Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Emperor's New Clothes

Once upon a time, in a Kingdom by the sea, the Emperor decided to buy a new wardrobe for the annual procession.

It may seem odd that the Kingdom had an Emperor, but his father had been ruler of a small Kingdom, and his mother the ruler of another small Kingdom, each claiming one of two valleys nestled between the mountains and the sea. When the two kingdoms were merged by marriage (a fine, traditional, arranged union), "King" no longer seemed grand enough, or so their most powerful advisor said. So at the suggestion of the advisor, whose own title was simply "First Minister," the ruler of the land became the "Emperor."

The people of both Kingdoms rejoiced, since it is ever so much grander to be an Empire than a Kingdom. And the Emperor and Empress ruled grandly until they both died (far too young, all agreed), and then their only son was elevated to the throne.

The newly crowned Emperor loved beautiful new clothes. His only interests were going to the theater or in riding about in his carriage where he could show off his new clothes. He had a different costume for every hour of the day.

You might surmise from this description that the Emperor was at least mildly vainglorious, and susceptible to the flattery and blandishments of his advisors. This was perhaps true, but you should remember that the Emperor had never in his life heard anything but flattery, and had never seen anything that would tell him that there are more important things in life than appearances. So his only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes, and he changed clothes almost every hour to show them off to his people. He never heard anything from his people save appreciation and admiration.

Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.

"We are tailors and weavers who have dressed the aristocracy of the many European capitals. After many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it is almost invisible. In fact it cannot be seen by anyone who is too stupid to appreciate its quality."

The Chief of the Guards heard the scoundrels' strange story and sent for the court Chamberlain. The Chamberlain notified the First Minister, who went to the Emperor and disclosed the news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two immigrants.

"Your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you. Its beauty will be in direct proportion to the intelligence, refinement and taste of the observer." The Emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately.

"Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you," said the Emperor. The two tailors asked for a loom, silk, and gold thread. Then they set to work. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were stupid, incompetent, or lacking in refinement and taste. A few days later, he called the First Minister.

"Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."

The First Minister was welcomed by the two weavers.

"We're almost finished, but we need more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!" The old man bent over the loom and looked at the fabric that was not there.

"What a marvelous fabric," he told them. "I'm sure it will do the job. I'll certainly tell the Emperor."

"We are happy to hear that!" said the two weavers. The Minister inquired about the colors and the unusual patterns. As the weavers described them, the Minister listened closely so that he would be able repeat what they said when he reported back to the Emperor.

Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two tailors had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new suit.

"Come in," the Emperor ordered. Even as they bowed, the two men pretended to be holding large roll of fabric.

"Here it is your Highness, the result of our labor," the unscrupulous men said. "We have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is." At first the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. But he strained his eyes and after a while he felt like fainting. Luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. As his vision swirled he saw a few spots and convinced himself that they were where the fabric should be.

"Ah," he said at last. "It is quite marvelous work."

Once they had taken the measurements, the two began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with their needles an invisible cloth.

"Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new ones." The two scoundrels draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror.

"Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me," the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."

Then it was time for the grand procession.

The Emperor summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. Applause welcomed the royal procession.

The Emperor rode beneath a beautiful canopy, and all the people in the street and in their windows said, "Goodness, the emperor's new clothes are amazing! What a perfect fit!" No one wanted to admit to seeing nothing, for then it would be said that he was unfit for his position, or that he was stupid, or that he lacked refinement and taste. So each person sang the praises of the Emperor's New Clothes. Indeed, none of the Emperor's clothes had ever before received such praise.

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's New Clothes! They are beautiful! What a marvelous train! And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

"The Emperor is naked," he said.

"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again. And soon the remarks were reported to the First Minister.

"Please excuse me, sire," said the First Minister. "There is something I must do."

The First Minister found the boy and his family where they were being held by the Chief of the Guards and several of his men. "Is this the boy who cannot see the Emperor's New Clothes?" asked the First Minister? His men nodded.

"We must nip stupidity in the bud," said the First Minister. "Put out his eyes and remove the tongue of anyone who repeats what he has said."

So the First Minister returned to the procession. By the time he had rejoined the Emperor, the praise of the Emperor's New Clothes had grown much louder, and more poetic. All who watched vied with their neighbors to vehemently assert their admiration for the fineness of his garb.

The procession was a great success. Soon, the tailors had their own clothing shop, where they prepared clothes for the aristocracy of the Kingdom. Word of the fashion soon spread and tourism flourished. Visitors came from all parts of the world to marvel at the magnificent clothing worn by the Emperor and his subjects, especially the younger subjects, who learned to dance and cavort for the entertainment of foreign audiences. Much money was thereby added to the Kingdom's coffers.

And so has our Kingdom flourished, and all are happy and content, even, we think, those eyeless, tongue-less waifs whose moans caress the darkness and who do so help us dream and sleep at night.

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