In that famous children’s story by Hans Christian Anderson, swindler tailors defraud the emperor by playing on his foolish vanity. It somehow reminds me of Rasputin and the Tsarina. The moral of the fable is that deference to authority can generate absurdity, which is inevitably eventually revealed.
Your mention of The Emperor's New Clothes made me think of Cinderella, with the coach turning into the pumpkin at midnight, ending the fantasy whirl of excitement with a thud.
Bulgakov is probably using the dissolving magic clothes as a parable for the five year plans, where initial dreams of abundance dissolved in bitter poverty and lies. Today the magical loss could stand as a story of the whole Soviet Union, with its superpower status mocked as Upper Volta with Rockets, and the final collapse of central planning from within.
There is a sense that Peter is in the grip of Satan in his three denials of Christ before the cock crows. His extreme fear of persecution by the fascist empire and its compradors led Saint Peter into unconscious or accidental lies, which in the story protect the holder of the keys of heaven and enable the construction of the church.
Here, the cock crow comes from vampire lore, as the signal for sunrise and the dissolution of the ghosts. In looking through a Gutenberg collection of Russian Folk Stories at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/22373/2 ... m#Page_178
, I came upon The Two Corpses, which looks to be Bulgakov’s source:
THE TWO CORPSES
A soldier had obtained leave to go home on furlough—to pray to the holy images, and to bow down before his parents. And as he was going his way, at a time when the sun had long set, and all was dark around, it chanced that he had to pass by a graveyard. Just then he heard that some one was running after him, and crying:
“Stop! you can’t escape!”
He looked back and there was a corpse running and gnashing its teeth. The Soldier sprang on one side with all his might to get away from it, caught sight of a little chapel, and bolted straight into it.
There wasn’t a soul in the chapel, but stretched out on a table there lay another corpse, with tapers burning in front of it. The Soldier hid himself in a corner, and remained there, hardly knowing whether he was alive or dead, but waiting to see what would happen. Presently up ran the first corpse—the one that had chased the Soldier—and dashed into the chapel. Thereupon the one that was lying on the table jumped up, and cried to it:
“What hast thou come here for?”
“I’ve chased a soldier in here, so I’m going to eat him.”
“Come now, brother! he’s run into my house. I shall eat him myself.”
“No, I shall!”
“No, I shall!”
And they set to work fighting; the dust flew like anything. They’d have gone on fighting ever so much longer, only the cocks began to crow. Then both the corpses fell lifeless to the ground, and the Soldier went on his way homeward in peace, saying:
“Glory be to Thee, O Lord! I am saved from the wizards!”
Even the possession of arms and the presence of a dog will not always, it seems, render a man secure from this terrible species of cut-throat.
The Biblical idea is that the truth will set you free. For Bulgakov, dying in 1940 in the depths of Stalin’s Terror, the ghouls are advancing and the rooster’s distant dawn voice is the only hope of salvation.
In the story of Christ and Pilate, which of course is central to The Master and Margarita, Jesus calls himself a μαρτυρήσω τῇ ἀληθείᾳ, a martyr for truth, to the face of the emperor’s man. That willingness to die for a pure moral cause is the Christian background to the captive nations’ sense that unrelenting honesty and courage would cause the collapse of the evil empire.
You have me perplexed here Harry over the theology of the cross. Normally, we believe that efforts of the powerful to oppress and control do matter a lot. However, the perspective of faith is that nature is intrinsically good, and any victory of evil can only be temporary and illusory. This faith in the power of love produces a strong belief among the Christian faithful that the blood of the cross is redemptive, that in dying, Christ achieves our salvation through his action of selfless love.
In your phrase ‘the machinations of the ruthless’, the Christian idea in the conventional ransom faith is that the efforts of evil to suppress the good must lose. In Jesus, God has paid Satan’s fee, and the thrall of evil is conquered. It is of the nature of Christ that he marks the turning of the tide from evil to good, much as the cock signifies the turn from dark to light.