La Chauve-souris et les deux Belettes (The Bat and the two Weasels) is a short fable written at the end of the 17th century by Jean de La Fontaine. It tells the story of a bat who, unluckily enough, falls alternatively into the den of two weasels, the first at odds with mice, the second an enemy of birds. Both times, the clever bat manages to get itself out alive by presenting itself either as a bird because of its wings or as a mouse because of its absence of feathers. Depending on the situation, on the weasel it encounters, the Bat changes identity and saves its skin. The moral of this short story, like most of the ones present in La Fontaine’s fables, is meant to be a humorous critique aimed towards certain members of society. Here, it targets individuals who, adapting to circumstances, switch between sides to accommodate their personal interests.

I quite like this story. I like this clever Bat who knows the rules of the game well enough to use them to its advantage. I like the fact that it is fully aware of its own nature, of its fake duality. Of how it can fit into two completely different categories presented as opposites while belonging to none of them. The Bat has both wings like a bird and fur like a mouse, and it is conscious that because of this peculiar set of attributes, it can choose to present as either one or the other. In a way, it knows it can be both.

Still, the Bat is neither a bird nor a mouse, and definitely not a mix of both. The Bat is simply a bat. It is something completely other. Not a chimera and not a hybrid. It has wings, but that doesn’t make it a bird, just as its fur and its small size doesn’t make it a mouse. It shares characteristics with both animals and is a third.

But facing the weasels, the Bat doesn’t say “I am a bat” to get away. When it is about to be devoured for being mouse-like, it chooses to become a bird. It chooses to dismiss the attributes it shares with mice and that could be used to label it as such. It decides to cast away a part of its identity in order to survive.

It is interesting to note that the fable written by La Fontaine is, in fact, an actualized version of a story attributed to Aesop, a Greek slave and storyteller who is thought to have lived between 620 and 564 BCE. The original text presents a similar narrative. The main difference resides in its moral which, instead of criticizing ambivalence, states that ‘It is wise to turn circumstances to good account.’

The Bat seems to think that the Weasel will not be able to accept the fact that it can resemble a mouse without being one. It is blind, but not dumb. It doesn’t know much about colour, but it is apparently aware of the fact that some limited scopes don’t leave a lot of room for nuances.

What if the bat had chosen to not pretend and to play the honesty card? In the same way the Charlie Fox offered a personal rewriting of Ovid’s myth of Hermaphroditus in their essay Chimeras, I would like to propose a rough draft for a new version of the tale:

‘Amused by the Weasel’s accusation, the Bat, firmly pinned to the ground, managed to release a choked giggle:

“A mouse? Now that’s funny. I’m a bat. Have you ever seen a mouse with wings? Of course not. So please, don’t be ridiculous and just let me go.”

The Weasel too grinned. Its pointy teeth glimmered in the grey light of dawn. It leaned closer to the Bat.

“Don’t try to bullshit me. You might look messed up but I know you’re a mouse. What do I know, maybe your mum fucked a bird. But wings or not, you’re still a mouse.”

The blind Bat missed the nasty expression on the Weasel’s face. It tried to protest but it was already too late. And as it it turned out, bats don’t taste quite exactly like mice.’

That was maybe a bit dramatic, fair enough. But I tend to believe that the caution the bat demonstrated in the original story was justified. Because when you think about it, the moral of the fable would loose all weight if there was no danger for the bat in being honest.

In the end, the Bat got out. Despite the fact that it had to alter it — or pretend to alter it — for a while, its identity remains intact. No matter what the weasels might have thought or been led to think, the bat is still a bat. Facing the pressure to take sides, to settle as one or the other option, it defied the terms and weaseled its way out. It escaped.