When "The Lady, or the Tiger?" was first published in the popular magazine Century in 1882, it was a resounding success. Although Frank R. Stockton had already published a novel and some other stories and would continue to publish for many years, "The Lady, or the Tiger?" remained his most famous story. Originally, he wrote the story, which he called "In the King's Arena," to provoke discussion at a literary party. The story sparked heated discussion, so Stockton expanded it and submitted it to Century magazine, where it was accepted and retitled by the editor.
"The Lady, or the Tiger?" is a fantasy story that resembles a fairy tale. However, it is considered more whimsical and open-ended than most fairy tales. It involves a jealous princess, a vindictive king, and an ardent suitor—long the staple elements of fairy tales. In discussing romantic relationships, passion, self-interest, and reason, Stockton puts the princess at the center of a terrible conflict: whether she will send her lover to his death or let him live and marry another woman. Her decision is left unresolved at the story's conclusion. The story's power and popularity was gained by its abrupt ending, which leaves the reader to ponder the princess's decision, and her lover's fate.