‘Feathers and Fools’ is a seemingly simple fable where a ‘a pride of magnificent peacocks’ and ‘a flock of elegant swans’ compare their differences and consequently view each other as threats. In fear for their lives, they take up arms, wage war and destroy each other.
Mem Fox’s storytelling style uses rich language with a read aloud storytelling quality. Her style transports the reader-listener into another dimension. The opening line is an example. ‘Long ago and far away in the gardens of a crumbling castle lived a pride of magnificent peacocks’ while nearby ‘in the rushes and reeds of a clear blue lake dwelt a flock of elegant swans.’
Our two main characters, the peacocks and the swans share the same pond peacefully, until the peacocks irrationally view their differences as threats. They prepare to defend themselves and create weapons of war. When the swans hear talk of fighting, they develop their own tools of war. A swan flying overhead is interpreted as an aggressive act. War between them breaks out. None survive. Then, a baby swan and a baby peacock emerge. They notice not their differences but their similarities. In a satisfying finale the two birds ‘went together, in peace and unafraid to face the day and share the world.’
Many libraries across Australia hold the American and Australian editions of this book. These feature different illustrators and story interpretations for viewers. The gentle, realistically rendered Australian illustrator’s birds and pond setting are distinctly different from the American illustrator’s art where acrylic paintings are symbolically sophisticated. Here ornate paintings featuring rich and dark wine and green colours contained within borders. While the text is the same, the illustrations in these two editions evoke different emotions and interpretations. Here is an interesting opportunity for young people to study where both editions are available.
This story featuring swans and peacocks could be any nation, country, or people experiencing different beliefs and viewing these differences as threats. ‘Feathers & Fools’ promotes discussion about provocations that lead to war and conflict.