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I read this short story as a child, in 2005 or earlier. I do not remember much of it. I do not know when it was published or written. I don't believe it was particularly aimed for children - in fact, the book had scholarly footnotes explaining the story.

I remember two details of the story quite vividly: The story concerns a land where one's wealth determines one's self worth. The richest people are believed to be gods, while the poorest people have a status of animals. There was regular sacrifice of the poorest people to the richest as part of serving them as gods. There is also I believe lots of theft and murder, as people are desperate to have money (I may be misremembering that exact detail). The people end up on a star or a planet made of gold at some point in the story.

The second detail is that there is a sword that can win any war via swooshing it. It has the ability to instantly vaporize one's enemies.

There's also a king and a queen and other fantasy tropes.

It was in a collection of other short stories, and it had a lot of footnotes, which still sticks out to me today, though I do not recall if the footnotes were part of the story or I was reading an annotated edition.

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  • 9
    It sounds like you're describing our own world
    – Valorum
    Oct 1, 2023 at 20:43
  • 3
    @Valorum our own world has a sword that can win any war via vapo.... oh wait.
    – TheAsh
    Oct 1, 2023 at 20:44
  • Is it " The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe? It's a Sci-Fi Fantasy novel that consists of 4 volumes. Your description of the world where wealth determines one's worth is similar to its second volume "The Claw of the Conciliator".
    – Sandun
    Oct 2, 2023 at 11:00
  • @Sandun no, it's not that.
    – TheAsh
    Oct 2, 2023 at 13:01

1 Answer 1

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It's "The Master of Prayer" by Rebbe Nachman, one of Rebbe Nachman's famous thirteen tales, which date back to the 1870s. The story is a religious fairy tale designed to impart various lessons. The footnotes are an attempt to explain the story. I read Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's annotated version of the tales, titled "Rebbe Nachman's Stories", originally published in 1985.

The specific tale annotated by him is available online here.

(A friend helped me figure it out as he recalled reading it as well).

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