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Many Moons

by James Thurber

Summary

Many Moons is a magical story about emotion, wisdom, and perception.

Princess Lenore has fallen ill, and there is only one thing that can make her feel better: the moon. Can the King figure out a way to satisfy his daughter’s demands? Only with the help of an unassuming assistant… his court jester!

Read aloud video by Muffie Commons

Puppet show with ASL interpretation and closed captioning by TN Deaf Library

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

When Princess Lenore falls ill with a tummy ache from too many tarts, she laments that only the moon itself can cure her ailment. Her father, the King, who always gets his beloved daughter what she wants, promises the moon. Of course, he has no idea how this can even be possible, and it seems that his trusty entourage of crafty assistants only seem to validate this. But perhaps Lenore is not asking for as much as everyone thinks. The only person with the wisdom actually to ask her what she is really asking for is the court jester. While everyone had some idea of what getting the moon consisted of that made it impossible, Lenore’s idea of it was pretty easy to accommodate.

One way to discuss this book is an exploration into the nature of feelings. Coming to understand the nature and the vast variety of feelings that make up our emotional lives is sure to inspire lively discussion. Why do we have them? What purpose do they serve in our lives? Why do some of them have to “hurt”? The idea that some feelings can be painful, or that feelings can be “hurt,” raises another interesting question. How are emotional pains the same or different from physical pains? Finally, another topic on the nature of feelings is where they are. Are they in our minds? If so, how? And what about our feelings that we are not currently feeling? Are they hanging out somewhere in our minds too?

Another interesting aspect of the story is the wisdom of the court jester. The fact that all of the King’s experts were supposedly endowed with great knowledge did not seem to give them the wisdom needed to help the princess out of her self-inflicted dilemma. As a result of this depiction, Many Moons offers a philosophical discussion about the distinction between being wise and knowing things; in other words, the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

The third set of interesting philosophical issues can be found by examining the Princess’s perception of what the moon was. How we perceive the world affects our feelings and desires and how we intend to see our desires fulfilled. The jester, in his wisdom, realizes that the princess has a certain perception of the moon and a certain perception of what it might mean to have it. And given that perception, he did not see her request for the moon as outlandish or impossible.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Feelings

When the little Princess got sick, her father the King promised to get her anything her heart desired.

  1. What did the King think to do to help his daughter feel better?
  2. Do you think that a gift would make the Princess feel better?
  3. Why do you think the Princess wanted the moon?
  4. What else could have the King done to make the Princess well?
  5. What is the difference between feeling bad and being sick?
  6. How do you make yourself feel better?
  7. What are feelings?
  8. What are all of the things we have pretty much agreed on about feelings?

Wisdom

The King had many wise men who always got for him anything he wanted.

The King summons his royal counselors and asks them to produce the moon to restore Princess Lenore’s health.

  1. What kinds of things did the Lord High Chamberlain and the Royal Wizard have on their lists that they had previously gotten for the King?
  2. What kinds of things did the Royal Mathematician figure out for the King?
  3. Do you think the King’s wise men were very wise? Why or why not?
  4. How do you know if someone is wise?
  5. Who was the wisest of all the King’s men? Why?
  6. What is wisdom?
  7. What are all of the things we have decided about being wise and wisdom?

Perception

The King’s wise men each seemed to know just how far away the moon was, and also what it was made of.

  1. What did the wise men think the moon was made of?
  2. Why did the Jester think it was important to ask the Princess what she thought about the moon?
  3. Was the Princess right about the size and makeup of the moon?
  4. How far away do you think the moon is, and what is it made of?
  5. Is it possible that the moon is just a little smaller than your thumbnail?
  6. Can the moon be large and far away, and also small and just outside the window at the same time?
  7. Can your opinion be different from someone else’s and you both be right?
  8. What does perception mean?
  9. What are all of the things we have decided about people’s different ideas (opinions and perceptions) about something?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Reisa Alexander. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Activity Suggestion

Draw a picture of something that grows back once you pick it, pull it, or otherwise take it.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Cover image for Many Moons with a sketched crayon drawing of a dark blue sky with three yellow and white orbs in the sky. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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