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Beast Fable

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"Aesop, or Babrius (or whatever his name was), understood that, for a fable, all the persons must be impersonal. They must be like abstractions in algebra, or like pieces in chess. The lion must always be stronger than the wolf, just as four is always double of two. The fox in a fable must move crooked, as the knight in chess must move crooked. The sheep in a fable must march on, as the pawn in chess must march on. . .
This is the immortal justification of the Fable: that we could not teach the plainest truths so simply without turning men into chessmen. We cannot talk of such simple things without using animals that do not talk at all. Suppose, for a moment, that you turn the wolf into a wolfish baron, or the fox into a foxy diplomatist. You will at once remember that even barons are human, you will be unable to forget that even diplomatists are men."

If an author wants to make an Allegory about human society, there's no better way than replacing people with an animal stereotype. An entire class of people will be replaced by a type of animal, and different animals will reflect the different social classes of a human society.

So, if a writer wants to criticize conformity, she will create a society of anthropomorphic ants like in Antz. Or, perhaps the author wants to criticize society for not working hard enough, like in A Bug's Life, so she adds in locusts that never work and only loot the hard work of others.

Aesop himself was famous for these. It is particularly common in children's stories in an attempt to make moralistic messages much more entertaining and understandable for the little tykes. Fables are famous for the use of talking animals, which is a great way to save text and keep brevity, since the audience is already familiar with the character's motivations and qualities due to their roles and stereotypes in nature.

Beast Fables feature a range between Intellectual Animals and Funny Animals. These are Older Than Dirt (going back to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt), which means, in the oldest stories, it's hard to tell if the original teller saw actual animals as equal to people, or saw them as humanoid versions of animals; a character may behave as a human one minute and a talking animal the next.

Not to be confused with the Art series Beast Fables.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Apocalypse Meow is a beast fable manga about the Vietnam War. Vietnamese (North, South and Montanyard tribesmen) are all cats, Americans are rabbits, Soviets are bears, Chinese are pandas, French are pigs, and Japanese are monkeys.

    Comic Books 
  • Robert Crumb's underground comic Fritz the Cat, portrayed African-Americans as crows. The 1972 film adaptation, directed by Ralph Bakshi, specifically portrayed police officers as pigs, whereas Crumb's comics did not make this distinction. Art Spiegelman credits Fritz the Cat as paving the way for all adult-oriented comics featuring anthropomorphic characters.
  • The underground comic Horndog portrays African-Americans as black cats, and police officers as pigs.
  • The graphic novel Maus took place in WWII Poland, with the Germans depicted as cats, the Jews as mice, Poles as pigs, the French as frogs, and American soldiers as dogs. It also played with the trope by showing a half-Jewish, half-German as a mouse with tabby stripes. Also, at one point, Art Spiegelman discusses with his wife whether he should try to symbolize her conversion by making a frog turn into a mouse. When visiting his psychiatrist, he notices he has dogs and wonders whether depicting them will ruin the metaphor.
  • Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad is about the horrors of war, and the nature of freedom and captivity. The protagonists are four lions who escaped the Baghdad zoo during the American bombing of 2003 (Truth in Television).

  • An American Tail uses the metaphor of mice as the oppressed races of the world, and the cats as their oppressors.
  • In Antz, the ant society represents a conformist political system where the individual is insignificant; the wasps are the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite; and the flies and other bugs in "Insectopia" are free-willed hippies.
  • In A Bug's Life, the ants represent the oppressed working class and the grasshoppers represent the abusive oppressors.
  • The penguins, and emperor penguins in particular, in Happy Feet have been interpreted as both critiques upon religious conformity and, by some, as Christianity by itself, among other things. The director has also talked about the film as an allegorical straight "first contact" story, from the perspective of an undiscovered tribe, and how this relates to the penguins, as one of the layers. Looking at it like this, several astonishing thematic and visual similarities to The Abyss are revealed.
  • Zootopia explores implicit bias by depicting a world in which predators and prey live in relative harmony, but have a historic tension between them. The main characters are a rabbit battling misconceptions about her species (ie a dumb bunny) as she tries to make her way in the police force; and a fox who has embraced the prejudices associated with his species (ie sly fox) as a matter of survival. The story involves a conspiracy that causes predators to revert to a savage state to generate fear in the prey species.

  • Many of Aesop's Fables, of course.
  • A classic example is Reynard the Fox, a series of medieval folk stories satirizing the feudal system with Reynard as the hero to the downtrodden peasants. His most favorite antagonist was Isengrim\Ysengrin the wolf who represented the Corrupt Church of the time. Disney was originally going to film the story but it ended up becoming a telling of Robin Hood (1973) with Robin as an anthropomorphic fox.
    • Reynard makes a guest appearance in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales in the Nun's Priest's Tale, along with Chanticleer the puffed-up rooster and his more sensible wife, Pertelote.
    • Reynard the fox, Isengrim the wolf, Tybalt the cat, and many other characters from the folktales appear as humanized versions of themselves in David R. Witanowski's Reynard Cycle. Naturally, the characters tend to retain the characteristics of their animal counterparts.
  • In the Bre'r Rabbit folktales, the rabbit is the humble but clever everyman and the fox and bear are more powerful persons who nevertheless can be tricked into making stupid decisions.
  • The Panchatantra from India predates Aesop and many of its fables have Darker and Edgier morals.

  • Jean de La Fontaine retold Aesop's fables and created some of his own. His works are standard reading in French schools.
  • James Thurber used animals in the same way. He had a version of the mouse fable mentioned below - his moral is roughly the same as Potter's.
  • The Kalila and Dimna stories are essentially the Middle Eastern version of Reynard the Fox. They're about two wily jackals who sometimes work as viziers to the king (a lion, of course).
  • George Orwell's Animal Farm used a rural setting to critique communist societies decaying from their high ideals. Communist commissars were replaced by pigs that walked on two legs, who literally skimmed the cream of the farm's labor for themselves.
    • Pink Floyd's Animals does the same for capitalism: the dogs are the business executives/social climbers, the pigs are those who "rule on high", and the sheep are the everyday proletariat.
  • Watership Down replaced frightened peasants with rabbits. Popularly thought to be a fable about the dangers a democracy faces from appeasement and fascism. The rabbit heroes escape a monarchy, discover a seemingly idyllic warren with a horrific secret coming from placating humans, arrive at their new home and create a democracy that must lock horns with another warren that is a fascist tyranny.
  • The Book of the Named tackles child abuse and racism, among other things, using prehistoric sentient cats.
  • Beatrix Potter's books. Particularly her telling — and subverting — The City Mouse and the Country Mouse; as told by Aesop, the moral is that the simple but safe countryside is better; as told by Potter, the moral is that both locales have their dangers, and people prefer their own.
  • Walter Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow and sequel The Book of Sorrows are fascinating beast fables. The animals are used to represent distinct, stylized human roles and personalities.
  • David Sedaris' short story collection Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is his (largely successful) attempt to apply the logic of the beast fable to modern concerns.
  • The Nikolajeva book Power, Voice and Subjectivity in Literature for Young Readers analyses this trope, particularly in regard to Into The Wild.
    ...The book is an example of (ab)using cats as a disguise for human beings, since the feline appearance is not inherent to the plot. It certainly adds excitement and not least novelty to the well-trodden narrative, appealing to cat lovers and adventure lovers equally.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series: "The Mayors": Mayor Hardin tells Prince Regent Wienis of a story about a man, a horse, and a wolf. The horse was frightened of the wolf, and sought an ally against it. It approached a man who readily agreed, but to cooperate, the man asks if he can place a bridle and saddle on the horse. The horse agrees, and the two hunt down and slay the wolf. Now the horse asks the man to remove the bridle and saddle, but the man refuses. In this analogy, the Kingdom of Anacreon is represented by the horse and the Foundation is represented by the man. The Scam Religion concocted by Mayor Hardin is the bridle and saddle of the Four Kingdoms.
  • The Ancient Greek epic Batrachomyomachia parodies The Iliad and similar works by telling the story of a battle between frogs and mice.
  • The Spider and the Fly warns of the dangers that charming predators pose to naïve souls who don't know the danger (or do know the danger but let themselves be flattered into thinking it'll be okay). There's also at least a note of sexual predation, given that the central figures are male and female, respectively, and he keeps inviting her to come into his house.


  • The Insect Play by Josef and Karel Čapek has the lives of fickle-hearted butterflies, capital-hoarding beetles, predatory ichneumons, home-loving crickets, warlike ants etc. as an allegory for human society.

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