At a music festival one summer in Tangletale Wood, a score of soloists came together
to compete for the annual Peacock Awards. The cricket was asked to pick the winner
because of his fame as a fiddler and his many appearances on radio, where he is
employed to let audiences know when it is night.
The Cricket was met at the station by the Wren, who flew him to an inn, bought him a drink,
carried his bags upstairs to his room, and was in general so courteous and attentive that
the Cricket thought he was the proprietor of the inn.
'I am not a proprietor, but a competitor,' the Wren said. 'It is a greater honor to be
judged by you, even if I should lose, than to win the highest award from a lesser critic
and cricket. As small token of my esteem, here are a bottle of wine and a cherry pie, and
the key to the boudoir of as charming a lady cricket as you would attract in a year of chirping.'
That afternoon, the Wren flew the Cricket out to the concert field, where he heard the Frog
scrape his cello, the Lark blow his clarion trumpet, the Nightingale strum his lyre of
gold, the Blackbird play his boxwood flute, the Catbird run his bright piano arpeggios, and
the Partridge show off on his drums. The vocalist came next, beginning with the Canary,
a temperamental visitor from abroad, who had sat up all night bragging of his ability and was,
as a consequence, in lousy voice. 'The Owl can do better than that even if all he can sing is Who,'
said the Wren, who had slipped quietly into the chair next to the Cricket's. He gave the critic a cigar, a
light and a swig from a flask. 'I shall sing a group of Lieder,' said the Wren, 'all
of them Henley's Take, Dear, This Little Sheaf of Songs. I composed the music myself,
and dedicated it to my mate and to you.'
The Mockingbird sang next, and those in the audience who hoped the amiable Wren would win with his
bright little group of songs, all of them the same song, began to worry, for the Mockingbird
had slept all night, dreaming of victory, and as a consequence, was in heavenly voice.
'I should say his tongue is sharp rather than sweet,' whispered the Wren. 'When I told him last night that
you were a finer fiddler than all the finest fiddlers in the field, he remarked that, to him, you looked
like a limousine come to grief at an intersection.'
The cricket rubbed his legs together angrily, producing two low, ominous notes. 'In my
opinion,' the Wren went on, 'you look like a shining piece of mechanism, handsome and authoritative,
such as the trigger action of a Colt. Here is a lozenge for your cough, and a pillow for your chair,
and a footstool for your feet.'
When it came time for the Wren to sing, his group of songs, all of them the same song, delighted
everybody in the audience except the other soloists and their friends and families.
'I could do better than that,' sneered the Mockingbird, 'with my beak closed.'
'I have thrashed singers with voices ten times better than that,' said the Brown Thrasher.
'Gott im Himmel!' cried the Canary. 'Er klingt wie ein rostiges eisernes Tor, das geölt
In awarding first prize to the Wren, the Cricket said, in part and in parting, 'His voice
is like some bright piece of mechanism, such as the works of a golden music box, and he gives
his group of one song an infinite variety. This artist also has a keen appreciation of values and a fine
In departing, or, to be precise, escaping from, the music festival, the Cricket was fortunate
enough to have at his disposal a private airplane, none other than the victorious Wren himself.
Moral: It is not always more blessed to give than to receive, but it is frequently
From Further Fables for our Time by James Thurber, N.Y. 1956
1. Summarize the story in a few sentences.
2. Transfer the two main figures to the human level, characterize them, and comment on their behaviour.
3. Explain the moral of the fable and say why it is surprising.
4. Examine the figurative language of this fable and descibe its function.
5. Imagine you were the head of a company and supposed to choose one of your staff as your
assistant. According to what qualities would you decide.