Frank Stockton: The Lady or the Tiger?

May 5, 2009

Another famous story. The front page in my book “The Best Short Stories of Frank Stockton” has my signature and the date 2nd September 1968 but, as I bought it because it contained the story, I must have read it somewhere else still earlier.

This is more than a story; this is a conundrum.

In the distant past there was a half-civilised, half-barbaric king. He had a peculiar system of justice. Any suspect was to appear in the arena where at the gong of a bell he had to open one of two similar doors: behind one was a hungry tiger which would pounce on him and devour him and behind another was a beautiful lady whom he would marry then and there amidst a joyous gathering. 

Now the king learns that his daughter loves a man far beneath her station. In his eyes the commoner had committed a crime. So the man had to come to the amphitheatre where his fate would be determined by the choice that he makes.

Next is what, to borrow a phrase from a TV ad.



“Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.”