didn’t actually know that it was something that happened week in and week out. Our boy tried not to turn around, but when he heard the hammer fall to the ground he spun about reflexively. The Beedle grimaced and sat himself on the edge of the platform.
“I’m sorry,” the boy said with worry in his voice. “Did I say something wrong?”
The grimace melted to kindness and the Beedle patted the spot next to him and the boy sat.
“Oh, no, my boy. No. Don’t worry. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, the question I mean, but it has been a very long time since it’s been put to me.”
“So, you know why then?” the boy said with great expectation.
“I can’t say for sure that I do. Even I myself often forget much after I read it, and I’ve read it for a great many years. I would cautiously say that I likely remember more of it than those who come to hear it read.”
“My father says that although we don’t remember it we know enough of it to live our lives, and that it’s dangerous and pointless to go beyond that much. Is that true?”
The Beedle looked away into the distance beyond the doorless frame that stood at the opposite end from him and heaved a considered sigh.
“I suppose that’s true in many ways. A little knowledge is enough to give a decent life. It is certainly dangerous to know more, but not by the way we reckon danger. Pointless? Well, to many it would seem pointless and a waste, that much is certainly true.”
The old man looked then to the floor, seemed to look inside himself, and grimaced again.
“I don’t understand,” the boy began, “how something that is good for us to know and do could be worse for us if we knew more and did even more of it. My father says that’s a fool’s way of thinking, but I can’t help it much.”
“It’s not to be taken lightly, that is for sure.”
“Well, that’s the dangerous part I was talking about,” the old man replied. “It changes you, son. It makes you into something different the more you read and the more you remember.”
“Does it make you better?”
“What do you mean by better? By whose reckoning?” the old man added after his first question caused a confused look to pass over the boy’s face.
The old man laughed.
“Oh my. No, no, I’m not mocking you, son. It’s only that if you were on my side of things with my age, my experience, you would see the humor.” He became more serious and continued, “It’s kind of like how different things make your mother and father happier. There are some things the same, but many others what makes a woman happy that a man finds no joy in.”
The Beedle’s eyes went wide.
“Which way do you mean that?” he asked cautiously.
“Like when my mom tells my dad she’s having a baby. She gets happier than any other time and my dad gets more frustrated for a time.”
A look of relief swept over the old man’s face.
“Yes. Like babies. People who remember the book are happier, and things are better for you in a way that other people don’t understand. It is hard but in a way you won’t mind though others will shake their heads, wanting only what’s easily available; what doesn’t take too much remembering.”
“Is it easier to remember when you read it every week?”
“I try and read it every day, not just on Reading Days, truth be told. But yes, it gets easier. Only by a bit, but easier. I try to memorize things sometimes and it can be like hand catching an eel in the marshes.”
“But it’s worth it? Like babies?”
The old man chuckled.
“Yes. Like babies.”
“You said it had a been a long time since someone put that question to you.”
“Yes. That’s right. A long time.”
“Who was it?”
The Beedle smiled the smile of a man experiencing a fond remembrance. His blue eyes twinkled as he seemed to think across decades of his past.
“Myself,” he uttered just barely above a whisper before looking again to the dirty and weathered floor. “I asked it of myself.”
During the walk home, our boy’s head was swimming with thoughts, emotions, and what seemed like half answered questions, or at the very least questions whose answers only made half the usual amount of sense. His feet didn’t seem to want to go in a straight line down the path. He nearly tripped over a road stone and caught himself a half dozen times.
Before the boy had left the Beedle’s reading house he had asked the old man if he could maybe sometimes be allowed to read the book. Until it was out of his mouth our boy hadn’t realized how strange a thing it sounded. The old man shoved together his eyebrows; not in an angry way but in a way that seriously considered the request including many possible negative outcomes.
“Here’s what I’ll tell you,” the old man began. “You ask your parents, and if they say yes, truthfully say yes, then my answer is the same. I won’t prevent you but they might.”
Our boy felt that he should have been excited about the prospect, but there was an enormity to asking, a vastness to even the thought of reading the ancient book. It didn’t scare him so much as it awed him. What would it be like to not forget; to remember something of it? Could his parents be right? That not knowing was better than knowing too much?
His father was the least receptive to the idea. There was much head wagging, and saying it was a dunderheaded sort of thing to want to do, but as long as the boy’s chores got done and he stayed home on the days they said he must then his father couldn’t find a reason to complain. His mother got that dreamy eyed look again when the boy explained and asked, but ultimately said that if his father said yes then it was her answer as well.
“First,” the Beedle said as he opened the book upon the lectern. The dust tickled the boy’s nose again, but he marveled at the size and heft of the book as well as the black letters that seemed to crawl along the yellow aged pages like living things. “Do you know how to read?”
“Yes,” the boy replied. “Most words, though there are some I do not know.”
The Beedle smiled and chuckled.
“There are many I don’t know as well. But these words are different. They look like the words of our language, but they are more than the words of our language. Here, let me show you.”
Minutes slipped away which led to hours disappearing altogether. Each day, rain or shine, our boy was there. He especially liked the rainy days because there was precious little to do at home. When the clouds opened their storehouses of water upon the plains the boy’s heart leapt in his chest and off he ran to the reading house.
The Beedle was right. They were the words he was taught to read as a child made up of familiar letters, but they were more than words. The words made him think and feel things that he wouldn’t have thought or felt otherwise. Chief among these feelings and thoughts was the little flame that he noticed spark up somewhere to the right of his heart. It had taken up residence somewhere in those first weeks of studying. The more he read and tried to remember the brighter it became. The driest weeks of summer, those when his father had the most work to do, he spent days and weeks not reading the words and the flame grew lower but never snuffed out.
The words changed his mind and changed his heart in all the ways that the Beedle had warned him it would. People began to matter more than he thought they did before. Their thoughts and feelings had twice the interest to him. He wanted to treat people, especially his mother and father, better than he had before. But it was more than that. Chores that he once despised started to feel like in doing them he was giving his mother a hug. When he worked for his father he felt like he was being a strong shoulder standing beside him and holding him up. Resentment used to live in those regular acts butnow something else had taken it’s place.
It was a few years later, while they were fitting a door into the long empty frame, into place at the entrance to the reading hall, that our boy asked the the second great question that had been weighing on his heart and mind.
“Beedle,” the boy said in the tone he always used for questions he wasn’t sure he was supposed to ask or not.
“Yes,” the Beedle replied in the patient and tolerant tone he always used in return to such from the boy.
“Who wrote the book?”
The Beedle paused his squinting attempt to line up the hinges to their matches on the doorpost. He took a deep breath, set aside their project ,and sat down on the stairs. The boy held back, unsure if he should sit down until the old man patted the step next to him.
“You’re asking the most dangerous question now. Not that you should fear it, but it could change you more than the book, my boy. Why do you want to know?”
“Every book has a writer. Someone who comes up with everything that is written down.”
“That is true.”
“And every writer puts a bit of himself in everything he writes just like my father puts something of himself in every roof he makes. No one makes them like he does. I guess there’s so much good in the book that I want to know who the writer was.”
The old man smiled, reached over and tousled the boy’s hair.
“You’re sure you want to know?”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
“It could change you,”
“Will it make me unhappy?”
“Well,” the Beedle said hesitantly, drawing out the last three-fourths of the word.
“Yes,” the old man said with a hearty chuckle. “Like babies.”
“Then, yes. I want to know.”
“Well then; he’s a king. He’s very old. And lives a long way from here.”
“Older than me at the very least. The book was old when I first asked the questions you’ve been asking.”
“Is he as good as the book?” the boy asked with a desperate hope in his eyes.
“Even better,” the old man replied with a whisper. “Once, long ago, I got his invitation to visit him where he lives.”
“And did you go?”
“I certainly did. My parents begged me to stay knowing that I would likely not return.”
“What was he like?”
“Old, as I said. And wise, so very wise. And he’s strong. For as old as he is I don’t know how he can be so strong. He’s as kind as his loving words, but also as firm as his rebukes in the book. It was a joy to be there in his presence, to hear the words of the book from his own mouth. It was almost too much to bear, if I’m honest. When he asked me to be a Beedle, to read the book to those who would likely forget the very words every week, you could have knocked me over with a feather. My mouth said ‘yes’ before I even knew I’d opened it. And so I came here, and have been doing what he asked ever since.”
“Do you think I’ll ever get an invitation? Oh, wouldn’t that be something.”
“How many times have you read through the book now?” the old man asked with a skeptical eye.
“Probably five times. I was ten when I first came to you and it’s taken me a year to go through it each time.”
“So, you’ve read the ending…”
“Five times,” the boy replied with emphasis.
“Then if you’ve read it five times. You’ve been invited five times, my boy,” The old man said with a warm chuckle.
The boy’s mouth opened in both shock and embarrassment.
“The forgetting…” our boy whispered.
The old man nodded with a grin flitting across his chapped lips
“The good thing is it’s easy to find. It’s right there at the end. Get up and off with you then. Read and remember.”
Our boy leapt up from the steps, ran full tilt between the reading room benches and up onto the platform, and found the threadbare book there on the lectern where he had left it. He gently and reverently turned it so that the front cover lay face down. Delicately he turned the back cover to read the final words. Sure enough it was there in flowing script that he now knew had been written by a royal hand; an invitation to any who read or heard the words of the book; assurances that they were welcome and hoped for to come and meet the king himself.
The fire to the right of his heart leapt higher than it had before, the joy increased in him so much he felt it would leap out of his mouth were he not careful. That day he ran home and was so excited that he packed his things before he even thought to tell his mother, father, brother, and sisters were he was going.
“Calm down,” they all told him. “Think about what you’re saying. Some king you don’t know in some land you’ve never been to? You’re talking crazy.”
“Just give it a night and a morning” his father said.
“Wait until I can make you some food to take along,” his mother said.
“It’s not like the King is going anywhere,” they both said.
But the boy could not contain himself. He could not wait. Little mattered beyond meeting the king who wrote a book. He kissed them all goodbye and told them he loved them dearly but he had received an invitation from a king. One does not and should not take such a thing lightly.
And it is here that I must remind you, dear reader, that you also have received such an invitation. It is not to stand in a court and view the King on His throne from afar. Look through your own forgetting and remember that a King has earnestly desired to sit with you, talk with you, look deep into you and you into Him. It is there in your own book very near the end. It is one single word.