Whenever we hear the word fable, a few pictures come to mind. We either see a duo with these animals or objects: grasshopper and ants, a lion and a mouse, a thistle and an oak tree, or perhaps most famous pair of all, a tortoise and a hare. All these come from a single book and author: the legendary Aesop and his Aesopica or otherwise called the Aesop’s fables. These books are not only highly revered as historical text; they also are essential pieces of academic text. The lessons explicitly stated in the pages of these books are also a look at the ethics and morality of people during the time of Aesop.
That said, fables are not limited to the works of Aesop. Other authors also gave writing more prescient fables during their time. Some of the more famous non-Aesop ones include the Ugly Duckling by Hann Christen Anderson. Another is a more prescient book about society today, and that is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. These books are fables through and through. Although the former is much longer than the usual length, they all carry important lessons. For Ugly Duckling, it is the more personal lesson of accepting everyone despite their looks. For Animal Farm, it is about the perils of politics, tyrants, and the dangers of becoming what you sought to destroy. It is another beast of a fable all together.
In the current and more modern era, we have Caroleann Rice, as well as many others who write fables for a more traditional audience, the children, in mind. Honduran writer Augusto Monterroso Bonilla who died in 2003, wrote fables to satirize the politics of his adopted nationality, Guatemala. Along with other authors and compilers of ancient folk stories, fables have not slowed down in popularity throughout history.
Why We Read Fables
Whenever we are just starting to study about literature, chances are, some of the earlier stories we are told to read are fables. Be it one of the multitudes of stories from either Aesop or the Grimm brothers, or it is one fable that has been orally passed from generation to generation in local culture, younger children will be introduced to fables one way or the other. They’re not too bad either. Since most fables are made for children, they make for easy reading, especially at that age.
Fables also contain moral lessons, usually found in the end. It is a requirement for fables, after all. Curiously, however, most of these lessons share similarities, even if they come from a different culture. Hence, fables helped make the ancient world a smaller one as they served the crucial role of suggesting a shared history among different cultures.
It is important to remember that most characters of a fable are animals. This adds a layer of relatability to all stories. Gone are the barriers created by culture and race when relating to any main character. Take, for example, the story of the tortoise and the hare. Since both characters are animals, whenever we talk about representation, then we do not need to worry about the skin color of the characters. I am sure that Asian, black, and white kids will be able to relate to both the tortoise and hare, and It is a given that kids would rather always want to be the tortoise more times than they choose to be the hare.
With shared universal truths and characters that mostly do not know boundaries, fables can become windows to different cultures. Fables around the world can often be similar enough to share the same lessons but different enough that they can breed curiosity toward other cultures. This healthy curiosity can become the roots of a healthy understanding between different cultures. Further down the road, this will lead to the broadening of more horizons. Thus, fables can help people appreciate other traditions and understand the ways different cultures see the world. Some might even adopt these ways as their personal views.
Lastly, fables are just good stories. There is a reason why some fables are called classics and why these classics have been told time and time again. It is because these are lovely stories. Some of these stories are so malleable that they can be retold from many different angles yet still retain the essence of what made them unique.
Still, despite their age, there are many things fables from across the world can teach us. Hence we should be grateful for them and continue to appreciate them.