Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Story of the Other Wise Man

In this tale, Artaban searched the scrolls and skies and realized, along with Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar, that a great King may soon be born. He watches for the star and then sets out on a long journey to meet his friends on a quest to worship and adore the new King. Once for each of the jewels he has gathered as gifts for the King, he is called aside to assist a person in need. Each time, he relinquishes one of the precious jewels. 
It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest. But once I saw him for a moment as he stood alone at sunrise, waiting at the gate of a Roman prison. He had taken from a secret resting-place in his bosom the pearl, the last of his jewels. As he looked at it, a mellower luster, a soft and iridescent light, full of shifting gleams of azure and rose, trembled upon its surface. It seemed to have absorbed some reflection of the colors of the lost sapphire and ruby. So the profound, secret purpose of a noble life draws into itself the memories of past joy and past sorrow. All that has helped it, all that has hindered it, is transfused by a subtle magic into its very essence. It becomes more luminous and precious the longer it is carried close to the warmth of the beating heart.
This last jewel, the pearl, is a ransom for a young girl in Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus' death on the cross. As Artaban faces death in the aftermath of an earthquake (presumably as Jesus died), after what he believes is the failure of his quest, he sees the King and learns something about a life of service and love for fellow men.

If you follow the link, you'll see there are many versions of this book available. The one we've read is from our library with drawings by J. R. Flanagan, including eight color plates and line drawings within the text. I appreciate the extravagance and beauty of color plates. These are quite good, but I'm not certain I'd choose this version merely for the plates. I'm curious about the other hardcover versions and whether they have illustrations at all, but I'm afraid I don't have the opportunity to see any of them. Shockingly, this version is the only one our library has and they keep it in the extension building. It's such a shame that no one else can find this wonderful book by browsing the shelves.

There is a picture book version of this story: The Other Wise Man, adapted by Pamela Kennedy and illustrated by Robert Barrett. I checked this book out of the library and think it was fine for what it is. Much of the rich beautiful language is omitted so it would be easier to read to young children, but I decided our family would read the original. We will grow into it over time. I did read the first chapter over two or three days as it is the most dense and most difficult to follow with all the references to the Magian's religion. Kansas Dad heard a bit of the first chapter and was a little shocked at some of Artaban's words and thoughts, but I explained that it was about the Wise Men and so Christianity was still to come. He also heard the last chapter as I read it aloud and thought it ended well.

One of the aspects of this book I love the most, in addition to Artaban's wonderful service to a God he seeks but does not yet know, is that it covers the whole of Jesus' life. Though we never see him as a child or a man, the ending in Jerusalem shows better why Jesus was born and lived than most Christmas stories.

May you have a blessed Christmas!


  1. I just acquired a copy of this book from my MIL, I guess it was my hubby's although he didn't remember it. The title sounded vaguely familiar, now I know why.

  2. Oh, lucky! I hope it's a nice one.

  3. For those that are interested, a friend of mine has a copy of a picture book called The Fourth Wise Man. It's based on this story by Henry Van Dyke, retold by Susan Summers. It is far better than the retelling our library had, retaining some of the rich language. I liked the illustrations by Jackie Morris, too. It looks like it's been reprinted under a different name (The Greatest Gift). I've asked our library to purchase it, but I just might myself if they don't (and maybe even if they do).


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