What's this short story about an owl(?) leading animals into darkness?
March 31, 2013 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I have a memory of a short story I read years ago that no-one else seems to recollect. It featured animals as the main characters - mainly farmyard/woodland types. They become followers of a leader (an owl/cockerel?), who leads them to pastures new. The leader wants to remain in tight control, so he leads them underground(?) and emerge in a "new" land, but one where it is constantly in darkness.

The animals relish their freedom, and thank the leader for keeping them safe. However, they become restless about the dark, and the fact that they have to go back underground after a few hours (the leader has told them that if they stay above ground, they will die).

Some animals become so distressed that they decide to stay above ground. Whilst waiting for death, the darkness turns to day, and they realise they are in the same farmyard/location as before, and that the leader has been tricking them. They expose him as a power-hungry fraudster.

This story is not "The Owl Who Was God", but it did come with a similar morality message.
posted by Petrot to Grab Bag (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2013

Chanticleer, of course, is a version of the Reynard the Fox fable structure^, found throughout the history of Western Literature including the Nun's Priest's Tale in Chaucer, numerous culturally-divergent Medieval European versions, and in modern times, The Book of the Dun Cow, not to mention Animal Farm -- which is the only one with the very explicit political overtones you allude to (although the Reynard cycle itself is often considered a satire of the Medieval church or social structure in general). The trickster character type can be found pretty much everywhere, of course, but usually he's getting some sort of concrete reward like food.

I don't specifically recognize these elements as any well-known version, but many of them can be found in the different instances.
posted by dhartung at 2:26 PM on March 31, 2013

Late breaking answer on this:
This is 'Why the Owl Behaves as it Does', in How the Whale Became and Other Stories by Ted Hughes.
posted by cortex at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2017

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