The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts (India)

None of the characters are specified except by species, and no one has a name. In contrast to these nameless, descriptionless animals there is a Bodhisatta in the form of a lion. Bodhisatta, whose clear mind quickly acertains the situation, is the hero of the tale saving the herds of animals from an unnecessary death. There is no villain, no sly fox to take advantage of the fearful crowd, but the riot of animals as a whole can be considred the main antagonist. The story gives us a good indication of how large and vast the hysteria was:

  • “And so first one and then another hare caught sight of him running, and joined in the chase till one hundred thousand hares all took to flight together.”

There is only one breakdown of how the false alarm was spread, reflecting the formulaic portion of the story. As opposed to versions of Henny Penny that give a repetative breakdown of the formula each time a new bird is added to the group.When Bodhisatta seeks to find answers and questions each group of animals in order to come to the source he realizes that no one has any idea. This differs from the other versions because it is a reverse of the cumulative formula. Bodhisatta starts with the group as a whole and subtracts animals by species until he finds the source of the scare—he deconstructs the masses. So the formula is: D says that C knows, C says that B knows, and B says they heard it from A.

This tale is a Buddhist folktale and naturally has religious undertones. The hare asks himself, “If this earth should be destroyed, what would become of me?”. This question is quite appropriate since it is a Bodhisatta tale, and in some forms of Buddhism, the Bodhisatta is a reincarnate of Buddha, or a being destined to become Buddha by achieving enlightenment. The story fittingly begins with a question of what happens to us when we leave the Earth right before the hare calls into question the integrity of our existence. This gives us an idea as to his state of mind at the time and why he may have jumped to the conclusion he did.

The tale ends with everyone safe and assured of their lives thanks to Bodhisatta. There is a moral at the end in the form of a poem, but none of the animals in the story really learn anything.

Plop!

This version is similar to the Buddhist one from India, but instead of fearing the end of the world and bearing the burden of mortality, the animals in this tale are afraid of the unknown. They hear a strange sound that they cannot identify and sort of personify it as something bad. They call it “Plop!” and begin to run from it in fear, thus, starting the chain of events leading to mass hysteria. Again, the lion is the protagonist who makes order of chaos and is repetitively described with a long mane and inquisitive mind. Consequently, there is no description of the other animals and no names like we see in the versions of Henny Penny that are popularized children’s tales.

There is a section of this story that explains how the mere act of running caused so much panic. And how hysteria begets more panic.

  • “They had no thought at all, except to fly. The faster they ran, the more frightened they became.”

In many ways these types of tales are reflective of what hysteria is. The addition of another animal and another and another is symbolic of how panic feeds hysteria and vice versa.

Brother Rabbit Takes Some Exercise (African-American)

Here is an animal tale from Uncle Remus’s collection of stories about Brer Rabbit. The cumulation of masses isn’t as grand as in the previous tales, but we again see the “hare” as an intergral part of the creation of the scare. However instead of the rabbit misunderstanding something he heard and thinking it is the end of the world or evil personified, it is the other animals, Brer Coon who misunderstands Brer Rabbit.

There is no clear protagonist who saves all the animals in this tale. The animals start asking questions among themselves and start blaming each other. What’s unique about this tale is Brer Rabbit. He knows he was frightened for no reason and that the sound that startled him was nothing but Mr. Man cutting a tree. That’s why he isn’t part of the stampede. So although Brer Rabbit hears the loud noise and begins to run scared, it’s actually Brer Coon that’s the start of the mass hysteria.

The Cock and the Hen That Went to Dovrefjell (Norway)

In this tale we start to see a difference in the initiating event. Instead of hearing a sound, Henny Penny has a dream that the world will end if she does not go to Dovrefjell. Also, gender roles are more apparent in this tale than in the previous ones. The formula of the tale is cumulative but more like the Brer Rabbit tale than the Bodhisatta tale. The animals are added one at a time and the group is more intimate than the stampede of animals we saw in the earlier stories.

Each animal is easily convinced that they must go to Dovrefjell because Henny Penny saw it in a dream. Again we see subjects of the unknown or supernatural playing a role in the creation of mass hysteria and perhaps a caution for believing in prophecies or prophets. Doomsday cults are not a modern phenomenon, and perhaps the fact that Henny Penny “dreams” the end of the world in this version, and not in any of the others, is indicative of something.

The end of the tale differs from the others because not all of the animals come out unscathed. Unlike the other tales this one has an antagonist who is willing to take advantage of their situation. Ducky-Lucky and Goosey-Poosey are eaten by the fox, but Henny-Penny being a sensitive sleeper saw that they were eaten and tricked the fox into leaving his den. And the story ends by saying that if they had not made it to Dovrefjell then the world would have ended. Thus implying that the journey was legitimate and not based on false assumptions. Or we as the reader/listener have to believe that they made it to Dovrefjell because the world is still intact.

Henny Penny and Her Fellow Travelers

This is the most commonly heard tale of type 2033/20C. This is also the version most retold. Henny-Penny is hit on the head with pea and assumes that the sky is falling. She decides to go and tell the king. In the other stories the animals ran without a purpose, but in this case, and the case with the hen that flew to Dovrefjell, they have a specific destination in mind.

On the way to the king Henny Penny meets Cocky Locky and the formula of the tale progresses forward. When the group of birds come to someone new the person always asks where they are going and once they hear that they are going to tell the king the sky is falling, the new bird asks if they can be allowed to go as well. This is sillier than the Bodhisatta version. The birds parody polite society as they go on their way as if the end of the world were nothing but a triffle to complain to the officials about. We’re starting to see more modern ideas and rules of society in the tales.

At the end of the story all of the animals are eaten up by the fox and no one goes to tell the king or learns a lesson.

Henny Penny (English version)

This version is famous for having no pronouns and so the repetition of rhyming names takes on a humorous and ridiculous tone. But the repetition is also used in describing their journey, “so they went along, and they went along, and they went along” (Jacobs, 1942) making the story more of a narrative and emphasizing the journey or cumulative process.

The fox is the antagonist who tells them he knows a shortcut to the king’s palace. However, the outcome of their gullible adventure is different than the Scottish Henny Penny. Foxy-woxy says that the way to the king’s palace is through a cave and he offers to go in first. As the animals follow him in one at a time he bites their heads off. As Goosey-loosey goes in he is injured by the fox and warns Henny Penny before he is finally killed. Henny Penny runs away and never tells the king. In this version the emphasis is on the other animals since all of them die except for Henny Penny. This implies that although it is folly to panic, spread rumors and make false assumptions, it is even more folly to listen to the person who does.

Chicken Little (politically correct version)

The cumulative formula of this tale comes into play not by the repetition of rhyming names or in the backwards search to find the source. Instead the Garner cleverly uses this plot structure to portray the various lawsuits each bird feels they can bring to court. This version is like one long metaphor likening our recent cultural increase in small claims lawsuits (for everything under the sun) to the mass hysteria of the original Chicken Little.

Chicken Little Goes Too far

This is a satirical version of Henny Penny/ Chicken Little although she includes some of the rhyming names, and makes some witty ones up of her own, the most crucial element that characterizes it as a Chicken Little story is missing–the tale has no formula or cumulative elements.

The justification for Chicken Little’s alarm is that he reads too many newspapers. In this version however, each animal that Chicken Little encounters does NOT take him seriously and join his crowd in a panic. So, aside from the general plot and character names, this story does not resemble the traditional Chicken Little/ Henny Penny at all.

What is interesting about the story is that it puts the Chicken Little story into modern contexts. In order to gain support the Chicken Little in this story works closely with the media, creates his own acronym-ed organization and maintains a website. She calls Chicken Little’s followers “disciples”which is a term closely related to doomsday cults and religious extremists. This is very insightful, because it still keeps the moral of the original Chicken Little, and essentially recognizes that humans have heard about or been involved in doomsday activities throughout history. It also imples that sometimes the media can fuel hysteria.

Click here for a brief analysis of picture book versions!

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One Response to “A Brief Critical Analysis”

  1. Ella Says:

    I didn’t know that this tale is a Buddhist folktale. Very cool page!


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