Broken Aesop: Literature

  • Animorphs #28: The Experiment: slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants are evil, terrifying places. Wow, that burger you're eating looks delicious. Can you get me one while you're up?
    • The last chapter, where they get burgers, was written by Applegate, who hated what the ghostwriter had done with the book.
  • In-universe example: In The Barsoom Project, sequel to Dream Park, a live-action adventure about Inuit mythology is re-staged as a "Fat Ripper", in which players are psychologically conditioned to overcome their eating disorders and other dependencies while completing their mission. This could've been a real coup for the Park's operators, if one of the game's challenges hadn't required them to smoke cigarettes as part of a magical ritual. So we're training Gamers to trade one unhealthy habit for another, are we?
  • In the Disney Fairies book, "Beck Beyond the Sea," Beck shirks her duties to follow the Explorer Birds, using special dust from Vidia in order to fly fast enough. Turns out that Vidia tricked Beck twice over, first by not giving her as much dust as promised, and second by using Beck's absence to pluck feathers from Mother Dove. At the end of the book, Vidia is punished for this, but Beck is not even reprimanded for leaving her post.
  • Browns Pine Ridge Stories: Gary is dreading over the prospect of the Dodge Dart he disliked being the one his father would buy, but then he arrives with a Ford Starliner instead. The aesop at the end of this chapter is, to quote Gary, "Never give up and maybe the ugly ducklings you're expecting will become beautiful swans." No where in the story does it involve any action on the part of the protagonist himself to change an unenviable outcome. It would be hoped that it was intended as a Spoof Aesop and not one meant to be taken seriously.
  • The Candy Shop War has a pretty loud aesop, to the extent that John even states it, after having written it out for everyone in chalk. DON'T TAKE CANDY FROM STRANGERS! Great, but the kids don't take candy from random creeps on the side of the road. They get candy from a woman who owns a candy shop and a man who runs an icecream truck, having either paid for them or worked to earn them.
  • Older Than Print: Chaucer parodies this trope in The Canterbury Tales, by having the despicable, avaricious pardoner's tale turn out to be a Broken Aesop about how terrible greed is.
  • The Dutch book The Chatroom Trap tries to convey the Aesop that Chatrooms are dangerous place for underage users, by having Floor and Marcia, two 15 years old girls, doing a lot of dumb things in chatroom, culminating in Marcia posing naked for various persons. The catch is, all of this has no negative consequences whatsoever (even Marcia's naked photos are kept in private). Instead, the reason the girls are targeted by the criminals (which leads to them being molested) is that they post their profile on a (legit) site for aspiring models, with the entire baiting process happening via E-Mails.
  • John Wyndham novel The Chrysalids initially has quite a powerful message against racism and xenophobia, being set in a backwards, post-apocalyptic theocracy in which mutants are brutally murdered for blaspheming against the likeness of God. Too bad the apparent message is fatally undermined in the last ten pages or so by having an airship full of technologically advanced mutants to rescue the heroes by cheerfully massacring all of the primitive people surrounding them while talking about how it is moral and good for inferior races to be killed by their superiors.
    • An alternative interpretation is that the telepaths are the visionary elements of the counterculture, while the "normal" people are oldthinkers and the mutant tribe are the mass of stoners, drop-outs, and wastrels in the counterculture. The message then becomes that neither ordinary people nor visionaries should fear the counterculture, but that ultimately the ordinary people and the drop-outs are dead-ends, and the visionaries need to just wait for them to die. John Wyndham's stories tend to hover somewhere between Metaphorgotten and mixed metaphor, which means you can find a lot of different messages, sometimes even several at once..
  • Tom Godwin's short story The Cold Equations attempts to tell An Aesop about the uncaring nature of the universe, and how even an innocent mistake can cost a life, with no fault but that of universal law. Unfortunately, the basic thrust is undercut because of the setup of the situation. The only protection to keep someone from walking onto a spaceship where stowaways meet certain death is a sign saying "UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL. KEEP OUT!" This is especially bad, because it's flat-out stated that stowaways have happened before — indeed, the pilot of the ship has a gun and explicit orders to shoot them — yet the entire situation is treated as the fault of nothing but the physical laws of the universe. Readers are left to wonder why the craft had absolutely zero margin for error when modern lifeboats and transport craft are capable of handling far more than their generally required loads.
  • One of the lessons in Dr. Seuss' Daisy-Head Mayzie is "What good is money without all your friends?". Wait, friends? You mean those bratty children who taunted her in school about her daisy (which was every single one of them, by the way. No one defended her!). And while the adults didn't torment her, they didn't exactly stick up for her either. Oh, but suddenly they all love her again once she's back to normal, so... yay for conformity? I think there's a reason Dr. Seuss didn't get this published initially.
  • The four book series The Dreamers has a powerful one at the end. The series appears to build on the Aesop that the gods are supposed to barely affect people and use their powers sparingly and let things go naturally; so, after the gods are given children, who are their replacements, who are said to be able to save the world, they collect people from around the planet to help them fight off a Hive Mind force of super insects. How is the Aesop broken? During the last two chapters of the last book, the new gods in turn go back in time, render the original Hive Mother infertile, and give the man who almost single-handedly won the war because the loss of his wife caused him not to care about dying and made him want unending revenge his wife back. All this actively Unmakes all four books, and the main character's life is removed from existence. Now, that is first-class meddling!
  • Eight Cousins criticizes adventure books where, supposedly, boy protagonists become rich by finding a treasure or get adopted by a millionaire because he happened to find and return the millionaire's purse. Why can't we have wholesome books that teach children the value of hard work? Fair enough, but Eight Cousins itself has a heroine who is a rich heiress through no action of her own, and she "adopts" a poor orphan girl as her sister just because she sings beautifully and delivered an encouraging talk to the protagonist. "Write as I say, not as I write"?
  • Orson Scott Card's Empire is about the dangers of divisiveness in American political discourse and the evils of extremism at both ends of the political spectrum. Fair enough. Unfortunately, it's fatally undermined by the fact that the heroes all unambiguously share "Red State values" whereas the villains are a bunch of craven liberals. Er, if the message is that people of both political opinions should work together, you probably shouldn't have all the protagonists be on one side of the aisle, and all the villains on the other like that...
  • The Fountainhead has the problem that Howard Roark gives a massive Character Filibuster about how collective action is evil and real men think and work alone. Howard Roark is an architect. Working alone, all he can produce is wallpaper.
    • The book also has the message that all charity is evil, until the end, when Roark only succeeds in his dream because of his rich friend's charity. The friend even says that the one purpose of his fortune is to help someone like Roark, completely undermining the "people should live for themselves only" Aesop. The actual Aesop of the book seems to be "Howard Roark is awesome and everyone should do whatever he wants them to", or alternatively "Charity is a stupid and ultimately harmful sentiment...unless you're the one getting it, in which case take all you can get."
  • Kevin J. Anderson arguably did this well in Hopscotch. One of the parallel story threads follows a girl who joins an increasingly abusive cult whose founder is obsessed with the idea of sharing everything—this being a soft sci-fi story, this includes sharing bodies. The group is quickly set up to be "bad," and the girl is forced out of it and forced to leave her original body behind. She finds another leader-type to follow, a fellow who claims that body-swapping is bad and should never be practiced, and he gets a lengthy Character Filibuster on the subject. The astute reader might notice that this moral is actively contradicted in the other story threads, so it seems like a broken aesop. Later on, however, she discovers that her original body is dead, and gets to decide whether or not to trade for a body similar, but not identical, to the one she had. For a few seconds, she considers which choice would be more in line with the precepts she's adopted—then she realizes that she's still blindly doing whatever she's told, and for the first time in the book, she makes her decision based on her own instincts rather than someone else's advice.
  • According to The Host free will is more important than a utopia, and living parasitically in a host body is immoral. Which is why Wanderer gets moved against her express wishes into a different host body, ruining another alien's happy life in the process.
  • Racial prejudice is a recurring theme in The Icewind Dale Trilogy, The Dark Elf Trilogy, and the Legacy of the Drow Series by R.A. Salvatore. Drizzt Do'Urden is a Chaotic Good dark elf who rejects the ways of his otherwise Always Chaotic Evil people and goes to live among the "good" races. He is subjected to Fantastic Racism, which would work better as an analogue to Real Life racism if every other dark elf in the series weren't evil (Jarlaxle Baenre is more mercenary than outright evil, though; his canonical alignment varies between Neutral Evil and Chaotic Neutral) and if drow society as a whole were portrayed as misunderstood by the "good" races. The racists are still right 99% of the time.
    • Compounding this moral is the fact that Drizzt is a dark elf - a member of a race with a powerful and advanced (if dysfunctional) society, physically-attractive and looking no different from a regular elf bar Palette Swap, and possessing agelessness, enhanced skill and reflexes, and low-level magic powers. Races like orcs, goblins, and kobolds, which possess none of these things, are shown exactly the same way they are in every other D&D book ever - i.e. ugly, murderous, stupid, barbaric cannon fodder, and the few times he does try to extend mercy to them, it's treated as na´vetÚ.
  • I Was a Teenage Fairy, by Francesca Lia Block: tattooing your lover's name on your chest is stupid, especially if you fail to learn from it and do it twice more - but the fourth time is okay, because now it's really true love.
  • The book Lady in Waiting states first that a single woman was encouraged to pursue a doctorate, and that the spirit-filled woman is interesting and has goals for herself. But later it says that seeking fulfillment through a career is wrong and that a single woman should only seek fulfillment in serving God in whatever way, method, location, and time God wants.
  • In Little Men, Nat is caught telling a lie, and this is treated as a very serious issue and resolved with a cruel and unusual punishment. The problem is, a much older boy was threatening to beat the crap out of him if he'd ran through the boy's veggie patch - which he'd done because he was being chased by another older boy - so Nat got scared and denied it. And neither of the other boys were punished or even given a talking-to, leaving us with the message that lying to get out of a dangerous situation is not only wrong, but so much worse than threatening and bullying little kids who aren't able to defend themselves. Whoo, moralizing.
    • And in the first book, we have Amy burning Jo's book out of anger... cue Jo getting angry at her and being admonished for it.
  • In Martin Lake's A Love Most Dangerous, which focuses on a fictional mistress of Henry VIII, the Aesop is supposed to be "Be true to yourself and you will be happy." Fine—except that Alice Petherton is happy at the beginning before she is stalked and nearly raped by Sir Richard Rich. Even her threat to stick a pin in his eye doesn't stop him for long, and no matter who she goes to for help, no one will lift a finger against Rich. Alice then gets involved with the king (on the grounds that he will be able to protect her from Rich, who is very powerful), and all goes swimmingly until she begs Henry to spare a man whom Henry had condemned to death for following his own orders. As a result, Henry banishes her from the palace, and Rich takes advantage of the situation in a vicious way. At the end, Alice is back at court, back in the king's favor (having decided to be much more agreeable and never contradict the king) and is finally profiting from being the king's mistress. So the real moral seems to be "Always tell men exactly what they want to hear, because if you refuse them or contradict them, they will hurt you."
  • The Scottish childen's book Max Power and the Bagpipes is about a family who run a wind farm, intended to provide the Green Aesop that renewable energy is awesome ... except that in order to provide a story, the actual message becomes "wind power is chancy and unreliable, unless you have magic bagpipes that can make the wind blow harder".
  • Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy is most infamous for its Deus ex Machina ending, but the story (particularly the third book) also attempts to promote an anti-racism message, with the Possessed as a metaphor for victims of bigotry. Unfortunately, this message is sort of lost when the victims of oppression are body-snatching ghosts who use rape and torture to increase their numbers.
  • The Poisonwood Bible: The author goes to very great lengths to show that judging people without trying to understand where they're coming from is bad... but then paints all Americans as greedy, materialistic pigs, except for her Author Avatars. Needless to say, it does little for the message of tolerance.
    • The ending of the book in general is pretty bad about this. For the first 200 pages, both Americans and Africans are portrayed as having flaws and strengths... and then the author decides to make Americans the Always Chaotic Evil described above and paints Africans as saints who only ever do anything bad because they were corrupted by white people.
  • Race Against Time by Piers Anthony attempts An Aesop on how having a lot of different cultures is a good thing, but it gets broken by a moral on how you shouldn't mix romantically with other races.
  • In the Riftwar saga we get hammered about how the end doesn't justify the means, and that evil actions are irrational, by the heroes. Then they start torturing enemies, in full knowledge of this being evil, in the name of the greater good.
  • Save The Pearls is a somewhat controversial novel that is — ostensibly — a fable about the foolishness of racism, set in a world where an environmental catastrophe has left melanin content as a prized thing, with blacks on top and whites on the bottom, with an interracial romance to drive home the point. What it is, however, is a novel where white people are called "Pearls" and blacks are called "Coals," the white female lead starts off severely uncomfortable around black people (to the point of using slurs like "haughty Coal" in inner monologue), white people often wear blackface to "pass," the white lead is threatened with rape at the hands of a giant black man, and the love story is described as a "Beauty and the Beast" fable (and the black love interest turns into a beast thanks to genetic engineering).
  • The Sweet Valley High series (and its numerous spinoffs) ran on the power of hypocrisy. If "bad" twin Jessica dated a different boy every night, she was blasted for being promiscuous, but if "good" twin Elizabeth cheated on her boyfriend, it was glossed over to the point where HE was apologizing to HER. If Jessica acted stuck-up, she was a heartless bitch, but if Elizabeth did the same thing, she must have a good reason for it. Additionally, Elizabeth would practically demand that HER friends be forgiven for their misdeeds and given a chance to redeem themselves. Needless to say, she had no such compassion for any of Jessica's friends—not until big brother Steve blasts her for this does she even realize how insensitive and hypocritical she's being. An even better, if not outright literal, example of this trope is the fact that Jessica never once learned her lesson. She'd try to pull a zany scheme which would fall apart and leave her with egg on her face, but by the next book, would be doing it all over again, despite everyone under the sun warning her about what happened the last time.
    • With Jessica, the writers often seemed to confuse being mischievous with being a sociopath.
    • Never mind when Elizabeth was in an motorcycle accident at the end of one book, then in the next wakes out of her coma. She proceeds to act almost exactly like Jessica does -until she gets bonked on the head again, in a minor fall. She pops back to her normal self, gets forgiven by her boyfriend, and by everyone else. Jessica, who has spent the whole book picking up after Elizabeth's behavior, not only doesn't get any sort of apology or thanks, but is back to her normal self, no lesson learned or maturity earned, in the next book.
  • The first few books the Sword of Truth series have Richard being told that most people who end up doing great evil honestly believed that they were doing the right thing, and that unquestioning belief in the rightness of one's cause is the most dangerous thing in the world. Later on in the series, the author takes the opposite position: some things really are as simple as black and white, and if you really are Right, taking extreme measures when fighting against those who really are Evil is not only justifiable, but necessary. However, the protagonists end up doing some, well, morally questionable things in the process, to the point where the protagonists can end up looking like textbook examples of what the first few books warned against becoming.
    • Naked Empire, spends a good chunk of time preaching that you have to work for things, and that knowledge doesn't just come to you when you need it. In the last pages of the book, Richard's dying of poison and the knowledge of how to make the antidote just shows up in his head. Another particularly obvious one is the repeated exhortation to live your own life and think for yourself - but if you don't think Richard is right you're wrong, probably evil, and are going to die.
  • There are quite a few broken aesops in The Twilight Saga:
    • According to Word of God, the Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle was intended to show Bella's choice in the matter of love, namely that she had the option of Jacob but chose Edward. The "love through choice" moral is shot to hell through most of the other couples though, particularly in the case of imprinted couples (the guy can't help but feel attracted to the girl and while the girl technically is able to refuse him, there is a ton of pressure not to). Especially egregious is the case of Jacob, who made a number of speeches about how imprinting is essentially the loss of free will and he hopes to never have it and then finds himself happily imprinted on Renesmee, even though he absolutely hated her not five minutes prior.
      • Which kind of contradicts everything the author said about Jacob being an option since it's implied if not outright stated that Jacob's interest in Bella was apparently only due to him being subconsciously drawn to her because he was meant to imprint on Renesmee in the first place.
    • One aesop seems to be that a girl as plain and unassuming as Bella can find true love, but Bella's flaws fall mostly into the category of Informed Flaw, and are almost entirely removed at the end of the series. Not to mention, though Bella is intended to be plain and unassuming, nearly every man she runs into falls for her and Edward himself states that most of the boys in the school find her attractive. Clearly, not so plain. Bella's depiction on the film does not help, either... However, maybe the intended Aesop here was that if you hold off on sex until you get married and then die in childbirth, you will become a saint and absolutely perfect in every way.
    • The Cullens are portrayed as saintly vampires who value human life and therefore maintain a "vegetarian" diet of animal blood. But they never once object to other vampires killing humans - the closest they ever come is politely asking some non-veggie vamps who are staying with them to go out of town to feed, which has little to do with protecting human life and more to do with not blowing their cover. When there's a huge murder spree going on in Seattle caused by a vampire army, the Cullens never lift a finger to help until they realize the vampires are coming for them personally.
      • And worse still, some of the deaths the Cullens cause are glorified, the most obvious example being Rosalie murdering her fiance and his friends. This would otherwise be a pretty badass moment, if it weren't for the fact that Carlisle is supposed to be an absolute pillar of morality; if he's so moral, why did he stand by and allow his new adoptive daughter to murder humans, something he's so strongly against?
      • Also building on Carlisle's supposed status as a pillar of morality, the reason he saved Rosalie's life was he saw her lying raped and dying in the street and thought it would be a shame to let beauty such as hers go to waste. And then he tried to give her to Edward as a girlfriend.
      • In the first novel Edward briefly mentions that before he went full "vegetarian" he was sort of a vigilante vampire superhero; he would make meals out of muggers and rapists when they were in the middle of attacking someone. This is presented as wrong because he's inevitably still killing, despite the fact he would also often be saving people who would have otherwise been murdered, assaulted, or raped. The option of remaining a vigilante and just not feeding on the criminals he captures is never even considered.
  • Warrior Cats: When Firestar has to choose between reinstating his old deputy, Graystripe, or keeping Brambleclaw, StarClan tells Leafpool that Firestar should make his decision with his head, not his heart (oh so subtly hinting at Brambleclaw), completely ignoring all the times in the series characters have been told to listen to their heart or do what they feel is right. In fact, the whole reason Firestar chose Graystripe in the first place was because he was told to follow his heart.
  • Bowman, Kestrel, and their friend Mumpo spend the first Wind on Fire book learning that if they work together, they can make things happen and nothing can hurt them. In the book's two parallel plots, the twin's father convinces downtrodden people that they need to stand up and peacefully insist on being given their rights, and their mother makes her views heard and gets the town to listen to her and consider her ideas. Then... the MacGuffin shows up and makes it all better. Or at least makes them happy for the remainder of the book.
  • There's a children's poem about a little girl whose father brags that men are better drivers and are "built with speed and strength". He ends up driving his car straight into a truck and the poem starts to make a gender equality Aesop... which then gets completely broken by having the little girl remark "men are built with speed and strength but hardly any brains" showing she's just as sexist as her father.
  • Harry Potter: The series is largely centered around unity and tolerance. Specifically, unity and tolerance between pure-blood and half-blood wizards. Discrimination and segregation between them are always depicted as wrong. It also has the bad guys seeking to enslave non-magical people (aka Muggles) as an analogue to Nazism. This would all be fine and dandy, if it weren't for the fact that wizards (even the good ones) are highly guilty of separationism by hiding themselves and their society from muggles and rejecting their culture (the reason wizards are still stuck with medieval technology is that they're largely ignorant of modern technology and science due to their rejection of anything "Muggle"), and the books never portray this behavior as being wrong. Okay, being fair, many wizards believe in Muggles' rights, and some have interest in Muggle culture, and they have a study called Muggle Studies dedicated to it. But in those cases, this is treated almost as if dealing with an animal species and it's never done with the intention of integration. In other words, being a promoter of Muggle rights practically makes you the wizard of equivalent a PETA activist.
    • Rowling tried to justify this by stating that wizards are afraid of Muggles, and if Muggles found out about magic it probably would cause more trouble. So segregation is unavoidable in the Potterverse. Which... only enforces the broken nature of the Aesop.
    • If anything, the actions of the characters clearly show why Muggles and Wizards can't live happily. To wizards, things like Confounding driving test instructors and magicking exploding toilets and memory wipes are harmless little pranks or day-to-day minutiae — things that Muggles can't foresee or defend themselves from. And almost all of the Muggles that encounter magic in the series react to it with violence and hostility — the Dursleys' fear of magic makes them abuse Harry, Tom Riddle's father abandoned his pregnant wife when he found out she was a witch that had been drugging him with love potions and raping him until she believed that he really loved her back, at which point she stopped drugging him and he got the Hell away from his rapist, three Muggle boys abused Ariana Dumbledore so viciously that her brain was permanently affected. By this track record, the two races are dangerous to one another and shouldn't mix.
      • The reluctance of wizards to reveal themselves may be understandable in the backstory and the first books, but by the end of the saga said bad guys, a cabal of evil wizards intent on not simply segregating non-wizards, but to torment and terrorize them, does become a legitemate threat and then take over. That is still not treated as a reason enough for the good guys to at least warn the non-wiz population of danger and give them a fighting chance. Hell, the giants, a race explicitely called Always Chaotic Evil, is found worthy of an invitation to the alliance. But non-wizards? Not even once suggested.
    • As if that wasn't egregious enough, the series has House Elves, a race that is treated as slave servants of wizards. Their enslavement is never depicted as wrong, and the one person who is against it, Hermione, is treated as an annoying tree-hugging hippy. The closest the series goes to decrying the treatment of House Elves is saying that it's wrong to enslave them if you're an abusive master, not that it's wrong to enslave them. It also makes an argument that Elves enjoy serving wizards and abhor the attempts to free them, ignoring the fact that they're also conditioned to severely and bodily punish themselves for failing a task, which clearly indicates that they are not in control of their own minds, and strongly implies that their "enjoyment" of servitude is just as forced.
    • There's also the recurrent message that "It is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we really are." In other words, you are responsible for your destiny, and you determine the breadth of your achievements through your choices. Which would be a perfectly valid message, if not for the fact that, y'know...the entire series takes place in a prestigious School of Magic that you can only get into by being born with natural Magical abilities, and all of Wizarding society is built upon Magical abilities that can only be acquired by virtue of birth. From what we see in-series, they're an entirely random genetic mutation that the children of Muggles often develop at birth without regards to choice of any kind.
      • It is also diminished by the fact that the wizard society has a very tight and rigid social structure. Up until very recently if you were a mudblood you could forget reaching the top no matter how hard you tried.
  • Hobgoblin was written to cash in on the craze over Dungeons & Dragons players ostensibly going crazy and believing they were their characters. Scott, the main character, is portrayed as clinging to childish things by valuing his RPG sessions over more traditional high school pursuits. When given a chance, he starts emulating his bloodthirsty Celtic warrior character. And... by doing so, he saves the lives of multiple people and goes on to be more well-adjusted than his peers.
  • Somewhat Subverted in /Emily The Strange Stranger And Stranger. Despite all the trouble caused by her duplication device, Emily still wants to get it working again, though this time with better safeguards.
  • In Blood Promise, Dimitri is turned into a Strigoi, a Fate Worse Than Death. Rose is deeply hurt by this and abandons her education to trek through Russia so she can stake him, and thereby find closure. It's a long and dangerous journey that ends with Rose learning that she has to let go of Dimitri's memory and return to her friends and family, because mourning him in such a obsessive way sabotages her own life. It's a good lesson that is shot to hell by the book's closing chapter, which reveals that Spirit wielders have a completely unforeshadowed ability that allows them to resurrect Strigoi as the people they were, despite nothing else in the books even hinting that was possible. And after she learns this, Rose turns right back around and vows to get Dimitri resurrected this way, even planning to break a serial killer out of prison so it can happen!
  • This is as old as The Bible. The Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians which was wrong, then they got their own country where they proceeded to... own slaves. And no, it wasn't strictly as a punishment. Apparently the moral is "don't mess with this particular group of people".
  • Kaala, protagonist of The Wolf Chronicles, spends the entire series being bullied and manipulated by its various chessmasters. There is much talk about how she can't trust anybody- even her allies- to tell her the whole truth, and must fight for her independence. Then in the finale she...suddenly trusts one of these chessmasters (Gaanan) to safeguard the future of humanity? Even though he's lied to her before? Even though she has no reason to believe he's being honest now? Really?