“You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus?”
Thus begins Henry Van Dyke’s tale of Artaban, a noble Magi from Persia, and the journey that changes his life. Van Dyke’s novella is just the type of rich, old-fashioned story that touches your heart, even while its prose stretches your vocabulary. And the English teacher in me loved it! Soak up the beautiful language in the quotes I used.
When we first meet Artaban, he is described as “a tall, dark man of about 40 years” with “the brow of a dreamer. A man of sensitive feeling but inflexible will. One of those who, in whatever age they may live, are born for inward conflict and a life of quest.” Artaban and his fellow scholars have learned through their study of the stars that there is a Creator. One of the Magi states,
“The stars are the thoughts of the Eternal. They are numberless. But the thoughts of man can be counted, like the years of his life. The wisdom of the Magi is the greatest of all wisdoms on earth, because it knows its own ignorance. And that is the secret of the power.”
But Artaban is not content with his lack of knowledge and longs to know this Eternal One personally. He believes he has found a star by which to steer his course and invites his friends to join him on a quest: to follow the star to Jerusalem and “see and worship the promised one who shall be born King of Israel.” In preparation for the journey, Artaban sells all that he owns to purchase three precious jewels—a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl—as tribute for the King.
His friends, however, refuse to accompany him, attributing his vain dream to “too much looking at the stars and cherishing lofty thoughts.” In spite of this, Artaban departs on his quest.
What he discovers along the way shows how Christ’s birth should affect our everyday dealings with those around us, not just at Christmas but all the year.
I was first introduced to Artaban through the movie version of this story, The Fourth Wise Man, starring Martin Sheen and Alan Arkin. The movie captures the main themes of the novella but with a lighter, more comic tone. And the movie adds a great character, Artaban’s servant Orantes. Orantes, who has been forced to accompany his master, goes to some hilarious lengths in an attempt to convince Artaban to return home.
Pamela Kennedy also retold this tale in a children’s version of the story, which is enhanced by Robert Barrett’s elegant illustrations. The kids’ story stays true to the theme and retains a flavor of the the graceful language. I love Artaban just as much in this book. From the time he prays, “God of Truth and Light, show me the way of wisdom, which only You know,” to the end of his thirty-year journey, he remains noble and good. I shared this classic with my five-year-old niece, and I think she enjoyed it!
Christmas Gift Guide: Pick up whichever version of this story will work best for your family! The movie would be most appreciated by junior high age and up. The children’s book is aimed at ages 4 through 8.
Bonus ideas: If you homeschool, use a copy of the original novella to compare/contrast with the movie version for grades 6 or 7 and up. Use Scripture and the Pamela Kennedy’s story book with your little ones. Then print this notebooking paper of the wise men to recap the Bible story together. Or use the free cutouts from this Sunday school lesson to play a game called Search for Jesus.
You can purchase a copy of The Story of the Other Wise Man here. You can also take advantage of the free Kindle download. However, the illustrations will be missing.
And remember to hop on over to the Creative Madness Mama blog. Scroll to the second list on this post (before the comments) and click on any link to read a review of a Christmas-themed Christian fiction story.