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Alternate Aesop Interpretation

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Yeah, you've kinda got a point there, kid.

Bashir: But the point [of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"] is, if you lie all the time, nobody's going to believe you, even when you're telling the truth.
Garak: Are you sure that's the point, Doctor?
Bashir: Of course; what else could it be?
Garak: That you should never tell the same lie twice.

A Sister Trope to Alternative Character Interpretation, this refers to when the entire moral message of a story is subject to a strong kind of Fridge Logic. As in, while the characters may interpret the Aesop a certain specific way and the writer has also intended for the audience to see it as such, the audience may end up scratching their heads and noting that if the characters had followed a different course of action, they could have avoided most of the complications of the story just as easily.

Again, interpretations are not entirely official and/or logical. It also doesn't have to be a Broken or Clueless Aesop if the realization is positive, although it certainly can be.

Sometimes leads to Unfortunate Implications. For the weasel-worded, Accentuate the Negative troper version, see Warp That Aesop. An in-universe version can be a Spoof Aesop. If an Aesop's overt message is subverted by the story, it's a Broken Aesop, which some (but not all) of the examples below may be.


See also Accidental Aesop, for when An Aesop isn't intended, but fans manage to find one anyway. May involve Glurge.


    open/close all folders 

  • There was a commercial for Glade candles that showed a woman peeling the "Glade" label off her candle and claiming it was a fancy, expensive candle, getting foiled only by the fact that the label stuck to her skirt when she tried to throw it away. The intended message was "Glade candles are of such good quality that they could be mistaken for a more high-end candle." The message many people got from the ad was "Our customers are ashamed to admit that they use our product."
  • If it weren't for the "be safe around trains" line at the end, the Aesop of Dumb Ways to Die would be generally interpreted as "doing foolish things can get you killed, use common sense". Also, since a lot of animal deaths were included, there's the message "have a healthy respect for wildlife".

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Episode 11 of Cowboy Bebop, "Toys in the Attic," an Alternative Aesop was acknowledged after Jet lost his money (and clothes) in a card game with Faye. The Aesop he learns from it is that people can achieve something only by honesty and hard work. Faye, however, sees it as a proof that everyone is out for themselves and only the smartest and strongest can survive. Throughout the episode, each character offers their own potential moral for the situation. By far the most sensible is Spike's take: "Don't leave things in the fridge." Another interpretation of Jet's situation at the beginning might be "Don't gamble against someone who you know cheats".
  • Naruto:
    • The Pain Invasion arc. Was it supposed to be about The Power of Friendship, or, rather, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall"?
    • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto's author, explained in an interview with Viz Media's Shonen Jump that the overall message of the series is that using violence to stop conflicts is wrong and that revenge only causes greater revenge. While violence is portrayed in a less than totally glamorous manner in Naruto, and villains commonly use peace as an excuse for their plans, it does seem to go against the impulsive, always-eager-to-fight nature of its protagonist. Given how the outlandish superpowers and elaborate fight sequences are a big part of the draw, it also smacks of Do Not Do This Cool Thing.
  • The moral of the Gundam franchise is supposedly War Is Hell but viewers have often wondered if the real moral is "Causing a war is bad, yes. But fighting a war defensively and against those who caused it, can be flat out heroic."
  • In Bakuman。, the main characters read "Classroom of Truth," which deconstructs various shonen tropes such as The Power of Friendship by, among other things, suggesting everyone is only looking out for themselves. However, they notice that the selfish characters died first, and wonder if it, in a way, is meant to promote cooperation.
  • Monster Musume has the usual 'bigotry is bad' aesop. It also shows, by the establishment of various flourishing extraspecies businesses, that legal immigration is excellent for the economy.
    • The introduction of Black Lily and the Broker shows us how (non-)human trafficking is rarely what the term makes us perceive it as, and same with its "resource gathering" if it is considered analogous to "sex work". It also shows that, in many ways, the problems in both institutions can be chalked up to the government regulating them without understanding them.
  • Although in Japan Beastars is supposed to be a commentary on shifting sexual dynamics, especially in regards to the relationship between the unassertive, carnivore male wolf Legoshi and the sexually liberated herbivore rabbit girl Haru, in the United States, the series is interpreted to be about race relations - especially since it became popular on the heels of Zootopia, an American animated movie that does use the carnivore/herbivore dichotomy as a metaphor for race relations.
  • The dub of Pokémon: The First Movie changes the Aesop to "Fighting is wrong!" This doesn't make sense in a franchise that revolves around battling, but works a lot better when viewed as about the distinction between safe, voluntary, properly regulated fighting and the brutal fights to the death that Mewtwo is forcing on the Pokémon.
  • Banished from the Hero's Party, which is set in a world where a God-given Blessing determines your status from birth, attempts to teach Screw Destiny by showing the protagonists going against their Blessings to live a peaceful and happy life in the countryside, and teaching others to do the same in turn. However, Blessings are not just a job or a societal role—they are also a fundamental part of each person that determines his or her unique set of powers as well. For example, Ruti is not the legendary Hero fated to defeat Maou the Demon King and his armies because society said so, but because she is the only person blessed with the power to actually do it. As a result, the protagonists leaving the front lines where their unique gifts and skills were needed to fight off the demon crisis in order to pursue their own happiness running a farm or apothecary ends up affecting many people whose lives are now presumably more at risk, and comes off as incredibly selfish and callous act. In other words, the aesop instead comes across as "ignore your duties if they don't make you happy and follow your dreams no matter what, even if it makes things worse for countless others".
  • Sayaka's storyline in Madoka Magica contained the specific message that you aren't entitled to the love of others but also the more broad message of "You shouldn't sacrifice so much for the sake of another, especially if you can't be sure that's what they want." Several episodes later we see at least two more clear examples of characters sacrificing a great deal for the sake of one other person who is currently incapable of protesting (Kyouko dying along with Oktavia so Sayaka doesn't die alone and Homura's...well, everything). Both are considered tragic, but also depicted positively by virtue of being selfless. So now the message is "Grand personal sacrifices for others - including, but not limited to, literal suicide - are totally cool as long as you don't want anything in return."

    Comic Books 
  • Tricked is a graphic novel in which we find out at the end of the story that the moral the surviving characters took from the plot was "guns are bad". But, the access Steve had to his deceased grandfather's guns was just dumb luck. Steve himself didn't know whether his grandmother had gotten rid of the guns until he was already there. By contrast, Steve's mental illness and erratic behavior was observed and commented upon by several characters in the story, but they all decide it's not their issue and let Steve go on his merry way. In terms of preventing the situation that makes up the climax of the book, better mental health awareness probably would have been a lot more help than gun control advocacy.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, Usagi's master tells a young Usagi the story of the Honest Axe, and asks him to interpret the moral. Since the villager received the gold axe, young Usagi proclaims the answer to be "honesty will be rewarded". His master points out that a gold axe is useless in cutting wood, and the villager died the next winter. The lesson the master learned is "beware the gifts of those who bear you a grudge", which misses the tale's point entirely. Useless for cutting wood though the axe may be, being of solid gold, it can be melted down for a considerable amount of money.
  • While ostensibly a Take That! towards Darker and Edgier plots filled with Corrupt Corporate Executives and politicians, Ed Brubaker's Tom Strong story "The Terrible True Life of Tom Strong", where Tom finds himself in a dream world where his usual enemies are goverment agents hiding his existence from the world can also be read as a criticism of conspiracy theorists - Tom breaks out of his coma when he realizes that no world could be so completely controlled by hidden agendas and corrupt cabals.
  • ElfQuest: In Jink, the Neverending have strict class borders, and intermarriage between them is explicitly forbidden. The God-Emperor tells Jink and Kullyn a story of a warrior from a noble clan that "twined" with a woman from a lower class. When they're found out, the warrior suicides, followed by his beloved once she bears their child. Her last words are to beg the father's clan to take the infant in, and they do. The child grows to be a mighty warrior and excellent scholar, far surpassing all others. Kullyn (correctly) interprets the story as ostensibly upholding cultural mores, but in reality invoking an alternate Aesop and undermining those mores, planting the seed that cross-class children are extraordinary -and resulting in a wider gene pool for the Neverending.

    Fairytales and Folklore 
  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf:
    • While the intended moral is "Don't tell lies", the structure of the story itself makes "Never tell the same lie twice" a more easily deduced moral. Also, even liars can tell the truth sometimes and you win nothing by ignoring a call for help.
    • From the pragmatic point of view, the aesop of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is "better safe than sorry." Hell, the boy is basically the inventor of training alert!
    • "Don't trust known liars—especially children—with important responsibilities, such as watching sheep."
    • Also: "A broken clock is right twice a day" in regards to false positives. From the villagers' point of view, the moment they stopped caring about the boy's cries altogether was the moment they had no security at all for the sheep.
    • Combining the above interpretations: if your lookout keeps acting up, fire that stupid kid and get somebody competent and honest to do the job instead.
  • The Ugly Duckling:
    • The Ugly Duckling can be reasonably interpreted as meaning that people change over time, so how they are now doesn't tell you how they are later. It's often interpreted as about not discriminating against others based on their appearance - but this ends up a Broken Aesop when the duckling becomes an attractive swan in the end, with the implication that if he'd stayed ugly all the discrimination against him would have been fine. Also, cygnets aren't particularly ugly. The duckling only thought he was ugly because he was wrong about what species he actually was. So how can this be applied to humans? "You might think you're an ugly human child now, but you could turn out to be a handsome gorilla".
    • A more useful way to look at it might be an acknowledgment that different times and cultures have different standards of beauty. A person considered ugly as sin in their native culture might be found to be drop-dead-gorgeous in another (the ancient Greeks, for example, were so big on women with freaking UNIBROWS that women would give themselves fake ones using animal hairs and wax!). In other words, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
  • The Tortoise and the Hare is normally interpreted as, "Slow and steady wins the race," but depending on the telling, it can be taken as, "Don't succumb to hubris when you have a clear advantage." Many examples, from American political elections to the Console Wars, bear this moral out pretty well.
    • In some versions, the Tortoise outright cheats - there are multiple tortoises or the tortoise rides on the hare. In these cases the moral is "Brains over Brawn", but one can read it as "It's OK to cheat"; although for the latter in turn given the Hare's boastful arrogance, the moral would qualify as "It's fine to cheat if it teaches someone a lesson" or from the Hare's view "Beng a rude jerk means no one will listen to you and play by your rules".
  • The Grasshopper and the Ants:
    • In addition to the obvious moral about producing for a living rather than spending all your time playing, one moral could be "If you're going to spend your time doing art, get paid to do it." It wouldn't have killed the grasshopper to find some paying customers for his musical performances. The Disney version, in order to create a happy ending, explicitly has the Queen Ant allow the grasshopper to stay with the ants in exchange for playing music to them. Even though he then sings about how he was wrong before, this ends up completely flipping the Aesop into two bizarre directions: if you see the grasshopper singing and playing previously as his necessary practice, it's the valid (but unusual) moral "just because something doesn't look like work to you, doesn't mean it isn't". If you see the grasshopper as just a natural musician who was just at leisure and not striving to improve at music, it's "some people, by virtue of natural talent, will just never have to do anything like work".
    • This is made doubly ironic by the grasshopper's song having the lyrics "oh, the world owes us a living". After being saved by the ants, he changes it to "oh, I owe the world a living"...even though the ants now actually are effectively paying him his living in exchange for the song.
    • In many versions of the classic fable, they have until winter to build shelter or they will freeze (or starve, interpretations vary). The ant survives and the grasshopper doesn't. The audience is supposed to conclude "Grasshopper bad, work good." It may also occur to some listeners that even with preparations, winter is terrible to live through. Your best case scenario if the grasshopper did work is 6-9 months of hard labor (rarely is the length of "winter" or "summer" specified) 3-6 months of hiding under a rock in misery, then death anyways. "Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" takes on a whole new meaning.
  • Bluebeard:
    • The intended message of Bluebeard is "being curious is wrong" but it fails when the Bluebeard's wife survives being caught and eventually is rewarded with a better husband. Many argue that "Be curious!" or "Be curious but cautious" (because the lady drops the key in the blood) would be a more appropriate moral. Other alternate interpretations are "don't marry a serial killer" and "don't give your wife/potential victim the key to your red room."
    • In a variation of the Bluebeard tale, "Fitcher's Bird", where the husband is a sorcerer or giant and makes women marry him, the wife is given an egg and a key. The elder sisters drop the egg in the blood, but the third leaves the egg in the kitchen, sees the mess, rescues her sisters, and makes her way home after setting up a trap to kill the giant. Being curious and clever saved the day.
  • Everyone knows the intended lesson of the expression "The early bird gets the worm," but what does this mean from the worm's point of view? He got up early and he died. So much for being early. Shel Silverstein summarized it thusly: "If you're a bird, be an early bird, but if you're a worm, sleep late."
    • "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." We know what that's supposed to mean, but what about this maxim from the cheese's point of view? Go down fighting, and at least take one of them down with you.
  • An alternative Aesop for The Pied Piper of Hamelin would be "Always ask for your money up front before doing anything." In the case of Hamelin it could be "Don't make promises you don't intend to keep", or more narrowly "Always pay your contractors".
  • In "The Satyr and the Peasant", the satyr kicks the peasant out of his home for blowing hot and cold in the same breath (hot when he's trying to warm his cold hands, cold when he's trying to cool off his hot soup), therefore proving himself untrustworthy. Some people have noted the peasant's breath is obviously the same temperature both times and the satyr, not being human, has never seen a man blow on his hands or his soup before, making the lesson "The ignorant fear what they don't understand."
  • "Stone Soup"/"Nail Soup"
    • The story of "Stone Soup", in which a hungry traveler comes to a village that is unwilling to share any food, but manages to get everyone to pitch in to make "stone soup", simply by putting a stone and some water in a pot. The generally accepted interpretation is that this is a story about the power of cooperation and sharing, but a more cynical interpretation may be that the traveler managed to convince the villagers to give their food in the hopes of getting something out of it, and thus managed to get a meal despite his own contribution being minimal.
    • In some versions from the era of Sacred Hospitality, the traveler only cons one very stingy person, usually a woman. The person is so stingy they refuse to give a scrap of stale bread or a hard floor to sleep on, yet agrees, first begrudgingly and then with increasing enthusiasm, to put in the ingredients the traveler says they need to make their "soup" just that much better. The Aesop might be, don't be overly stingy, or you'll wind up giving or paying more than you expected.
  • While some might use Little Red Riding Hood as a cautionary tale about Stranger Danger or obeying your parents, some contemporary readers might see the Aesop as, "Have discretion and be careful of the info you give" or "If you can't tell your grandma from a wolf at first glance, then you're probably too young to go out by yourself". Note 
  • The aesop of "The North Wind and Sun" is supposed to be that benevolence (sunshine) is a better way to get along with people than outright hostility (north wind), but the sunshine doesn't really work as "benevolence" as it still made the man with the coat uncomfortable, it just did it in a more subtle way than the wind by using gentle manipulation over brute force. Hence, the lesson can be interpreted as "indirect and subtle attacks work usually better than all-out assaults" instead.
  • The moral of The Sorcerer's Apprentice is usually interpreted as a warning against going on a Phlebotinum Joyride, i.e., using something you don't understand, since you might not be able to control it. While this aesop can be applicable in real life, an earlier version of the story, showing up in the classical greek dialog Lover of Lies, makes it clear from context that the "apprentice" telling the story made the whole thing up, and is invoking Power Incontinence as an excuse to not show his friends the spell. In that case, the aesop is "be skeptical of claims when there's a convenient excuse for the lack of proof".

    Fan Works 
  • The author of The Stalking Zuko Series strongly disapproved of how Aang stole Ozai's bending abilities without killing him in the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and so has many characters criticize Aang's decision and blame him for what happened. Since Aang's near-obsession with upholding Air Nomad values is treated as a character flaw, the intended message seems to be that "You must listen to what others have to say and compromise your ideals for the greater good." Others, however, suggest that in the context of what happened, the Aesop can be read as "It's sometimes easier to kill your enemies than leave them alive to face justice for their crimes."note 
  • The stated purpose of Friendship is Failure is to prove that friendship can't really solve everything. A lot of readers tend to agree, but for an entirely different reason than the author intended. The protagonists of the series are so unlikable (To the point it was the first fan fic to have its own page for Unintentionally Unsympathetic) that the message is less "There are some problems friendship just doesn't solve" but rather "there are some people so irredeemable and self-absorbed that you shouldn't even bother trying to help them." It doesn’t help that the author repeatedly tries to prove his point by just having his characters refuse to be satisfied unless things go exactly their way and will not accept any attempts to make amends over even the most minor of slights.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Incredibles: The film's main message is railing against Tall Poppy Syndrome. However, many people see Syndrome as a warning about what happens when toxic fandom goes unchecked, as Syndrome felt so slighted by Mr. Incredible's rejection of him that he set out to destroy him and all other superheroes. Honest Trailers would lampshade this interpretation with "He's a nerd who loves something so much, that when it didn't live up to his expectations he declared war on it!"
  • The obvious moral of Kung Fu Panda is to always Be Yourself. However, the story conveys this moral by having Po understand the meaning of the Dragon Scroll when Tai Lung couldn't: The secret to limitless power is within oneself; the scroll isn't blank, it's reflective. Tai Lung's entire life is rendered pointless because even if he'd been given the scroll, there was nothing in it for him to abuse, and when he loses to Po, it's not because Po is a better combatant, it's because Po is an Instant Expert who is naturally immune to his best attacks and learned an instant-death attack after seeing it performed once. Add this to the Arc Words "there are no accidents", and it seemingly boils down to Hard Work Hardly Works. Fate is what determines your success, not your own effort.
  • The Lion King moral is: don't run from the pain of your past, face it and grow, except Simba's tragic past never happened, it was all a lie. Until he clears his name, no one stands with him, not even his mother or his childhood friend-turned-lover, who specifically convinced him to return because Pride Rock needed him to return and take his rightful place as king. Compare this to when he first runs off: he meets Timon and Pumbaa and lives a happy (if bug-eating) life in a lush green paradise, utterly free of judgment and blame for something he didn't even do. Given that, the moral seems more like, "Once people think you did something wrong, nobody will forgive you unless you can prove someone else is at fault, so you might as well run away and start a new life".
  • Disney's Mulan has a rather remarkable one. The titular protagonist is obviously intended as an example for girls to follow, and the rather blatantly feminist lesson is not to let your society's expectations (in this case, concerning femininity) prevent you from doing what you do best and keep you from doing what's right. Intentionally or otherwise, however, another lesson it teaches is "Don't knock patriarchal society until you've walked a few miles in its shoes." Something Mulan gets to experience from being on the front lines in a war is what kind of horrors the men are facing in hopes that their women won't have to.
  • Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure: The scene with the Greedy obviously teaches viewers not to be greedy or gluttonous. However, there are two other morals you can get based on how uncomfortable the heroes are around him:
    • First is your typical "stranger danger" message. Raggedy Ann, Andy, and the Camel see that the Greedy is getting aggressive and clingy, and realize that they have to escape. Strangers often can do terrible things to you, and it's often best to stay away. This comes up again when the heroes meet Sir Leonard Loony, who they are also clearly afraid of.
    • Similarly, the scene teaches that you don't always have to help people. The heroes are usually very polite. They listen to the Greedy's tale of woe, and then the Greedy insists that they have to help them. Raggedy Ann politely explains that they'd like to help him, but they can't. Ann feels bad for the Greedy because she has a good heart, but she realizes that she has to look out for herself and her friends too. Conversely, do not take advantage of nice people. They may want to help you, but they are not obligated to do so, and if you always expect them to do so, you'll most likely end up hurting them. And as Raggedy Ann and Andy show, even nice people can fight back.
  • Wreck-It Ralph:
    • The main message is "Be Yourself"; the main conflict of the story is caused by Ralph, the villain of an arcade game, leaving his game and entering another game where he can become a hero, only to end up letting one of the monstrous Cy-Bugs from this arcade game into a third game, where it lays eggs and quickly becomes a threat to the entire arcade. At the climax of the film, Ralph manages to save the day by luring all of the bestial Cy-Bugs into a bright and massive explosion, using his massive fists to dislodge the giant Mentos used in the explosion. The point of this is to show that Ralph attempting to be someone he is not caused the problem, whereas being the person he is fixed it... but he didn't choose to be the villain of his arcade game, the role was forced upon him. As such, the message can go from "Be Yourself" to "Don't be who you want to be, be the person everyone else wants you to be".
    • An Alternate-alternate Aesop, and one more family-friendly to boot, might be that "sometimes the job you want isn't the one you're best suited for", and/or "even if you really hate your job, you should stick with it if it's a really important one".
    • Another interpretation might be "be appreciative of your co-workers doing their jobs; they are people too and deserve to be treated fairly", since Ralph's problems come from the Nicelanders treating him like dirt just because of his job as the villain.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • What eventually became Act of Valor was always intended to be a recruitment video for the U.S. Navy SEALS. And yet with an outcome of roughly half the team becoming casualties in the film's 1- to 6-week span, including one guy losing his eye, one guy getting shot repeatedly and sustaining major injuries, and one guy dying and leaving behind a widow expecting a child, the long version of the moral seems to pretty clearly be, "These guys are heroes because they get horrible outcomes on a regular basis." Which is arguably pretty good for only attracting the most committed for the SEALS, but might ultimately be counterproductive for Navy recruitment as a whole.
  • The Breakfast Club.
    • The common interpretation is that the titular teens could overcome their differences by finding common ground and appreciating the uniqueness of each of their characters. The more cynical interpretation is that the characters didn't actually learn anything: At the end of the movie, their narrative function is what you'd expect from their character types. The girl with rich parents hooks up with the bad boy, the jock gets with the loner after she gets a makeover, and the nerd is the only one who puts any actual work into the assignment. Made even worse by the message of the loner and the jock's hookup being basically "Boys will like you as long as you dress how they want."
    • It's also easy to take away the message, 'It's ok for people from different cliques and walks of life to get along, as long as no-one else knows, and the popular members of the gang will most likely ignore everyone else again the next day, as though nothing happened.'
  • As Honest Trailers noted, the real moral of Gone Girl is "Don't have sex with crazy people!"
  • Fatal Attraction has "Don't have sex with crazy people!", along with "Don't commit adultery with crazy people either; people will be less inclined to help you because you're a jerk."
  • A common interpretation of Woman of the Year (1942) can be summed up as "Tess is punished for being a strong woman, and is made to eat Humble Pie at the end so that Sam can 'win' the Battle of the Sexes." However, a more positive reading is that Tess learns that marriage requires time and attention—more than she has been willing so far to take away from her work—and her Epic Fail attempt to become purely domestic merely shows that she hasn't immediately found the proper balance (which Sam encourages her to find).
  • The VVitch actually has a happy ending in a weird kind of way for its protagonist Thomasin, despite its Downer Ending as a whole. As a young woman living in the fairly oppressive and misogynistic 1630s Puritan society, her prospects in life don't go much beyond "being sold off to another family to become a housewife and mother". On top of that, she's already clearly The Unfavorite of her own family. By joining up with the coven, she's now free to do as she pleases and as Black Phillip puts it, "live deliciously".
  • mother! (2017) is allegedly a massive Green Aesop allegory for Mother Nature and humanity, where humanity runs amok destroying the "house" that is the earth until Mother Nature gets pushed too far, enacts Gaia's Vengeance, and the world is forced to begin anew. A lot of people instead read it as being about Muse Abuse suffered by women in relationships with male artists, who are mistreated by the artist's "fans" as the artist goes through a cycle of exploitation with a new muse after the old one is used up. Supporting this theory is that Mother Nature does not survive the remaking of the "world" and is replaced by a newer, younger model while we realize the character Him has done this all before.
    Richard Brody: Aronofsky has long strained after art of a vast mythopoetic magnitude. In “Mother!,” he achieves it—but not at all in the way that he thinks. This morning, on Twitter, someone asked me, “What was the point of the biblical references if the movie is basically about how much it sucks to be in a relationship with a male artist?,” to which my response was, “Exactly.” In other words, “mother!” isn’t an allegory except by directorial decree.
  • Red Dawn (1984), which has long been regarded as a Red Scare Cult Classic among American conservatives, has also been called a subversive anti-war movie. It humanises the regular Joe Russian soldiers occupying the country, shows the painful effects war has on civilians and especially on Child Soldiers, and the general desperate futility of it all. After all is said and done, all that heroism and hardship, all but one of the Wolverines are killed and all that remains of them is a set of names carved into a rock, a lonely memorial visited by few.
  • Idiocracy: Soren Bowie of Cracked found his own regarding the world of 2505. They may have been dumb enough to pour salt on their crops, but the world of 2505 is surprisingly open-minded to the point where racism and sexism seem to be non-existent, recognized that Joe was smart enough to solve their problems and eventually let him serve as president, and President Camacho can be considered a competent leader who actually wants to help people, his first reaction to finding Joe being getting him to find a solution to the food crisis, even if said problems are actually simple to begin with. So a more positive takeaway can be "Being Book Dumb isn't something to aspire to, but it's still better than the irrational, primal mob mentality that makes up most Real Life lethal stupidity."
  • High-Rise: Several argue that The Tower more closely resembles Socialism than Capitalism; as the Architect's vision flies in the face of what any self-respecting Capitalist would do. There's apparently only one supermarket; Royal's cronies only acknowledge competition after things go to shit; the explicit mention of all floors having the same price, as well as not looking worse than each other; the lack of any law enforcement to protect private property, etc. Throw in buzzwords like "idealism" and "change"; one of Royal's crooked cronies saying he "works for the building, not [him]"; the closest thing to a leftist is depicted as a barbaric, egomaniacal, rapist brute; the overt connection of the Tower's failure to "human nature" (whereas Capitalism thrives on it); the Architect's declaration of his failure being putting too much in one basket (a central critique of Socialism); and Jeremy Irons in a central role note ; and the film seems more and more like a Starship Troopers-style parody of its source material.
  • Ostensibly Jurassic Park (1993) (and Michael Crichton's original book) have the moral "Be careful about playing God with nature." A Reddit meme humorously observes that part of the problem at the park was caused by the geneticists not realizing they were giving the cloned dinosaurs the ability to switch sexes, resulting in the Space Whale Aesop "Support trans rights or get eaten by dinosaurs."

  • The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant:
    • Some new readers have taken away An Aesop about cancer, capitalism, or some other accepted part of life. The rare, reconstructed stance that aging is a genetic disorder we must cure goes over their head.
    • From the dragon's perspective, the story could easily turn into an allegory about resource conservation. The dragon cleverly uses humans as self-renewing livestock instead of quickly gobbling them up, which would leave it with no food.
  • The Giving Tree: Many interpret this picture book as the relationship of unconditional love between a parent and a child, but others see it as more blunt and straightforward: man selfishly takes from nature and never gives back, yet nature has no choice but just to give. This makes and already sad book all the more of a Tearjerker
  • Harry Potter:
    • The obvious moral of the series is Love is more powerful than Evil. There are probably many possible alternative morals, but one easy one is: If you're putting all your security eggs in one basket (or six horcruxes), keep track of those friggin' baskets. Another is "Don't let your arrogance override your intelligence." This one is even mentioned in-story as Voldemort's greatest weakness; he cannot even conceive someone being as clever as him. Had he even a sliver of humility and made a horcrux out of, say, a random rock and tossed it into a lake, he'd be unstoppable. Then again, the same flaw is also the crux of his motivation and modus operandi in the first place. If he did possess some humility and care, then, as Dumbledore pointed out in book six, he wouldn't have been Lord Voldemort.
    • Yet another one is "Don't keep trying the same thing over and over after it's already failed several times." Seriously, after failing to kill Harry with Avada Kedavra three times, you'd think he'd have tried something else the next time!
    • There's an In-Universe one with the fairy-tale, The Tale of the Three Brothers. The brothers come across death and he gives each of them a magical object for their cleverness. The eldest brother, Antioch, wanted an all-powerful wand (colloquially known as the Elder Wand) so he could beat a man with whom he had a quarrel. The problem is that Antioch went around talking about how he had such a powerful wand that could beat death so someone slit his throat in his sleep for it. Although the intended moral of the story is about accepting death's role in life, Ron says he thinks the message is that if you have an all-powerful magical object, you shouldn't run around blabbing about it like an idiot. Further adding credence to this theory is that a recent master had it stolen from him for blabbing about it as well and that Dumbledore had had it for about fifty years when he died, seemingly the longest holder of it and only Grindelwald (whom he beat for it) and Snape knew.
  • The Little Red Hen is known for its aesop that if you want something, you have to work for it. However, you can also get the exact opposite moral from the story; the first thing that happens in the story is the little red hen coming across some wheat seeds - had the hen never found those, no bread would ever have been made. Because finding the seeds didn't require work, you can interpret it as saying that luck is needed to reach success.
  • In Slaughterhouse-Five:
    • Kilgore Trout argues that the real Aesop of The Bible is "Make sure people don't have connections before you kill them." For example, he claims that it would have been more meaningful if God had "adopted" Jesus as he was dying on the cross rather than say he was God's son all along.
    • Superficially, in the novel, Vonnegut seems to be saying that You Can't Fight Fate and that free will is an illusion. However, there are a number of subtextual clues suggesting that this isn't really what he meant. For starters, the Tralfamadorians, the biggest purveyors of the You Can't Fight Fate message, are depicted as destroying the universe through negligence - not an entirely sympathetic position. There's also the way that Billy Pilgrim does everything possible to ensure he dies at his death. (Pilgrim himself is susceptible to Alternate Character Interpretation - there's a common theory that everything he sees after the war is a PTSD flashback or hallucination. See the trope page for details). Finally, there's the comment in the first chapter of the novel that writing an anti-war novel is like writing an anti-glacier novel (there will always be wars, just like there will always be glaciers) - but Vonnegut wrote one anyway.
  • Most readers interpreted the moral of I Kissed Dating Goodbye as "Do volunteer work as a substitute for having a significant other" instead of the intended message of "Do not forget about spirituality (including, but not limited to, serving others) simply because you wish for romantic love".
  • Buzzfeed took a second look at various works by Dr. Seuss. Some of these are particularly Green Aesops. Considering the author, it is entirely possible that these are the intended lessons for adult readers, although most of those listed are actually the primary aesop intended for the book. Note that the books were written to work on two levels: the timeless children's morality tale and political commentary on current events (for example, Marvin K. Mooney is Nixon). It's not as surprising when you realize that the first drawings he published were anti-Nazi political cartoons starting in the late 1930s.
    • Green Eggs and Ham is especially odd in the two levels it has. At first glance, it's about why it's a good idea to try new things. Unfortunately, it also has the message "no matter how often someone has told you they don't like something, keep pushing and badgering and harassing them into trying it - they'll like it and thank you in the end." Or, even more so, "freedom doesn't work" - in the sense that offering someone a free choice will often result in them taking the option that's worse for everyone, including themselves.
    • The Lorax is about the importance of nature conservancy, but the problems faced by The Once-Ler result from pure deforestation, when clear cutting and mass reforestation, i.e. planting a new Truffula tree for every tree cut down, or farming Truffula trees in other words, would have prevented everything, including his company closing up and moving elsewhere. The first animated version addresses this by having the Lorax explain that the trees are extremely slow growing; even if they had embraced the practice the forest would be clear cut before the replacements were more than sprouts (a real-world limitation of the practice for many kinds of tree).
      • Even in the other versions of The Lorax (especially the 2012 film, where Truffula trees are actually shown to grow extremely quickly), the Lorax never tries to suggest the idea of sustainable logging practices to the Once-Ler, or even point out that no more trees means no more Thneeds means no more profit. With that in mind, one could interpret them as having a secondary moral of "If you want to make a difference, offer solutions instead of just complaining". Especially considering that all versions have the Once-Ler give his visitor the last remaining Truffula seed and instruct him to replant the forest.
  • In The Riddle by Alison Croggon, Owan tells Maerad and Cadvan a story about how the sea once loved the mountains, however the mountains slighted the sea and the sea had been angry ever since. Cadvan interpreted it to mean that you should never refuse the love of a powerful woman, but Maerad interpreted it to mean that you should never love at all because it only causes trouble.
  • Are we supposed to sympathize with the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?? Reams of text have been written supporting either interpretation.
  • An example so famous it's taught in US History classes is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair was trying to convert Americans to socialism with a story about the horrors of capitalism made manifest in meat processing plants. Unfortunately for his intended message, all anyone noticed was the description of how sickeningly unsanitary the meat processing plants were, leading less to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers!" and more to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers are in my food!" which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sinclair put it best when he said "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
  • The message of The Poisonwood Bible is ostensibly that colonialism is bad. However since the book focuses on an American family of Baptist missionaries in the Congo in the 1950s rather than Europeans or Africans at colonialism’s peak half a century earlier, it can be seen as more anti-fundamentalism rather than anti-colonialism. Nathan, the patriarch of the family, doesn’t become a crazy hobo who dies for his cause because of colonialism, he becomes a crazy hobo because he refuses to sway from his literal interpretation of the Bible, has no desire to actually learn about the cultures of of either the Bible's authors or the people he's preaching to, and never considers that maybe a different audience would require a differently-tailored message.
  • Some people became vegans after reading The War of the Worlds, despite the story being about the morality of British imperialism. The book also makes the point that the Martians treat us the same way we treat animals. Wells, a vegetarian, would likely state that this aesop is a perfectly valid, if secondary, lesson to take from the story. The intended message was to show what a nationalistic outside force rolling over you would be like at a time when the British Empire was at its height.
  • The stated aesop in Aristophanes' Lysistrata might be interpreted as stating that if Athens and Sparta teamed up instead of fighting each other, they would be unstoppable and have the rest of Greece at their mercy. In modern times, the play is generally considered to have a pacifist and/or feminist message. These are justified in so far as the play does portray the war as hurting both sides and acknowledges (albeit in a humorous way) that war has a toll on female civilians. However, given the Ancient Greek opinions of women, it seems that his message was more like "even women are smart enough to know this war is bad."
  • Fahrenheit 451 is almost universally interpreted to be about government censorship on literature being used to control the population. As late as the 1980s, Bradbury himself stated that the book is about censorship. In his old age, however, Bradbury came out insisting that he'd always intended the book to be about how crappy television is. Critics have wisely chosen to ignore Bradbury's assertions, and a UCLA class drove him from the room by telling him to his face that he was simply wrong about his own book.
  • Anna's Story was a sympathetic account of Australian schoolgirl Anna Wood's death by water intoxication after taking ecstasy. Obviously, the intended aesop was Drugs Are Bad. However, since Anna's friends waffled for way too long about getting her medical attention after it became very obvious that she was deteriorating, the equally important lesson learned could be that if you're going to take drugs with friends, have decent friends. Alternatively (and a bit more generously to Anna's friends, who were mostly guilty of little more than naivete and inexperience), if you're going to take drugs, make sure you and the people you're with know what the potential consequences are and what the best course of action to take in case of something going wrong is.
  • George Orwell's intention behind 1984 was to denounce the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and a general denouncement of totalitarianism (not to be confused with authoritarianism). Most of the people who read it, however, come out believing it's about the horrors of censorship, dictatorship, propaganda, and anything that isn't democracy and libertarianism. Bonus points for quoting "absolute power corrupts, absolutely." (Orwell despised it when people resorted to using other people's words to make a point, or using one-word stock responses.) Orwell himself was a dedicated democratic socialist.
  • Harriet the Spy includes a Hard Truth Aesop "Sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you" via the likely unintentional Aesop "The things you write in your personal journal should not be an honest representation of your thoughts because someone reading it without permission might be offended." There's also the Aesop of "if you want to keep something private, don't take it to school."
  • Tom Clancy's novel Rainbow Six features one of these. As Clancy is a political conservative, he intended the story to be about the dangers of environmental extremists. Unfortunately in order to make them a credible threat, he had to have ecoterrorists in charge of a huge megacorporation. The novel can instead be taken as a tract against unchecked corporate power.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The Novel spends a lot of time musing about Divine Retribution and An Eye For An Eye and Cycle of Revenge. More cynical readers point out that the moral is "If you are going to screw someone over, make damn sure that you kill him afterward".
  • In "The Cold Equations," the intended aesop is that sometimes there isn't a third option and even the best Science Hero sometimes has to Shoot the Dog and take the lesser evil. But the alternative message is that the unexpected is going to happen, and no mission planner worth anything should send a mission out with no margin for error.
  • In-Universe in Gravity Falls: Journal 3: when Fiddleford McGucket sarcastically tells Ford to remember the story of Icarus, Ford immediately retorts "Icarus didn't flap hard enough!"
  • Sixth of the Dusk: In-Universe. Vathi notes that every culture has exactly one traditional story of a woman who excelled in a traditionally male occupation, with the official moral being that "women can do these things too." However, her own cynical take on it is that they exist to show that women can do these things too if they are truly exceptional, with the implication being that any girl (like herself) who doesn't want to Stay in the Kitchen is arrogantly claiming to be one in a million.
  • In the Venus and Mars self-help books, there was a parable about a knight who rescued a princess from a dragon and married her, only for her to be attacked again. This time, she advised him on how to rescue her, instead of letting him figure it out for himself. He feels bad at the celebratory feast because he feels like he didn't really do anything to earn it. Then the same thing happens, and he feels even more depressed. Finally, he hears the familiar screams of a princess being attacked by a dragon, only it's not his wife, it's another princess in another castle. He rescues this princess, sends a message to his wife to tell her it's over, and lives Happily Ever After with this new princess who doesn't tell him what to do. What the reader was supposed to take from this was that it's important for a man to be able to solve his own problems without any outside help, and feel like a hero. What it ended up implying was that it's important for a woman to be passive and delicate so as not to hurt her boyfriend or husband's ego, or that if her partner cheats, it's her fault for being too outspoken and/or not passive enough. It also implies that a woman, no matter how knowledgeable about how to "slay the dragon" she may be, needs a man to solve all her problems for her.
  • In the Dragon Age novel Last Flight, the intended Aesop (and the one the characters seem to take away) seems to be that the Grey Wardens' "Anything justifies the Blight being defeated" attitude is destructive and self-defeating with the death of the Griffons. The author himself has said that an equally valid aesop is, War Is Hell and "the price of victory is often high and occasionally horrific."
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha, Hatsumomo's story could be an interpretation that Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful! is not going to work in the long run. Hatsumomo treats everyone horribly because of her status and never once considered the consequences of alienating everyone around her. But when she starts to age and another younger and prettier geisha comes along, no one has any reason to put up with Hatsumomo. Even Hatsumomo's plan to have her pupil Pumpkin inherit the okiya failed as Mrs Nitta would rather adopt Sayuri, purely so she wouldn't have to put up with Hatsumoto (who would only use Pumpkin as her puppet).
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead has a series of interludes telling the story of "Godfather Death". When someone concludes that the moral of the story is you can't cheat Death, the Doctor insists that of course you can cheat Death (it worked the first time, after all), but you have to keep moving and always have a back-up plan in case he catches up with you.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: While each story has an intended Aesop, the commentaries by Professor Ozpin often provide alternative lessons he's heard, and he encourages the reader not to take any of them at face value but instead to find their own lessons in the stories.
  • Spinning Silver begins with Miryem giving "the real story" of Rumplestilzkin, in which a miller's daughter takes out a loan to buy some jewelry, attracts the local lord's son, and is left pregnant while he goes off to his previously-arranged marriage. The girl's solution is to accuse the moneylender of "being in league with the Devil" so he gets run out of town and she keeps her jewels to bribe a local boy into a marriage before she gives birth. Miryem concludes that no matter how it's told (and she has heard it many times from the local villagers, who make sure she understands that Rumplestiltzkin is supposed to be Jewish), Rumplestiltzkin is a story about squirming your way out of paying what you owe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of How I Met Your Mother reveals that Barney Stinson has an Alternate Aesop Interpretation for nearly every movie he's seen which in his mind reverses the accepted role of hero and villain.
    Barney: Hey, The Karate Kid is a great movie. It's the story of a hopeful, young karate enthusiast whose dreams and moxie take him all the way to the All Valley Karate Championship. Of course, sadly he loses in the final round to that nerd kid. But he learns an important lesson about gracefully accepting defeat.
  • In The Golden Girls episode "Til Death do We Volley," one of Sophia's "Picture It" stories falls into this. Dorothy has a high-school reunion and gets a visit from an old friend named Trudy she was super competitive with. They go play tennis, and Dorothy is so competitive Trudy has a heart attack on the court. At the reunion party at her house, Dorothy is so racked with guilt she refuses to leave her room. Sophia comes in and delivers this Aesop story twisted to fit the situation.
    Sophia: Picture it. Sicily, 1852. It was mid-century and the disillusioned Italy looked to the House of Savoy for leadership. Giuseppe Garibaldi, our courageous leader and not a bad dresser thought, let's regain some national pride and jump into this whole Crimean War thing...of course, there was a big kickoff at Giuseppe's beach house and everyone came. Coincidentally, this was also the night his wife Rosa hit her sexual peak.
    Dorothy: Ma, I am in here because of guilt. This is not a story about guilt!
    Sophia: This is a story about being a bad hostess! While Rosa had Giuseppi in the bedroom with his saber around his ankles, 200 hungry guests were strip-searching mice for a piece of cheese!!
    Dorothy: Ma, so what's your point!? That Rosa and I throw bad parties??
    Sophia: That's my minor point. My major point is that like Rosa, you're screwin' around in the bedroom when there's more important things to do outside!
    Dorothy: I can't believe it, that makes sense! I mean, you took the long way around, but that actually makes sense.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Garak's interpretation of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", "never tell the same lie twice". Important note on that: that episode's lesson proves to be "Telling a different lie each time doesn't work either." Garak ends up having to go to rather extreme measures to get anyone to pay attention to his complaints that someone is trying to kill him, due to his being such a Consummate Liar.
  • Gibbs from NCIS provides one for a story that Ducky tells about a man who doesn't show up for his girlfriend's Christmas party. She bad-mouths him until he's discovered dead in the chimney dressed as Santa Claus with an engagement ring for her. According to Ducky, the lesson is to never judge without knowing all the facts. Gibbs' lesson? "Never a good idea to get married."
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Beer Bad" is supposed to have its heavy-handed moral in the title. But the plot would have gone exactly the same if everyone were drinking soda. The real moral is "Be courteous to bartenders and others in similar roles, because if they snap they can do some serious damage." Not a bad moral, really.
  • The Bones episode "The He in the She" featured a transgender woman killed while swimming by the jealous ex-wife of her lover, with a subplot about her life as a male preacher and her estranged son. Booth took away an Aesop about the transforming love of and the way it can heal people's souls. Temperance concluded that the aesop was "always swim with a buddy".
  • Doctor Who "The Dominators" was intentionally written with an anti-pacifist message. However, it's also possible to read it as encouraging student meddlers to fight for justice, rejecting rote learning and irrational laws.
  • American Gods (2017):
    • Shadow's cellmate Low Key tells the story of Johnny Larch, an inmate who tried to fly away after getting paroled, but since he refused to allow an airport worker to "disrespect" him by not accepting his expired drivers licence as an ID, he ended up thrown out of the airport, and soon back in prison. In prison, "not taking disrespect" is a survival mechanism, but it can get you into lots of trouble on the outside. Shadow comments that perhaps the lesson is that behaviors that work in a specialized environment like prison can be detrimental when used outside said environment, but Low Key insists that the moral of the story is "don't screw with those bitches at the airport."
    • In the first season finale, Mr. Nancy tells Shadow and Mr. Wednesday the story of the fall of Bilquis, from Queen of Sheba and goddess of love to a broken bag lady living on the streets. Shadow thinks the aesop is "never compromise". Both Nancy and Wednesday find that a ridiculous interpretation. No one would get anywhere in the world without compromise. The intended aesop is "you need a queen". This foreshadows Wednesday recruiting Easter, the oldest goddess still alive, for his cause.
  • Police, Camera, Action!:
    • The 1998 episode "Rust Buckets" had the aesop of "Never drive around in an unroadworthy vehicle or unless you've checked your vehicle over with a mechanic's help", but due to the episode's nature, people took the episode's aesop as "Be more tolerant of foreign drivers on British roads" and "A traffic jam isn't worth fighting for just to get to your flight, there are other life-and-death matters". The title of the episode as a Non-Indicative Name as only the first part of the episode features the titular rust bucket (British expression for The Alleged Car).
    • The 2000 episode "Rogue's Roadshow" had the aesop of "Stealing cars for fun can have fatal consequences" but some of the audience interpreted it as "There are no winners or losers on our roads. Excess speed kills."

  • The Christmas carol "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was originally written by 16-year-old Buck Ram and is about a homesick college student, but has more recently become associated with soldiers away at Christmastime. At least one version of the song even includes soldiers wishing their families a Merry Christmas during the bridge. Touching, yes, but not the original intended message. Adding to the misconception is how the song tends to be associated with the World War II era (as do so many popular Christmas songs), so many listeners assume that the narrator is an American soldier in Europe or the Pacific.
  • "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is associated with the meaning that "people being different isn't bad, and their differences can be of benefit to everyone". Unfortunately, it also has the meaning of "go ahead and be mean to people; if it turns out you actually need them, they'll be so grateful that they're being accepted now that they'll forget everything else." Rudolph could, at least, have asked for some recompense for how he was treated before agreeing to guide the sleigh.
    • Though the lyrics for the Jack Johnson version of the song have Rudolph call all of the other reindeer out on their behavior after the familiar part of the song is over. They apologize and say they'll try to change.
  • The Crash Test Dummies Song, "Mmm mmm mmm mmm," is VERY frequently interpreted as being about child abuse, with the eventual message that brainwashing your child and forcing your child to hold your own beliefs is worse than physical abuse. Word of God says the message is that Kids Are Cruel, and the song is to be taken at face value.
  • In the Barry Louis Polisar song "I am very Sad to say that Cindy Won't Be Out to Play", the eponymous Cindy dies after eating things that she shouldn't, and the song concludes that the moral of the story is "if you are hungry and are all alone, wait until your folks to come home". An alternative message would be to not leave your child at home alone in the first place.
  • Eminem:
    • Eminem has stated that the moral of "Stan", in which Slim Shady's Loony Fan murders his girlfriend due to being ignored by his idol (who doesn't even really exist) is a cautionary tale about avoiding Actor/Role Confusion. However, many interpret the song as being about the duty of care artists have towards their fans, or an attempt to highlight the plight of struggling, alienated angry young men with nothing good in their lives except consumer products.
    • The moral of "Darkness", as stated by Stephen in the song, is that Stephen is not insane, there is no real reason why people become mass shooters - Stephen admits he doesn't have a motive or any idea why he did it either - and that therefore there will continue to be mass shooters so long as nobody does anything about it. However, some critics noted that the song spends more time focusing on Stephen's loneliness and abuse of drugs, and therefore that the song suggests he became a mass shooter due to an untreated and undiagnosed mental illness.

  • Classical Mythology: The myth of Daedalus and Icarus is about Pride, symbolized by Icarus' flying too close to the sun.
    • A joke goes "From an engineer's perspective, the story is about a test pilot ignoring basic safety instructions. from a test pilot's perspective, it's a warning about testing prototypes that can't handle basic maneuvers."
    • Randall Munroe of the web comic XKCD offered another interpretation, one common to engineers and scientifically-minded folks: the story is about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

  • The Bible
    • In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells the story of a master who, while away from his home on business, leaves varying sums of the titular currencynote  in the hands of his servants, telling them only to take care of them. Upon his return, he finds that two of them have invested the money and earned an appreciable return; he lets them keep some of it and rewards them with more talents to invest. One, however, who received the smallest amount, simply buried it and returns it to his master, which gets him fired. It is interpreted in various ways, usually to implore Christians to use their abilities to serve God and bring more to salvation, for which they will eventually be rewarded.

      However, liberation theologians have pointed out that the "lazy" servant may be the one who really has the point Jesus was making. The master did not specifically direct his servants to invest the money he left them; they took that decision themselves. Yet upon his return, the master claimed most of the money they made for himself, made from a decision he took no part in, his claim on the return being solely that he is the master — thus exploiting the servants' labor for his personal gain. The servant who simply kept the money and returned it to his master upon the master's return was aware of this, and by doing so called the master out through his refusal to take part.
    • The Biblical story of Onan was pretty clearly intended to underscore the importance of levirate marriage, a practice by which, if a married man died childless, his brother would marry his widow and the first child of that marriage would be considered the dead guy's child. In fact, Onan's reason for spilling his seed is explicitly stated to be that the child wouldn't legally be his. However, since levirate marriage has effectively been discontinued indefinitely even among the Jews, some have reinterpreted the story to be about forbidding masturbation or contraception (especially the withdrawal method).
    • Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Issac in Genesis 22 has been interpreted in various ways. Most interpretations from Jewish exegesis focus on Abraham's utter faith in God's commandment and hold up his willingness to make the sacrifice as a virtue. Traditionally, Christians interpret the entire passage as a foreshadowing of Our Lord & Savior' crucifixion. A minority interpretation, however, is that Abraham failed the test, abandoning God's previous commandments against killing in Genesis 9. Seeing this, begins the chain of events that would lead to the establishment of the Mosaic covenant and Jewish law.
    • An infamous biblical example is the Book of Job, in which God is challenged by Satan to prove that Job, a good man, would still have faith in God if he was not blessed with a good life. While it is often cited to prove the importance of retaining faith in God even through dire circumstances, it is easily interpreted to mean "don't trust God because he'll sell you out to Satan to prove a point".
    • There's also the question of Elihu, who speaks just before God shows up. He's often lumped in with Job's "friends" as being in the wrong about Job's suffering, but God conspicuously doesn't mention him when telling off Job's friends. And Elihu claims to be presenting a different argument to the one Job's friends made. And when Gd shows up, his speech follow the same themes Elihu had just been using. It's possible that Elihu's speech is meant to be interpreted as the correct answer, with God showing up to emphasise Elihu's point and back him up with literal Word of God. (The fact that some of Elihu's speech seems to foreshadow the crucifixion helps.)


    Video Games 
  • Undertale:
    • Due to how surprisingly deep the game is and creator Toby Fox not going into detail about what things in the game mean, many folks have come up with other interpretations as to what the game means. Some feel that how Chara steals your soul at the end of a Genocide run and how the only way to fix it is to delete your save file gives off the moral, "The only way to move forward is to burn your bridges."
    • People have also said the meaning is either the same or the complete opposite of The Stanley Parable—that the only meaningful choice you can make in a video game is to turn it off and walk away forever. Undertale puts huge emphasis on actions having consequences, but it also points out that it's not meant to have infinite replay value. It doesn't help that the message you receive at the end of the pacifist route rather explicitly aims towards the middle ground of these two - don't stop until you make it to the ending that's happiest for everybody, and then stop playing forever.
    • Some of the routes in the game, between pacifist and Genocide, have a bit of a brush with Fantastic Aesop: "If you have the power to rewind time, you have no excuse not to do the very absolute best." The likelihood is this is meant to be taken as an elaborate, fictionalized way of saying With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
    • One of the major aspects of the game requires learning about the lives of the bosses who gain thorough character development. The point here is to humanize the monsters you fight and make the player realize that they have loved ones, lives, hobbies, and everyday interactions like anyone else. However, the bosses attack you first, and the option of fleeing combat is often not an option except for one boss in particular who you have to flee multiple times, so you're placed into a situation where the game expects you to befriend the people who have tried to murder you and to spare their lives. It ties in with the Great Responsibility point made above with a sprinkle of Turn the Other Cheek which can either be heartwarming or frustrating depending on how you view the lesson which can be summed up as "You have to be the bigger person no matter what others do to you". That said, the best possible ending requires you sparing every boss and enemy regardless of the encounter, so the game is certainly implying it's your duty to let everything they do slide, but berates the player for not expecting the game narrative to do the same back.
  • Valkyria Chronicles has way too many aesops, but the most uncomfortable one is the one against racism. The Darcsen are openly hated as a race because of the Darcsen Calamity, and we're told over and over that it's wrong to hate the Darcsen of today just because of something that happened so long ago. Then we find out that it wasn't the Darcsen who did it, it was the Valkyrur, and the Darcsen race is exonerated while the blame is laid at the feet of the Valkyrur where it should have been all along. And this attitude drives Alicia further down into Internalized Categorism as people begin to fear her potential for destruction, and ultimately resolves never to show her Valkyria status again. So "Don't judge people based on what happened long ago, because you'll never know how it really happened" becomes "It's okay to hate an entire race, as long as it's the right entire race".
  • Several of the social links in Persona 4 appear to have the message that it's important to branch out and try different things before deciding a path in life. Characters whose paths or futures have been decided for them eventually rebel and yearn to be free, and that's perfectly normal. In some cases (Yukiko and Rise) this leads to the character deciding to return to their set path, but with actual understanding and meaning instead of Because Destiny Says So, and this is also normal and far healthier. Having this happen more than once in the game, however, leads to the alternate meaning of "always conform".

  • Misfile's 12th book tries to have Ash learn a lesson about his responsibility to the Old Road and fellow racers, but throughout the story arc, he points out none of his fellow racers like him, which they admit to his face, they got into this situation because of their own stupidity and he is completely unaffected by the situation, only coming in to stop the pestering and is then guilt-tripped into finishing things. As was pointed out on the forums, the lesson is closer to "obey peer pressure" and the responsibility lesson seems tacked on and forced.

    Web Original 
  • The Something Awful political cartoons thread \ the community around it, refer to these as A Good Cartoon. While the thread routinely highlights the perceived incompetence of political cartoonists, featuring many an Accidental Aesop or outright Broken Aesop, some of the interpretations work too hard to warp a straightforward message.
  • In My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap:
    • Many of the morals of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are shifted to relate more to the adult male fanbase of the show than the children who watch the real thing. It may be under a huge helping of Self-Deprecation and Black Comedy, but the messages are certainly there.
    • In general, the videos reflect the idea that cynicism solves nothing, and a cartoon for little girls is not meant to be examined so closely, and it's certainly nothing to get angry about.invoked
    • "P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)" dispenses with the explanation for why the boat sank, saying it's not important why it sank. The real message is that friends aren't people who never make you angry; they're people you love despite sometimes making you angry.
    • "To Where and Back Again – Part 2" has Luna tell Starlight Glimmer that "the only one who doubted you was yourself, so fucking stop that shit."
    • "Rock Solid Friendship" says We All Die Someday, so we might as well enjoy the time we have.
    • "Honest Apple" is more about not ruining someone else's good time than it is about what you choose to do with yourself.
    • "Discordant Harmony" says that there is no such thing as normal. In fact, being quirky and weird can often be the coolest thing about a person. The key is that you can't be a jerk about it.
    • "The Maud Couple" is about how you don't get any say in who your siblings like for their significant others. Even if you don't like them, you aren't getting the whole story, so suck it up and take it for the sake of your family.
    • DWK applies this to Equestria Girls by saying the moral is "age and maturity are two different things."
  • Jontron likes to spoof the aesops in some of the shows and movies he has reviewed:
  • The Nostalgia Critic, naturally, finds a much more messed up moral from Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue:
    So what are kids supposed to learn from this special? That if they do drugs all their favorite cartoon characters will appear?
  • The intended lesson of the Dungeon Master episode of A Crap Guide to D&D is that players are as important to D&D as the dungeon masters and shouldn't be Railroaded at the expense of the player's fun, but the fact that JoCrap was clearly overwhelmed by trying to run D&D with around twenty players at once, one could also see the lesson being that one should limit the number of players in one game down to a manageable level for the DM.

    Western Animation 
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: Obake does this to Icarus Allusion:
    Obake: Do you know why Icarus plunged to his doom?
    Hiro: Because he flew too high.
    Obake: Because he needed better wings.
  • The aesop of King of the Hill episode "Moving On Up" could be either "Find a way to live with the annoyances in your life" or "passive aggressively ignore the people that you can deal with and bottle the emotions that are natural".
  • ThunderCats (2011) has discernible Aesops in most episodes, some more well-executed than others.
    • "Song of The Petalars" has protagonist Lion-O give a Rousing Speech about The Last Dance and that they should "live Like You Were Dying," leading his team into a battle they cannot win, instead of living to fight another day. (They're saved by a Deus ex Machina) The moral seems more like "Retreat is cowardice."
    • In "The Duelist and the Drifter" the Aesop is meant to be that we cannot rely on pure strength or weaponry alone, but must use flexibility, perception and skill to win battles. But since that amounts to a weaponless Lion-O Power Copying, perfectly replicating evasive maneuvers he's seen only once, the lesson could be "depend on your spontaneously-generated superpowers, not your sword."
  • The Aesop and Son shorts on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show had Aesop telling his son a fable with a moral, followed by his son proposing an alternate moral (which was inevitably a pun).
  • Being a show filled with Aesops Once an Episode, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is rife with this. A few examples:
    • "Swarm of the Century" has the Aesop that you should listen to your friends, even when they seem not to make sensenote , but most of the fanbase agrees that the message the episode actually demonstrated was "If you know the solution to a problem take the time to explain it rather than just expecting everyone to listen to you for no reason."note 
    • "Suited For Success" has had a large portion of the fanbase interpreting the episode as Take That! to Executive Meddling saying "let the real artist work on the design and don't interfere."
    • The infamous "Feeling Pinkie Keen" has the ostensible moral of "just because you don't understand something doesn't make it untrue". Most of the fanbase either interpreted the episode as saying "Science Is Bad", or more charitably, "The purpose of science is to find the truth, not to prove your preconceived notions correct."
    • "Lesson Zero"'s stated Aesop was "Don't belittle your friends' concerns". The much more obvious Aesop is "Keep a level head and don't let minor issues force you to use extreme solutions". In a broader sense, it could be read as "No one is perfect, and it's okay to fail sometimes. It's better to accept failure gracefully than to abuse others to succeed." In addition, there's the part where Twilight announces that if she can't find a friendship problem to solve, then she'll just have to make one. You could say another moral of the story is "Doing the right thing doesn't mean you go looking for trouble."
    • "Hurricane Fluttershy"'s moral is ostensibly "even if you don't feel you can make a difference, you can", but one can also get "School bullying is NOT harmless and can screw you up for life" out of it.
    • "A Canterlot Wedding"'s moral, to trust your instincts, glosses over the mistakes that made things as bad as they got (Twilight's instinct that Cadance was evil was Right for the Wrong Reasons and made her discredit herself, while everyone else's instinct to trust "Cadance" over Twilight was horribly wrong). Fans instead viewed the moral as "you need to be tactful and have evidence even if you're right, but a claim without tact or evidence should still be heard out as it might have some truth".
    • "Magical Mystery Cure" has "A True, True Friend" deliver the intended Aesop about helping friends find their true selves in musical. But the prominence and fantasticness nature of the cutie marks/destinies swap caused many to see it as "don't blindly follow perceived destiny, especially if you're bad at it/it makes you and others miserable" and/or "you can Screw Destiny and be who you choose/want to be" despite more-or-less contradicting the happenings of the episode.explanation 
    • The aesops of "Inspiration Manifestation" are "you need to tell your friends the truth rather than blindly praise them" and "constant praise actually can stifle your artistic integrity and it's all right to take some criticism now and then." It accidentally added in the aesop of "your usual artistic style isn't always what the customer needs" for people in creative industries, told through Rarity having trouble building what a puppeteer wants because she adds her nouveau-riche flair to a puppet show booth. A similar accidental aesop with Rarity in "Suited for Success" was "you can't just assume the artist/contractor knows exactly what you want" after the Mane Six sans Rarity make very unrealistic demands about what they want for their clothes, including Rainbow Dash's now-memetic line "it needs to be about twenty percent cooler".
    • In "Princess Spike" the titular character is shown using his connection to Twilight to make himself feel important and by abusing the authority to enjoy indulgent perks, and the episode tries to teach that this is wrong by having things result in a chain reaction that ruins a major diplomatic event. However, since the only things that cause any problems are the events Spike arranged on specific orders not to let anything disturb her rest, while the abuse of his authority causes no problems whatsoever, the illustrated morals become "don't attempt a job you're not qualified to do", "don't give a job to someone who isn't qualified".
    • The episode "The Cart Before the Ponies" delivers the moral "Adults aren't always right". Considering specifically how the adult characters in this episode managed to screw things up, it could just as easily be interpreted that there was another moral for the adults in the audience - "Don't try to live vicariously through your children".
    • The moral of "School Daze" could just as easily be "it's not what you know, but who you know", as it's very evident that the only reason Twilight Sparkle is able to get her school off the ground in the first place, let alone after failing to get accredited, is because of her relationship to Princess Celestia rather than having the knowledge and experience necessary to run a school. It could also be Screw the Rules, I Make Them! considering Twilight Sparkle's own authority as well.
  • In early My Little Pony show, My Little Pony 'n Friends, the episode "The Fugitive Flowers" has a standard "don't judge a book by its cover" aesop that is rather bungled because the main reason that the ponies don't trust the Crabnasties is because they're wrecking everything in sight, not because they're ugly. The aesop, in this case, is that Poor Communication Kills: the mistrust and problems could have been avoided if the Crabnasties were more willing to explain things.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Homer's Enemy" was meant to show that a normal person would not be able to survive in that universe. But Frank Grimes' Sanity Slippage and eventual death came about from his own obsessive hostility towards Homer. Homer's attempts at making it up to Grimes after getting him in trouble only fuel the Green-Eyed Monster in Grimes, which lead to him concocting a scheme to humiliate the former in front of everyone. He finally snaps when his own attempt at spiting someone he doesn't like, itself a rather childish act, doesn't go as planned. This spawns its own alternate aesop interpretation; "never try to expose the rules of an insane system that rewards stupidity and punishes the wrong people. It won't work, you'll just go crazy, and everyone will focus on your craziness and not the point you were trying to make in the first place. If you have the misfortune to be born in an insane universe, your best bet is to never struggle or strive for anything in your life, since you'll only be disliked for it; conversely, if you behave in a lazy and foolish fashion, everyone will like you better." Compounding this was Grimes' frustration that, from his perspective, Homer was living an idyllic life without putting in an ounce of effort, but he based this presumption on a single evening (without realizing that Homer had been hyper-focused on making a good impression), as the Simpson household is not normally like that, nor do they have lobster for dinner on a routine basis.
    • "Homer's Night Out":
      • Marge is angry with Homer after finding a picture of him dancing with a stripper at a work party. The intended lesson is "Don't objectify women," but the truth is, Homer and the other men at the party demonstrated perfect etiquette towards exotic dancers which would make a fine lesson on its own: don't touch them, don't insult them, and pay them fairly.
      • Another lesson is "Don't take pictures of people without their consent," since it was Bart's photo that started the whole mess in the first place.
      • Although, Marge may also have been angry because she saw Homer's actions with the stripper as cheating on her. So, there's also "don't cheat on your spouse or do something that may be interpreted as cheating" (such as going to a strip club, fooling around with a stripper, etc).
  • One U.S. Acres episode tackles The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with Orson telling the tale to illustrate why being known as a liar is bad and explain why he's ignoring Roy, only to have an epiphany and re-interpret the Aesop as "Even liars sometimes tell the truth". You can punish someone for lying, but no one gains anything by ignoring a cry for help.
  • Dream Come True (A Mule Mom's Story) is a short animation made to showcase "Mule Moms" (female mules fertilized In Vitro to both boost breeding efforts and give the infertile mules a chance to be mothers) and the Gypsy Vanner breed of horses. The intended lesson is to never give up on your dreams, but the one that gets across is, "If you have no friends, get pregnant with the resident popular guy's kid and everyone will love you." This is because of a combination of an All of the Other Reindeer plot and a main character who does absolutely nothing aside from get pregnant.
  • Rocket Power attempted to do An Aesop about female empowerment in the episode "Power Girl Surfers", where Reggie starts an all-girl surfing group to show the world that girls can excel at extreme sports. She decides to do this after Otto is unexpectedly offered a cover story in his favorite surfing magazine, and she's unable to convince the Jerk magazine editor that she deserves it more than he does; at the end, she even crashes Otto's photo-shoot with her friends to challenge him to a surf contest, humiliating him in front of the people offering him a shot at fame. Because of Reggie's actions, the message unfortunately comes across as being less about female empowerment than about jealousy, and punishing other people for their undeserved good fortune.
  • Kaeloo: Parodied using an in-universe example. Kaeloo spends a whole episode teaching Stumpy and Quack Quack how difficult the life of a parent is in an attempt to get them to respect their parents more and be grateful for all their hard work. When she asks what they learned from the whole thing, Stumpy responds that he learned that you shouldn't have kids.
  • In-universe example occurs in Gargoyles where the Manhattan clan discusses what lessons could be learned from Lexington and Goliath's encounter with the Pack. Lexington at first declares they should never trust anyone else but Goliath counters that some endeavors requires taking some risks because never leaving the comforts of their confines will leave them (in Goliath's words) "forever alone". Brooklyn and Broadway add to the discussion that they shouldn't give too much trust to people they've just met. Hudson says maybe they shouldn't believe everything they see on TV -a point, since that was why they thought the Pack were heroes in the first place.
  • One episode of Recess had the moral of "You can't please everyone". The episode featured TJ realising that a kid on the playground (Gordy) didn't like him. He proceeded to absolutely suck up to Gordy and after a series of misadventures, Gordy still says he just doesn't like TJ. While "You can't please everyone" is a good message, Gordy has several reasons to dislike TJ by that point (TJ got him in trouble, TJ accidentally almost poisoned him with walnuts, TJ utterly sucked up to him and chased him down to find out why Gordy didn't like him) and they can't give any reason for disliking one another. This could easily be a great aesop in which Gordy could mention that TJ's behaviour is why he doesn't like TJ, or that things TJ and his friends consider virtues are seen as annoying or overbearing to someone else.
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: "The Price of Freedom". The whole flipping episode is about freedom, the absence of it via slavery, escaping slavery to be free, that dying free is undesirable for the "dying" part but better than being enslaved, and how every effort should be made to gain freedom from enslavers and oppressors. Come the end of the episode? Loo-kee's going on about... the dangers of fire. The Aesop seems to be that kids can be shown repeated illustrations about a complex subject and how it works, but it's not worth actually talking directly to them about it -let's go with something short, simple, and that avoids troublesome questions for adults.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Alternate Moral Interpretation


Never Tell the Same Lie Twice

Dr. Bashir tells Garak the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," telling him that the moral of the story is that if you keep lying eventually nobody will believe you even when you're telling the truth. Garak ask if he's really sure if that's the lesson and Dr. Bashir asks what else it could possibly be. "That you should never tell the same lie twice," Garak tells him and walks off, leaving him shaking his head.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / AlternateAesopInterpretation

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