March 25, 2011

Talking Animals

Category: Animals,Literature :: Permalink

The other night, after meeting Glimfeather the Owl in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Theia said to me, “Papa, talking animals are only in stories, aren’t they?”

“Are they?” I asked.

“There aren’t talking animals in our world,” she replied.  “Only in stories.”

At first, I acted as if I was just teasing her.  “There are talking animals in our world, too,” I said.  She denied it, insisting that there aren’t.  I insisted there were.  She laughed, sure I was teasing, and insisted that there weren’t.

But I’ve read the Bible to her and she remembers it.  “Do you remember the serpent who talked to Eve in the Garden?” I asked.  She did.  “And do remember when we read the story about Balaam the prophet and how his donkey talked to him?”  Again, she did.  “That wasn’t just a story,” I said.  “That was in our world.  That really happened.  So animals in our world can talk.”

Stop a moment and think about that.   When it comes to the serpent, it’s easy to say that the serpent spoke because it was impelled to do so by Satan who was somehow linked up with or inhabiting the serpent.  After all, the Bible does speak of Satan as “the serpent of old” (Rev. 12), thereby identifying the tempter of Genesis 3 with the devil.  So, we conclude, snakes don’t talk — unless, of course, the devil is speaking through them.

But that doesn’t account for Balaam’s donkey.   I can imagine someone maintaining that it was really God who was speaking to Balaam, using the donkey’s voicebox to do so, and so people sometimes say, “God can speak through a donkey, and so he can speak through you, too” or something like that.  But look at the story.  It doesn’t say that God was speaking to Balaam through the donkey; it says that the donkey spoke.  And what’s more, the donkey draws on its memory of its past good behavior: “Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” (Num 22:30).  It was YHWH who opened the mouth of the donkey, that’s true, but it was the donkey who spoke to Balaam (22:28).

And that means that not just in Narnia, not just in fairy tales, not just in fiction but in this very world in which we live, there have been — and could be — talking animals.

“Yes,” Theia said.  “But they don’t talk to us very often.”  True.  But maybe someday.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:18 pm | Discuss (0)

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