Three Questions Questions and Answers
by Leo Tolstoy

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Where did the King meet the hermit?

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In Tolstoy's fable "Three Questions," the King already knows of the Hermit and where to seek him out in the woods, and it is outside the Hermit's solitary hut that the King finds the man digging with a spade. Though the King asks the Hermit his questions, the Hermit doesn't respond, and instead the King decides to help him with his work, taking up the digging for him. It is only the King's doing this—giving aid to the Hermit—that enables his questions to be answered. Because the King has lingered with the Hermit, a wounded man comes running out of the wounds, a man who is later revealed as an enemy of the King and who had intended to assassinate him. When the King helps this man also, dressing his wounds, the Hermit reveals that the King through his actions has answered his own questions: that 1) the most important time to begin or to do anything is now, 2) the most important man to ask advice of is the one you are with at any time, because you never know if you will meet anyone else, and 3) the most important thing to do is to do good because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life. The King, in stopping to help the Hermit, did all three of these things, and thus saved himself from the attempt of the would-be enemy on his life (and also made a friend of him).

Tolstoy devoted the latter part of his career to a focus upon ascetic living and religious contemplation, and he came to believe that true literature should consist of parables of a simple, scaled-down form in which a moral, or religious message, is conveyed directly to the reader. These works, such as "Three Questions" and "What Men Want" often have a childlike, fairy-tale atmosphere about them, though like Tolstoy's fiction for which he is best known from earlier in his career they are serious works and are intended for adults. It is interesting that the last line of "Three Questions," "the most important thing to do is, to do good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life," is quoted at the end of the 1968 Russian film of Tolstoy's War and Peace, as if to sum up the meaning of that story and of all of Tolstoy's work.

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