Monday, November 7

Clothes may disguise a fool

I think most of you by now are familiar with the modern symbolism of an elephant for the Republican party and a donkey for the Democratic party.

You might even know a cartoon by Thomas Nast in the Nov. 7, 1874 edition of Harper's Weekly, is considered the first major use of an elephant as a symbol for the United States Republican Party. 

(Andrew Jackson's mudslinging opponents labeled him a jackass in 1828. Another Nast cartoon in Harper's Weekly on Jan. 19, 1870 would revive the donkey as an unofficial symbol for the Democratic Party.)

It was rumored in 1874 that Republican President Ulysses S. Grant would run for a third term in 1876. There were was also false reports that the animals had escaped from Central Park Zoo and were roaming New York City.

Nast combined the two in his cartoon titled Third Term Panic. It depicts a donkey in a lion's skin ("Caesarism") scattering animals that stand for various interests including an elephant ("Republican vote") running toward a chasm of chaos.

Under the title of Third Term Panic is the first line of Aesop's fable, The Ass in the Lion's Skin:
An Ass, having put on the lion's skin, amused himself by terrifying all the foolish animals. At last coming upon a Fox, he tried to frighten him also, but the Fox no sooner heard the sound of his voice than he exclaimed, "I might possibly have been frightened myself, if I had not heard your bray."
The moral? Clothes may disguise a fool, but his words will give him away.

But what struck me as I looked at this political cartoon was the donkey in a lion's skin. Where had I seen that before?

Pauline Baynes, The Last Battle
Of course!

C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle (1956) when poor Puzzle the donkey is forced by Shift the Ape to wear a lion skin and pretend to be the Great Lion Aslan.

Shift, using Puzzle as his pawn, convinces the Narnians that he speaks for Aslan and makes all sorts of increasingly unreasonable demands that benefit only Shift. Eventually, it leads to the downfall of Narnia when Tash is allowed to entered Narnia's borders.

Now I've read The Chronicles of Narnia dozens of times. I wore out a paperback set and had to replace it with a hardcover set which is also rapidly falling apart. But I never once saw the correlation between it, contemporary politics, and an old Aesop's Fable.

Apparently some things don't change.
Clothes may disguise a fool, but his words will give him away. 
Excuse me, but I need to go reread The Last Battle since I have yet another perspective to think about while reading it. 


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