The Storyteller Summary
“The Storyteller” is a short story by Saki about a man who tells a group of children in his train carriage a captivating, though somewhat irreverent, story.
- On a train ride, three children ask their aunt numerous questions, much to her annoyance. She tells them a story, but they find it dry and unconvincing.
- A fellow passenger, a bachelor, begins to tell the children a different story. It concerns a “horribly good” girl who is invited to the Prince’s garden and devoured by a wolf.
- The aunt is appalled by the story, but the children find it beautiful.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Saki’s short story “The Storyteller” opens on a hot summer afternoon. Five people are traveling in a railway carriage with an hour yet to go before the next stop. An aunt, her two young nieces, and her young nephew occupy much of the carriage. They are joined by a stranger, a bachelor seated on the opposite side of the compartment. The children are restless and ask many questions while their aunt scolds them frequently. She tells the boy, Cyril, not to smack the cushions, and she tries to distract him by directing his attention out the window. He wants to know why a farmer is driving his sheep into another field, but his aunt cannot provide a satisfactory answer, and the boy’s questions continue.
The bachelor is becoming annoyed, and the aunt decides that he lacks sympathy as she struggles with her charges. The youngest girl, bored, begins reciting the poem “On the Road to Mandalay,” but she only knows the first line, which she repeats over and over while. The bachelor reflects that anyone who may have bet she could not say it two thousand times would lose his wager.
The aunt calls the children over to hear a story, and she tells of a good little girl who in the end was saved from a bull because people appreciated her “moral character.” The youngsters are unimpressed, and they interrupt frequently with questions. The older girl asks if the main character would have been saved even if she were not good, and the aunt admits that she would have but perhaps not so fast. The children all agree that the story is stupid.
Then the bachelor speaks up, remarking that the aunt is not a successful storyteller. The aunt, insulted, responds that it is difficult to create stories that children appreciate and understand, but the bachelor disagrees. He begins to tell a story of his own.
The bachelor begins his story about an “extraordinarily good” girl named Bertha. The children’s interest wanes quickly, for this story seems just like all the rest. Bertha, the bachelor continues, does everything just right. The older girl interrupts to ask if Bertha is pretty, and the bachelor replies that the children are prettier but that Bertha is “horribly good.” This turn of phrase catches the childre’'s ears, for it is novel and curious with a “ring of truth” that appeals to them.
Bertha, the bachelor continues, is so good that she has won medals for obedience, punctuality, and good conduct. She keeps those medals pinned to her dress so everyone can see, and they clink as she walks. Even the Prince hears of Bertha’s goodness, and he allows her the great honor of taking a walk in his park. The park is both delightful and strange. When Cyril asks if the park has sheep, the bachelor responds that it does not—the Prince keeps neither sheep nor clocks due to a dream his mother once had that one or the other might kill him. There are many little pigs in various colors but no flowers, for the pigs have eaten them. Bertha, the bachelor relates, is especially disappointed not to see any flowers because she has promised not to pick any, and now there is no way to fulfill her promise.
The bachelor continues to speak of the delights of the park, its ponds and birds, and how Bertha enjoys herself and basks in the honor her goodness has brought her. Then, a huge, mud-colored wolf enters the park, hoping to catch a pig. The wolf catches sight of Bertha in...
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her bright white pinafore and decides to pursue her. Bertha runs away, but the wolf gives chase. The terrified girl hides in some myrtle bushes, and the wolf can neither see nor smell her because of the myrtle’s thick foliage and strong fragrance. Bertha, however, is trembling with fear, and her medals clink together. The wolf hears the medals, finds Bertha, and eats every bit of her except her shoes, some scraps of clothing, and the three medals.
The children are charmed by the bachelor’s story, asking if the pigs were killed—they were not—and declaring it to be the most beautiful story they have ever heard. The aunt, however, is not at all pleased, for she judges the story to be “most improper.” The bachelor, she proclaims, has undercut her efforts to teach her nieces and nephew. The bachelor retorts that at least he kept the children quiet for a while. As he gets off the train, he thinks to himself that the children will be demanding improper stories from their aunt for a long time to come.