There once was a king who had almost infinite knowledge. This king was also very evil, and foul-mouthed. His name was Ledger. So, one day he was sitting on his throne, admiring his own fingers. "What wonderful fingers I have!", he said to no one in particular.

He was sitting there almost all day when a messenger flung his chamber doors open and stumbled inside. The messenger greeted him with a obligatory "Your Majesty!", And sat down in a chair that had been brought in from the hall. The messenger calmly started to speak. "Sir, I come from a land across the desert, sent by a person unbeknownst to you. He sends his regards and this message." He removed a sheet of paper from his pocket, and began to read. "King Ledger, I come from a far off land, but I was once a former resident of your kingdom. I have news that will turn your world upside down. I have a secret that you don't know. Meet me at the gates of the city, leading out to the desert." And with that, the messenger vanished in a puff of acrid smoke.

The next day, the king and a leigon of soldiers went to the gate. They were not meeted by a person, but instead, a post shot up out of the ground with a message on it. The message read,"King Ledger, come to the place marked on this map. Alone." And slowly, a map appeared on the post. Ledger exclaimed,"I must be dealing with a person skilled in magic!" The guards backed off and left for an obscure tavern, partly out of fear from the king's crazy whimsy, and partly out of fear from magic.

Ledger was walking for a long while, very thirsty. He wondered if he would ever reach the point on the map. The only thing that was keeping him from stopping was his thirst for knowledge. Finally, he stopped abruptly. There was a man approaching rapidly, sheathed in a brown robe. The figure finally reached Ledger. At this, the mysterious man reached around and took off his robe.

"Radagast! I thought, I... I..." Ledger cried. Radagast finished it for him. "You what? Left me for dead in the desert? Well, I found my way back to the gate. But on the way, I learned much from the nomads. Like magic." Radagast kept going, "You only came out here from your obsession with learning and secrets. So, I do have a secret for you. But I can't tell it to you here. We will have to go to the Center of the Desert." Ledger was still shocked that his former general was still alive after all these years. He said, "Well, I must know! I'll follow you." But secretly, he had a dagger, poised and ready, to strike when he knew the secret. So, onward they went.

They were walking for a long time, when Radagast stopped. He snorted, "We're stopping for a drink." The king had brought no water, so he had to drink out of a flask that Radagast provided for him. They sat there for a while, not speaking. Ledger sat up and spoke, "Let's go." Radagast nodded his head in agreement.

After walking for a couple hours, Radagast stopped. He said softly, "Here's the spot." Ledger whined, "Finally!!" Radagast leaned in to whisper. He said, with a smirk, "The flask you drank out of was laced with Aspartame. Now who's trapped in the desert? You're blind!" And with a satisfied cackle, he vanished under the shifting sand.

"The Guide" is a 1958 novel by R.K. Narayan, detailing the life of a "guide" in a small Indian town. Like most of his works, most of the book takes place in around the fictional town of Malgudi. The book is told over the life of the protagonist, and is told in sections that alternate between flashbacks and the present.

The protagonist of the story is a man nicknamed Railway Raju, whose father is a shopkeeper in Malgudi. When he inherits his father's shop at a train station, he quickly becomes bored with tending shop and becomes a tour guide, helping tourists see local sights, many of which he fabricates the importance of. His status as a tour guide allows him to engage in low-grade corruption and hobnobbing, and his sense of self-importance grows while his business deteriorates. While working as a self-appointed guide, he meets a man named Marco and his wife, Rosie, a dancer. He seduces Rosie, which causes a scandal, but again rises to prominence as her manager when she becomes a famous dancer, which again allows him to engage in a life of seemingly harmless corruption. He is finally caught, goes to jail, and is released, where he drifts into being the holy man for a village, impressing the people with pious platitudes. When a drought strikes the village, Raju must decide whether he will act out the role of holy man or flee.

Although this synopsis goes into some details, it does outline the basic conflict of the book, shown in its title, which is somewhat ironic. Raju is at first a guide in a quite banal sense, fooling tourists by making up stories and profiting off of Rosie's career, but by the end of the book, may have become a genuine spiritual guide.

Like most of Narayan's work, this book has a lightly comic tone, even when it is dealing with serious subject matter. Most of the character development goes on implicitly, since the book deals with external actions more than internal thoughts. This leaves the reader to guess at whether Raju's life has really changed his character, or whether his status as a holy man is just another scam.

Along with the central story, the book also contains much incidental information about society and politics in post-colonial India, although it isn't clear whether Narayan is using this to make a statement, or whether it is just incidental.

All in all, this is one of the better short novels I could recommend to someone interested in 20th century Indian literature, both for the story itself, and for the historical context it provides.

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