The Allegory Of The Farm

by Rebecca Bynum (Sept. 2008)

Cry Wolf
by Paul Lake
Benbella Books, 215 pgs.

 
Paul Lake’s allegorical novel Cry Wolf is a rare and happy find. A political fable generally dealing with the collapse of civilization, it succeeds on many levels. The overriding metaphor of the novel is the farm vs. the wild standing for civilization vs. barbarism, but in specific ways each farm animal might be seen as a symbol for one aspect of society (dogs, the police force and legal institutions, the bull, the military, the owl, the academics, the goose, middle class values, etc.). Each species of wild animals also represents one aspect of the forces working wittingly or unwittingly to destroy our way of life (the deer, a harmless refugee, raccoons, Mexican immigrants, possums, other immigrants, beavers, foreign aid entanglements, the bear, communism, and foxes, coyotes and wolves, Islam).  

On another and higher level, this little volume also works as a metaphor for how our society is struggling to carry on without God (the farmer of Green Pastures Farm has died and the animals are left on their own), and ultimately how humanity seems to have declared God unnecessary and our own minds equal to or superior to His, which of course is as ludicrous as animals trying to run a farm on their own.
 
In this drama, the domesticated animals must defend the farm from the wild beasts outside its borders as well as maintain faith in the farm ideal. It is the deterioration of the farm ideal and the erosion of the distinction between wild and tame that ultimately leads to the farm’s destruction. Lake has formed a powerful allegory for the decline and fall of civilization. Cry Wolf will inevitably be compared with George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and like the earlier novel it too deals with the internal collapse of a society built on faulty ideas. Cry Wolf focuses on the ideas born of the best intentions, specifically on ideas that suffuse our secular Christian world, ideas that seem harmless and altruistic, but ultimately lead to societal degeneration.

The leading advocate for the blurring of the lines between the “breeds,” both wild and tame, for the sake of altruistic fairness is the barn owl, the academic, and it becomes pointedly obvious by the end of the book that the owl, while living on the farm and enjoying the benefits of farm life, is not actually a tame animal. His work all along has been for the benefit of the wild animals at the expense and detriment of the tame. The last line of the book shows him diving on a lone chick and joining in the carnage of the general massacre. A stronger indictment of irresponsible, even wicked, academia would be difficult to imagine.

The farm animals are led by the compassion and goodness given to them by man on the one hand, and animalistic self-interest on the other. The pigs, representing the wealthy, like to have the raccoons and possums wait on them and do their jobs, and certainly there are practical reasons for allowing the raccoons in. Raccoons can gather fruit on the trees the farm animals can’t harvest, so at first, it seems to be in the farm’s overall best interest to let the raccoons onto the farm to help with the work. In the beginning, the productivity of the farm is increased, but soon there are many more mouths to feed and supplies dwindle.

Then there are the beavers. A raccoon, speaking on behalf of the farm, talks one beaver into helping repair a rail and promises him all the apples he can eat in return. Soon beavers are hauling apples off by the bushel (back to the forest, where the beavers remain) and doing nothing to repair the fences. A worse indictment of how American foreign policy is conducted would likewise be hard to find.

The military is represented by the bull, who is slow and dimwitted and doesn’t detect the danger coming from within the farm. He’s waiting for the kind of danger he's been trained to recognize, the “real” danger coming from outside, as when a bear tried to attack the farm. At that time, the entire tame population, united and determined, held him at bay. That is the kind of struggle the bull understands. Possums and raccoons are small and harmless, or so it seems to him.

It is easy to comprehend the danger in a bear, but much harder to perceive it in an injured doe, or a small family of raccoons. The sheep, as taught by the owl, bleat “xenophobia” and “breedism” in unison, never realizing the danger their mindless chanting puts them in. If it is unfair to exclude the possum, how can it be fair to exclude the coyote, the wolf or the bear?
 
One of the most moving sections is a sermon delivered to the farm animals by an old and wise ram (representing Judeo-Christian tradition, legal and moral). He also dies during the tale. Lake thus fashions a fable within the fable which is worth quoting at length.

“Men did not always stand on two legs,” the ram began, “but walked on four, like the other forest animals. His hands were but half formed, like an eagle’s claws, and incapable of grasping. His mind could not hold cunning in its net, but like a spider web too finely spun, let thought escape. He lived in the woods like a squirrel, eating nuts and berries, or foraging for roots, or eating carrion like the crow. He was wordless as stone and knew not the magic of fire.

“Then walking through the forest one day, he met a dog. The dog was hungry and the man drew him close with friendly grunts and fed him a scrap of carrion. The two became friends from that day on and learned to hunt, the dog tracking, the man following and dispatching their prey. They killed and feasted together like a pack of wolves.

“Then one day, while walking through a meadow, they encountered a horse. The man admired its grace and speed and strength. With the help of the dog, he corralled and tamed the beast. Then one day he mounted and rode the horse, sharing its pride and strength, like a lord of the earth.

“Then riding one day, he encountered a mother cow. He envied the cow’s swollen udders so ripe with milk, so he decided to tame her too and enjoy her bounty. Then he met a sheep and, being cold, he envied her rich warm coat of wool. With the help of his dog, he trapped and tamed the sheep. He protected her from prowlers that lurked near the flock and kept her safe from harm. When her coat was thick, he trimmed it to make a shield against the wind.

“But still the man was wild and rootless as a wolf, lacking even a burrow in which to rest his head. He killed and ate live flesh and drank hot blood. He growled and snarled and made sounds without meaning.

“Then one night in a dream, a man-shepherd came to him with visions of another world. With spirit-force, he tamed the man as the man had tamed the beasts. As the man slept, the man-shepherd filled his mind with words and instructed him how to gather wood and make fire. Then when the man awoke, the man-shepherd led him first from the forest to the meadow and there taught him how to fashion the first ax. With the ax, the man cut down trees and made a house. With stones he made a hearth to cook his food. Then he chopped down trees and fashioned them into rails and fenced in the meadow to keep out those beyond.

“The man said, ‘Within this fence shall live the gentle and wise animals I have tamed. Outside it shall live the beasts who feast on flesh and know not the comfort of roofs or the warmth of fire.’ Then, to separate the tame from the wild, he wrote his first words and held them up to the forest:

“NO TRESPASSING.

“From that day forth, those words became our first law and commandment.

“Thus man and his domestic companions lived in warmth and comfort, sharing their lives and labors. As the man-shepherd had taught him, the man taught the animals speech, saying, ‘Whoa, giddyup, stay, come, good boy, woo pig, easy there.’ As the days passed, the animals lived in safety and harmony, they learned gentleness and peace.

“Then one night, as he once visited the man, the spirit-shepherd visited a wise old ram in his sleep and gave him counsel. When the ram awoke, he recorded the secret knowledge with carved symbols. First he etched into the wall for all to see, NO TRESPASSING, then

“’WALK BY DAY, NOT BY NIGHT,’ the second commandment.

“’DO NOT KILL OR EAT LIVING FLESH,’ said the third.

“The fourth and final commandment was, ‘WALK IN THE WAYS OF MAN.”

Having delivered these, the old ram gathered the domestic herds around him and spoke the following words of prophecy.

“Like men who walk on two legs and work with hands, we animals have grown in the ways of wisdom. In domesticity we have learned to value concord over discord and tameness over savagery. Hearing men speak, we have learned to grasp the meanings of shaped sounds. Our spirits have grown larger and more complex and multifarious. We know joy and sorrow, loyalty and gratitude, work and service. Having names and a perception of the good, we walk each day down the path to personhood.

(…)

“All wildness will be driven from the earth, and the lion and the bear will be gentle like the lamb.”

One by one the farm’s laws are overturned by the raccoon who is made supreme judge after the death of the ram in a gesture of appeasement toward the “new citizens.” These new citizens take over the buildings on the farm one after another. The tame animals find they cannot legally exclude the “forest born” but the wild animals have no problem excluding the tame (no-go zones for the domesticated) or segregating themselves by breed and sex. Females were equal under farm law, not so in the wild, and as the wild animals take over, the status of females plunges. The following passage gives a taste of Lake’s pointed use of an up-to-date lexicon in his metaphor-making:

Using his opponents’ favorite tactic, Shep declared that it would be breedist and xenophobic to allow only forest-born animals into the old farmhouse. In fairness, the new house should be open to all.

“The term breedism,” explained the barn owl, “cannot be applied in this situation. By definition, breedism can only be practiced by the historically powerful against the weak and excluded. In this case, it is the historically excluded who will be setting themselves apart, in order to resist institutional oppression.”

The wild animals are also obviously neither weak nor oppressed. They should be grateful to share in the bounty of the farm, and while they were initially admitted to supply needed work, they soon take advantage of the tame animals at every turn. The most aggressive wild animals adhere to a different foundational myth, rituals involving blood sacrifice, and live by another law entirely: “Fang and claw over hoof and paw.” First eggs, then hens, then sheep start disappearing.

Finally a young dog, born to his loyal and obedient parents after the death of the old farmer, joins the “Canine Brotherhood” (an obvious reference to the Muslim Brotherhood) and betrays the farm in a final act of treachery.

Even this final act is involved in the realm of ideas by Lake. He uses the devise of a play dramatizing the farm animals’ stand-off with the bear. The play that was once a celebration of triumph and glory finally becomes so distorted that the animals no longer recognize themselves or know what is right or what is wrong. Everything is upside down in the traitor-dog’s revised version in which the farm animals are depicted as being wrong ever to have defended themselves and so guilty, they deserve to be annihilated. The play is the thing.

Another great problem with the farm ideal as articulated by the sermon quoted above, is that the animals hold the vision of the prophesy of a time when peace prevails and the distinction between wild and tame will be erased (because all will have become tame) so vividly, they convince themselves that that future time is already here and so measures of self-defense may be dispensed with. They convince themselves they can skip the arduous and distasteful task of self-defense as given in the law. Indeed, many Americans believe Islam’s war against the West might be resolved if we only would love our enemies fervently enough or give enough Christian charity in order to demonstrate what good people we are. This kind of sentimental Christianity is demolished by Lake’s book and is shown as the attitude ripe for exploitation it is.

If the tame are not defended, all will become wild, not the other way around. If civilization is not defended it will degenerate into barbarism, possibly sacred, institutionalized barbarism as in the form of Islam, but barbarism nonetheless. In Cry Wolf the bear comes back to deliver the fatal blow to the bull and certainly, as recent events have shown us, Russia is still a hostile military power, and she is willing to ally with the Camp of Islam, supplying nuclear technology to Iran for example, in order to check U.S. interests at every opportunity. Will the bear return?

One is naturally led to ponder the decline and fall of civilizations past. Did Rome fall because the Romans imported too much slave labor from too many different cultures, diluting their own culture to the point of non-existence? When the barbarians invaded, did they find a willing fifth column to help them in their overthrow of the Empire? Were there fewer and fewer in each passing generation willing to fight or to sacrifice for the idea of Rome? I suspect the answer to all three questions is yes.

And so this allegory of the farm covers history widely as well as deeply. Cry Wolf is a modern classic deserving wide recognition. In the “cry wolf” fable, the boy yells the alarm when there is no wolf, so that when the wolf actually does come, no one believes the boy's cry. By choosing this title, Lake may be taking a preemptive jab at his critics, by seeming to accept in his title, the very accusation made against him and others, who warn of the dangers facing civilization - the charge of alarmism.

In that fable, as in this one, the wolf eventually arrives.


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