4: Excerpt, Arnold J. Band’s commentary on “The Loss of the Princess,” from “Nahman of Bratslav: The Tales,” 1978.
However strange some of the details of Reb Nakhman’s first story are—and many of his subsequent tales are just as mysterious—perhaps the most baffling feature is the lack of an ending. Though Reb Nakhman does provide a kind of “happily ever after,” any description of how this happy ending is achieved is strikingly absent. How did the King’s Viceroy rescue the Princess? What happened to the kingdom? What reasons could Reb Nakhman have had for telling this story without an ending?
In his volume of translations of Reb Nakhman’s tales, Arnold J. Band includes a section of commentary in which he summarizes religious and scholarly consensus on the intended meaning of these stories. In this excerpt, Band comments on the role of the Viceroy in “The Loss of the Princess,” and on how Reb Nakhman deliberately caps his protagonist’s quest with an unsatisfying conclusion.
Suggested Activity: Ask students to consider other ways that Reb Nakhman could have finished the story, or ask them to write their own alternate endings that build on the original. How might the Viceroy have succeeded in rescuing the Princess? Do they think the story would be better with a clearer ending, or do they like that this part of the story was left untold?
Then present students with the Band excerpt. Ask whether they agree with Band’s analysis that the focus of the story is not on the Princess, but on the Viceroy and his struggle to retrieve her. If so, what does that struggle entail? Is the Viceroy’s quest a metaphor for something? And, if so, what? Ask students what it means for Nakhman to have “declined to describe the actual act of redemption.” What is the “redemption” Band is referring to, and why might Nakhman have chosen to leave it out? Can they think of other stories (contemporary or not) where this happens? Can they think of stories where the “redemption” is detailed, and is an important part of the narrative?
Source: Arnold J. Band, “Commentaries, I: The Loss of the Princess,” in Nahman of Bratslav: The Tales, trans. Arnold J. Band (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 286-287.