Unsettling truths about the human realm can be more palatable when delivered in the form of a parable. In animal stories, such as told by Aesop, Walt Disney, and in the bible (“behold the birds of the air”), we can see our own reflection if we are willing to hold the gaze looking back at us.
The politburo of unworthy pigs who abuse the good nature of Boxer, the hard-working horse, and who ladle off the best for themselves, seems as exotic as the 1001 tales of “The Arabian Nights”. We all know that Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an allegory about Russia not democratic America.
But that’s more than I care to think about right now. Surely political allegories are more about past missteps than choices available in the living present. It feels too late for skirmishes about who was right and who is climbing onto the kitchen chairs and breaking out the farmer’s champagne.
I’d rather reread “Wind in the Willows” (Kenneth Grahame, 1908) than “Animal Farm”. I especially enjoyed the illustrated children’s version, which I read many times to my sons. It was just a good story about unconfident Mole, adventurous Rat, honorable Badger, and self-indulgent Toad–the owner of Toad Hall, who was constantly chasing after one fantasy or another. There was only one kind of outcome for Toad’s infatuations: his automobile inevitably crashed; he grew bored with traveling the country side in his horse-drawn recreational vehicle; and rowing on the river in his Olympic-quality scull proved harder than it looked in the brochure.
But then as regularly happens in life, something happened.
Toad is absent from Toad Hall so much that the weasels and the stoats take it over and, armed with muskets and swords, defend their usurped territory as if they have been given a mandate. But when the weasels and stoats are expelled and peace is restored, Toad seems calmer—as if he recognizes that the other animals were willing to risk their own lives in his defense.
I think I’ll leave it there. There are always Boxers and Badgers among us, pulling the heavy loads on which our own well-being depends. And there will always be Newts and Salamanders, Weasels and Stoats, ready to move in whenever the Toads among us forget to appreciate our whole community.