'The Owl Who Was President' with appreciation and a nod to James Thurber

An adaptation and update of Thurber’s famous fable by the author. Photo: The wise, old owl

WASHINGTON, October 25, 2012 — Once upon a starless midnight, an owl sat on the branch of an old oak tree. Two ground moles tried to slip quietly by, unnoticed. 

“You!” said the owl. 

“Who?” they quivered in fear and astonishment. They could not believe it was possible for anyone to see them in such thick darkness. 

“You two!” said the owl—or, at least, that’s the way it sounded to them.

The moles hurried away and told other creatures of the field and forest. This young owl, they said, was the greatest and wisest of all animals because he could see in the dark and because he could answer any question.  

“I will see about that,” said a secretary bird, and he called on the owl one night when it was again very dark. “How many claws am I holding up?” asked the secretary bird.  “Two,” said the owl, and that was right. 

“Can you give me another expression for ‘that is to say’”?

“To wit,” said the owl.

“Tell me, why does the lover call on his love?” 

“To woo,” said the owl.

The secretary bird hastened back to the other creatures and reported that the owl indeed was the greatest and wisest animal in the world because he could see in the dark and because he could answer any question. 

“Can he see in the daytime, too?” asked a red fox.

Fable maker James Thurber

“Of course!” shouted a dormouse. “How stupid! If he can see in the dark, of course he can see in the light!” 

All the other creatures laughed loudly too at this silly question, and they set upon the fox and friends and drove them out of the region, declaring them enemies.

Then they sent a messenger to the owl and asked him to be their leader.

When the owl finally appeared among the animals, it was high noon. The sun was shining brightly. The owl therefore walked very slowly, which gave him an appearance of great dignity. He peered about him with large, staring eyes, which gave him an air of tremendous importance.

“What is your mission?” they asked.

“New,” said the owl.

“He said ‘New!’” they shouted. “That means he’s for change!”

“True,” said the owl.

“Who can make the change?”

“You,” said the owl. “How?” some asked.  “Do,” said the owl.

“Mr. Owl for President!” screamed a Plymouth rock hen. And the others took up the cry: “He answers all questions! And he will lead us in change! He’s our owl! Mr. Owl for President!” 

So they followed him wherever he went and when he bumped into things in the road, they began to bump into things too. Finally he came to a concrete highway. He started walking up the middle of the road. Convinced of his wisdom and bravery, all the other creatures followed him. 

Presently a hawk, who was acting as outrider, observed a truck coming toward them at fifty miles an hour, and he reported his findings to the secretary bird, and the secretary bird reported to the owl. “There’s danger ahead!” cried the bird. 

“To wit,” said the owl. 

“Aren’t you afraid?” they asked.  

“Who?” said the owl calmly for he could not see the truck

“He’s not afraid!” they cried.

“President!” cried all the creatures great and small. “Our President!  President for life!”

Thurber’s Moral: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

James Grover Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961), American author and celebrated wit, whose short stories were published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and then collected in numerous books.

Please see the original: James Thurber’s Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated (New York, 1940), “The Owl Who Was God,” pp. 35-36.  

Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance has shared his life experiences and knowledge of D.C. with the Washington Historical Society and in other venues.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Vance Garnett

Vance Garnett is an eclectic observer of life, politics and sports. 

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