Chicken Little

Cabbages and Kings

One day while Chicken Little was cultivating his garden, a piece of sky fell down and hit him in the head. "Oh dear, oh dear," Chicken Little exclaimed. "The sky is falling; I must go and tell the King." And so off he went to the palace.

Henny Penny

On the way he met Henny Penny, noted neurotic and intellectual. Henny Penny had been concerned for some time about the possibility of the sky falling. "I have been concerned for some time about the possibility of the sky falling," Henny Penny said. "It is a sad commentary on our civilization that the sky falls, because we are conformists. And because not enough people write letters to government officials. And because there are hidden powers that seek to bring on destruction. I hate these hidden powers. I hate destruction. I hate government officials. I hate."

Henny Penny was now screaming. She calmed herself and continued: "But I love the people of this country. I love the newspaper boy on the corner, the fish-monger with his song, the little child eating popcorn. Ah, people of this kingdom, I love you!"

Foxy Moxy

Just then Foxy Moxy sidled up. Henny Penny hated Foxy Moxy, who was a successful storm window salesman, stock speculator, and pillar of the community of long-standing. Foxy Moxy had a proposition to make: "Friends, and you are my friends," he said, "suppose that the sky falls--and of course it won't. But if it does, what will we all need? Shelter, that's what. Shelter for ourselves, shelter for our possessions, shelter for our loved ones. And I just happen to have here with me contracts for the latest thing in shelters--Fox Holes, Patent Applied For. My own invention with a lifetime guarantee, easy credit, and plenty of closet space. Also: optional patio, ping pong table, garbage dispose-all and . . .

"I hate dispose-alls," shrieked Henny Penny. "I hate loved ones. I hate shelters, and patios and fox holes. Hate. Hate. Hate. And besides, they won't work. Because, when the sky falls, that will be the end. People may get momentary security from your Fox Holes. But finally they will not or decompose or die of starvation or horrible disease. Women and children and pet parakeets--all will die." This prediction gave Henny Penny considerable satisfaction.

Foxy Moxy, on the other hand, was noticeably annoyed. "Look here, Friends," he growled, addressing Chicken Little, "I certainly hope Henny Penny is not insulting my integrity. I wouldn't sell people something they couldn't use. Fox Holes may not be perfect, but 'they're better than nothing.' That's our company motto. Henny Penny seeks to soften us for destruction. I'm getting to think Henny Penny should be put out of the way." The fox bared his fangs and advanced toward the hen.

Owly Vowly

"Vait!" The voice was that of Owly Vowly, renowned scholar and analyst of contemporary affairs. "There must be no violence on this issue until vee have time to analyze it." Foxy Moxy slinked back submissively, for Owly Vowly spoke very distinctly, authoritatively, and with a slight German accent.

"The situation," the owl revealed, "iss very complex. Luckily, of the twelve forces affecting the problem the first six are irrelevant, the seventh, eighth and ninth are cancelled out by the tenth, and the eleventh is untranslatable from the German, leaving the twelfth force--namely, the most important and remaining one--which I shall now proceed to simplify by game-theory-analysis." Owly Vowly blinked calmly to acknowledge the gasps of admiration from his audience.

"The kvestion," he continued, "reduces to a zimple two-person-zero-sum-catastrophe, in which there are three possibilities, X, Y, and Z:

(X) The sky falls--a catastrophe.

(Y) The sky doesn't fall--not a catastrophe.

(Z) The sky falls a little bit--maybe a catastrophe.

In case Z--which is the relevant one--vat vould vee do in the sky's position? We might fall and we might not, depending on whether we wanted to or not. The solution to the problem, therefore, is to make the sky not want to fall. And this is done by a policy of . . .

"Fox Holes," shouted Foxy Moxy.

"By a policy of deterrence," sneered the owl. "The problem is as yet theoretical and not practical."

"I hate deterrence," clucked Henny Penny.

"In any case," Owly Vowly concluded unruffled, "vat I have said supports rather than not supporting the suggestion of Chicken Little that we tell the King, and I myself shall go along to clarify the problem."

Chicken Little heaved a sigh of relief. "Well," he said encouraged by so impressive an endorsement, "let us go and tell the King." And so the animals went off to the palace.

At the Palace

When they arrived they were greeted by the King's press secretary, who announced: "the King reads books at a prodigious rate and therefore has a lightning grasp of the weather conditions in his kingdom and of all the statistical, economic, political, social, and philosophical factors of the situation. Since this is a constitutional monarchy, however, he has graciously consented to address his subjects."

A cheer went up from the assembled multitude, for at that moment the king walked out on his balcony. King Chipmunk III cut a handsome figure; his paunchy cheeks and tiny nose gave character to his noble chipmunk face; his rich coat of light brown hair was universally admired; and his high-pitched, squeaky voice sent chills down the spines of all his subjects.

"This is a time of crisis," King Chipmunk squeaked grandly. "The sky is falling. It is satisfied but not stratified. And will get lower before it gets higher. Yet higher it will get, if freedom can make it so. What is needed is courage, vigor, and self-sacrifice. My loyal subjects, I give you these words of advice: Ask not what the sky can do to you, ask rather what you can do against the sky. And as for shelter, do not fear to build but do not build from fear. And remember throughout that the weather is not negotiable."

"Hooray," yelled Chicken Little, and the other animals joined in, for the King was very popular. Then the Press secretary added:

"The address of King Chipmunk III should clear all doubts from the minds of his subjects. Any apparent ambiguities in his speech should be interpreted as exhortations to his people to go home and work for the coming Congressional elections. This is, after all, a constitutional monarchy."

Home Again

And so the animals went home, Owly Vowly to his books, Foxy Moxy to developing a new Fox Hole "with deterrent action," Henny Penny to writing perfectly frantic letters to government officials.

And Chicken Little went back to cultivating his garden. "Oh dear," he exclaimed, as another chunk of sky hit him on the head. But then he caught himself partiotically, remembering that one must, after all, accept such things in times of crisis and Congressional elections.