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Soup for the (Evil?) King

Soup for the (Evil?) King

I love soup.

It was one of my favorite dishes my Mother made when I was a child, especially her chili, which I’d look forward to like it was Christmas. Sometime early in elementary school I checked out a picture book from the library titled Soup for the King by Leonard Kessler. The simple story burned its way onto my brain like a stove tattoo; I must’ve been starving when I read it the first time. I identified with the soup-loving monarch, and Kessler’s fable and the appetite for soup stayed with me through adulthood. I taught myself how to cook homemade soups and stews in college and afterward to stretch a very small budget.

I recently purchased this book out of nostalgia, something I haven’t seen for 30 years. I was surprised by how much I recalled. Yes, I must’ve skipped lunch. However, reading it as an adult revealed a morbid element invisible in my childhood reading.

Soup for the King goes like this - a king and his queen are sitting at their dining table. The King is a jolly-looking fellow. He says he wants soup for dinner. The Queen is sick of soup. She wants something else, but oh no, the King wants soup. Cratchedy and ratchedy, she starts to bother the royal cook about the next day’s soup, needs more salt, blah, blah, blah. Of course, the Cook is a proud imaginary jackass and he quits. The Queen is worried and scared. At dinner, she makes several suggestions to supplant soup - all of which he refuses. He don’t want any of that shit, Queen! “I want soup!” he says. Then she tells him the cook quit, and alongside a huge picture of the poor King weeping - the Queen says it’s time to find a new cook.

So, the King’s men arrange for a contest to find a new soup cook. Cooks from all over the kingdom line up outside the castle. Meanwhile, the story switches to a poor tailor and his family eating dinner. And what are they eating? PIZZA! No, soup. They are too poor to eat anything but soup, and the tailor? He fucking hates soup! His wife sends their boy to sell some soup at the market so they can buy some MEAT! Of course, the boy gets misidentified at the castle for a contestant. The King lines them all up and loves the boy’s soup, and sends for his family to live at the castle so the Mother can make his precious fucking soup EVERY DAY FOREVER! At the end, everybody is happy! The King gets soup and the poor tailor gets to eat every kind of meat and cheese that will give him a heart attack in a few months.

As a child, I LOVED the ending of the story. Everyone got what they wanted. Thinking back on it before I bought the book, I imagined the last page of the story - with the Tailor, his wife, the boy and the Queen sitting at a table piled high with every nonsoup food imaginable.
Seeing it again after three decades, I realize that I misremembered. The Queen is NOT sitting at the table. The Queen is NOT dining with the King as he gobbles his delicious new soup. The Queen does NOT help organize the contest.

After saying it’s time to find a new cook, the Queen vanishes from the story. No pictures of her, no dialogue or text about her. Gone, gone, gone.

What happened to the Queen?

Ohhh, the King was DEVASTATED by her news of the quitting cook. He wept and wept, and I see now why she was so worried, why the King ALWAYS got to pick what they had to eat. He is a filthy, filthy king. He is a King of Murder and Revenge!

“Ohhh, you ratchedy cratchedy woman, make me spill tears and I will spill your blood! The cook is gone, and the larder is thin like bad vichyssoise. Come here, my Queen, my precious darling Queen! I will hang your hocks in the smokehouse, dear and so lovely! I will pickle your sweetmeats and boil your marrowbones for the royal stock. Only so much time to wring those hands, dear and so lovely. Queensoup for the King! Queensoup for the King!”

This is possible. Don’t you think this is possible?