Oliver and the Other Ostriches

An austere ostrich of awesome authority was lecturing younger ostriches one day on the superiority of their species to all other species. “We were known to the Romans, or, rather, the Romans were known to us,” he said. “They called us avis struthio, and we called them Romans.

The Greeks called us strouthion, which means ‘truthful one,’ or, if it doesn’t, it should. We are the biggest birds, and therefore the best.”

All his listeners cried, “Hear! Hear!” except a thoughtful one named Oliver. “We can’t fly backward like the hummingbird,” he said aloud.

“The hummingbird is losing ground,” said the old ostrich. “We are going places, we are moving forward.” “Hear! Hear!” cried all the other ostriches except Oliver.

“We lay the biggest eggs and therefore the best eggs,” continued the old lecturer.

“The robin’s eggs are prettier,” said Oliver.

“Robins’ eggs produce nothing but robins,” said the old ostrich. “Robins are lawn-bound worm addicts.”

“Hear! Hear!” cried all the other ostriches except Oliver.

“We get along on four toes, whereas Man needs ten,” the elderly instructor reminded his class.

“But Man can fly sitting down, and we can’t fly at all,” commented Oliver.

The old ostrich glared at him severely, first with one eye and then the other. “Man is flying too fast for a world that is round,” he said. “Soon he will catch up with himself, in a great rear-end collision, and Man will never know that what hit Man from behind was Man.”

“Hear! Hear!” cried all the other ostriches except Oliver.

“We can make ourselves invisible in time of peril by sticking our heads in the sand,” ranted the lecturer. “Nobody else can do that.”

“How do we know we can’t be seen if we can’t see?” demanded Oliver.

“Sophistry!” cried the old ostrich, and all the other ostriches except Oliver cried “Sophistry!” not knowing what it meant.

Just then the master and the class heard a strange alarming sound, a sound like thunder growing close and growing closer. It was not the thunder of weather, though, but the thunder of a vast herd of rogue elephants in full stampede, frightened by nothing, fleeing nowhere. The old ostrich and all the other ostriches except Oliver quickly stuck their heads in the sand.

Oliver took refuge behind a large nearby rock until the storm of beasts had passed, and when he came out he beheld a sea of sand and bones and feathers—all that was left of the old teacher and his disciples. Just to be sure, however, Oliver called the roll, but there was no answer until he came to his own name. “Oliver,” he said.

Oliver and the Other Ostriches

James Thurber

James Grover Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961) was an American cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. He was best known for his cartoons and short stories published mainly in The New Yorker magazine, such as "The Catbird Seat", and collected in his numerous books. He was one of the most popular humorists of his time, as he celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.

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