What Is a Fable and Why Is It Written?
The fable is one of the most enduring forms of folk literature, spread abroad, modern researchers agree, less by literary anthologies than by oral transmission. Fables can be found in the literature of almost every country. A Fable is a short story with a moral, or lesson. Fables feature anthropomorphized animals which represent some quality (the fox=cunning, the donkey=stupidity, etc) and natural elements as main characters.
Traditionally, fables are written to teach children their culture’s appropriate behavior and values, but there are some exceptions. For example, George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm has some characteristics of a fable, even though it was a satire written for adults. An author of fables is termed a “fabulist,” and the word “fabulous,” strictly speaking, “pertains to a fable or fables.” In recent decades, however, “fabulous” has come frequently to be used in the quite different meaning of “excellent” or “outstanding.
The earliest and most famous Western fables come from the famous fabulist Aesop, who wrote in ancient Greece. In ancient Greek education, students were taught fables and encouraged to make up and recite their own. Some of Aesop’s fables originate from India during the first millennium BCE.
Fables have a long European history. In the seventeenth century, French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine was inspired by Aesop to write fables that satirized the church, the court, and the ruling class of the time. De la Fontaine considered the moral to be the core element of the fable. Many European writers were inspired by de la Fontaine, including the Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov.
Some examples of the most famous fables include:
The lion and the mouse. A lion catches a mouse, who begs to be let go. The mouse promises to repay the lion in exchange for his life. The lion agrees and lets the mouse go. A few days later, the mouse comes upon the lion trapped in a hunter’s net, and, remembering the lion’s mercy, gnaws on the rope until the lion is free. The moral of the story is: “A kindness is never wasted.”
The tortoise and the hare. The tortoise and the hare enter a footrace. The hare jeers at the tortoise, remarking how naturally he is so much faster than the slow tortoise. During the race, the hare takes several long breaks and wastes time relaxing between quick sprints. Meanwhile, the tortoise chugs steadily along. In the end, the tortoise wins. The moral of the story is: “Slow and steady wins the race.”