According to Wikipedia:
A Fable is a literary genre. A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities such as verbal communication), and that illustrates or leads to an interpretation of a moral lesson (a “moral”), which may at the end be added explicitly in a pithy maxim. A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind. ~ Fable
The most well-known worldwide fable is the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf:
The three little pigs leave home and go out into the world to make their fortunes. Of course, they have to build places in which to live. The first little pig makes his house of straw. The second little pig also takes things easily, building his house of sticks. The third little pig works hard and long to make a house of bricks–a good, sturdy house. Along comes a wolf who blows down the houses of straw and sticks and eats the two lazy little pigs. All his huffing and puffing, however, cannot blow down the house of bricks.
In this fable the three little pigs show human characteristics. Two little pigs are shiftless and meet an unhappy end through their own fault. The hard-working little pig earns the reward of a good life.
Wolves find their way into fairytales quite often. Why is the wolf always the bad guy? Way back when, people lived among the animals much more so than they do today. Traveling at night was often seen as a bad time to be out and about and many people were attacked and killed during the dark hours. In many situations, wild animals were to blame, and often that meant the wolf. But sad to say that in a lot of cases, the wolf got the bad rap and took the blame for human assaults and murders.
In this early time when humankind lived off the land for their very survival, anything that threatened that effort was deemed as bad or negative. Wolves were plentiful in those days and it wasn’t unusual for a wolf pack to kill a sheep, cow or some other type of farm animal. While foxes were raiding the hen house, the wolf was in the pasture and both were making things harder on families to survive. Well not really, but they certainly thought so. The wolf was fulfilling its inner nature for survival and the trouble that caused set its reputation in stone with every tale and story it found itself in.
In very early times people told stories in which animals talk. By their actions the animals show how foolish or wise people can be. Folklore scholars think that fables probably originated among the Semitic peoples of the Middle East. The tales spread to India and then west to Greece. But fables can be found in the literature of almost every country around the world. And scholars agree that they were spread through time and location by oral retelling and not necessarily through the written word. But there is still written evidence of their importance and longevity.
Many fables go back to an ancient Sanskrit collection from India called ‘Pancatantra’ (Five Chapters). These stories were told and retold through many generations. Eventually they reached Greece and were captured in the hearts and minds of nearly everyone who heard them.
The Greeks added detail and action to the stories. They became more than simple lessons about life and how you should treat each other. They became entertainment, a time to use the imagination and escape the hardships of the world for a time.
The greatest teller of fables was Aesop. He was believed to be a slave in ancient Greece around 550BCE. His stories are simple moral lessons illustrated usually by the actions and speech of animals. Some of his best-known fables are
- “The Lion and the Mouse”
- “The Fox and the Stork”
- “The Hare and the Tortoise”
- “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”
- “The Fox and the Grapes”
- “The Frogs Desiring a King”
- “The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf”
When Babrius set down fables from the Aesopica in verse for a Hellenistic Prince “Alexander,” he expressly stated at the head of Book II that this type of “myth” that Aesop had introduced to the “sons of the Hellenes” had been an invention of “Syrians” from the time of “Ninos” (personifying Nineveh to Greeks) and Belos (“ruler”). ~ Wikipedia – Fables.
Today we’ve had several hundred years of scholars writing down and researching fables. In some cases that’s a good thing as there may be some tales that would have been lost to time had they not been recorder in earlier centuries. But writing them down also means the great art of storytelling has also been lost to some degree. Before movies, radio, TV and all those electronic devices, people sat in the parlor at night and entertained each other with oral stories.
I wonder how many home spun tales have been lost to time. A few decades ago, my sister, her kids and I took a beach vacation trip together. The kids were under 10 at the time and reading a nightly bedtime story was an important ritual for them. I remember the three of them laying on their bed in the hotel room listening to me make up a story that was loosely based on Hansel and Gretel, but with my niece and nephew as the main characters.
At one point in my homespun tale, I had the kids walking across a bridge over a deep ditch where a gentle stream passed under its creaky boards. Their footsteps were quiet as they walked some what quickly across the tiny bridge. As they reached the far side, they both sighed with relief feeling as though they made it out of the spooky forest in one peace….when all of the sudden out jumped a nasty troll!!
With just the right inflection and hurried beat, with a little animation from my hands and face as it was being told, caused all three of them to jump with fright. I expected it from the kids, but when my sister also jumped, I cracked up and we all spent the next few minutes laughing at each other. I don’t remember if I ever finished that story, but the memory of it will always live on.
When my own son came into the world we would read books each night at bedtime. It gave me the opportunity to make up stories for him to fall asleep to in which he was always the main character. Sitting outside floating in our lake has also proven to be a good place to share some made up stories. Typically they had something to do with the wild life in and around the lake. And as he has grown up, he began making up and telling his own stories as we floated on the waves as the boats pass by us. Sometimes they’re about boats lost at sea, or planes that fly both above and under the water.
Telling stories has always been a favorite hobby of mine. Perhaps it comes from when I was a kid, my family and I took a trip ‘down home’ to see relatives in east Tennessee. My Dad was born on West Main Street in a little town called Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee. It’s also home to the International Storytelling Center. They describe themselves as an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering people across the world to accomplish goals and make a difference by discovering, capturing, and sharing their stories.
Each year they hold a storytelling festival that is truly one of the most entertaining experiences I remember growing up and visiting back home. I love that place. If you ever have a chance to take a vacation to some place new and beautiful, I strongly suggest going to Jonesborough during their annual event.
And if you’re interested in find a few fables to share with your family and kids, check out the online collection of Aesop’s Fables. Or perhaps you might like to discover the online library from Project Gutenberg, the first producer of free ebooks. My favorite section of their library is their collection of Fairy Tales. You can even find an edition of Aesop’s Fables there too.
Tell your tales and share your stories. Record them if you like to keep their memories alive for your future generations. But even if you can’t make a record of them, don’t let that stop you from using your imagination and telling your fables.
© 1997-2014 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D., Springwolf’s Kosmos. All Rights Reserved.