I published a post about this short story three years ago in 2009 and I notice from my site statistics that every December the article seems to attract a large number of hits. There were some shortcomings in the original article and so I’m republishing it here and include links to an audiobook version (see below).
If you read the original article back in 2009 then please pass over this one – the next article will be appearing in a day or two’s time and will be about a new Peirene Press book, Sea of Ink.
The Story of the Other Wiseman was written by Henry Van Dyke who was one of those writers whose memory is lost in the mists of time. Van Dyke was an American Presbyterian clergyman, the author of quite a few books, most of them long-forgotten and of little interest. Nowadays The Other Wise Man is the only book for which he is remembered. The story doesn’t take long to read and the edition I have is only 60 pages long including illustrations such as the one on the right.
These days I find myself struggling with the Christmas thing. Like most adults, I’ve lived through many of them. I’ve had times when the whole Nativity has meant a lot to me, and other times when it barely passes through my consciousness – this year, the latter condition seems to apply.
But sooner or later, all those carols on the radio start to get to me – John Rutter’s Candlelight Carol for example, or Harold Darke’s arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter, or perhaps that most moving German Christmas song, Still, Still, Still, Weils Kindlein Schalfen Will.
I suppose the appeal is something about a message based on an infant “bringing down the mighty from their thrones”, which runs counter to the strong-flowing current of modern life, so obsessed with celebrity and status.
And so I turn once again to The Story of the Other Wise Man. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it but it seems to resonate with my mood most years, when all the paraphernalia of Christmas overwhelms the story of a child being born who somehow gives a glimmer of hope to those who wish to receive it. You can find The Other Wise Man for free on the net on Project Gutenburg. Its not very long and won’t take more than half an hour or so to read.
The Other Wise Man is the simple story of the fourth wise man, Artaban, a Zoroastrian scholar, who wants to travel with the other three Magi to follow the star, but keeps getting held up because he responds to people on the way who need his help. The poor man arrives too late to see the baby, but travels on for the next 30 years on the trail of the one he seeks, but never quite catches up with him.
I think what I like about the story, is that its for those who don’t believe, those people who never quite grasp what religion is all about and perhaps don’t even want to. Its for people like me with a residual Christian faith but who don’t really believe that anything happens to us when we die – but still find ourselves living as though we might one day have to give account for the choices and decisions we made in our lives.
If you would like to hear the book read you can download an audiobook version for free here.