A fable is a succinct, allegorical short tale in prose or verse that conveys, highlights and illustrates a moral lesson. Fables are some of the oldest, most enduring and widespread genres of storytelling, present in almost every country as amusing and humorous ways of teaching or reflecting on truth and morality, satirizing aspects of humanity, and passing down valuable folk wisdom. One who writes or tells fables is called a fabulist.
The plot of a fable often consists of a simple and concise narrative with a third-person narrator and accessible language. It often uses anthropomorphized animals, plants, inanimate objects, fantastical creatures and forces of nature as main characters (differently from parables, which usually only use people). It frequently concludes with a maxim, summing up and explicitly stating the values arising from the story (called the moral of the story), which can often be — or become — a popular saying. Several common expressions come from these folk tales, such as "sour grapes" ("The Fox and the Grapes"), "slow and steady wins the race" ("The Hare and the Tortoise"), "look before you leap" ("The Fox and the Goat"), "to cry wolf" ("The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf") and so on. Keep in mind, however, that while the intention of teaching is clear, the exact meaning of the moral in fables might be open to interpretation and may change according to the point of view, especially since the sayings explicitly recapping the lesson were sometimes added long after the original fables were written.
In the West, the most influential fabulists are the Greek Aesop, considered to be the main definer of the genre as we know it, and the French La Fontaine, who retold and popularized several fables from Western and Eastern sources in the Modern age, including Aesop's. Fables from India also had great global importance, with the Panchatantra being translated to countless languages and influencing literature all across Eurasia. In Feudal Japan, fables can be seen among literature such as the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, reaching their height during the Kamakura Shogunate.
Like Fairy Tales, fables were originally targeted towards a relatively wide age span — many stories from Phaedrus and La Fontaine carry political overtones and irony satirizing elements of their time, and they were used to teach adults in the Middle Ages as well. However, they entered the school system and became more associated with Children's Literature due to their didactic and fantastic nature.
While both are traditional stories, fables traditionally differ from fairy tales by focusing on delivering the final life lesson, whereas fairy tales don't necessarily teach clear morals, or at least don't highlight their lesson as much or as explicitly. Similarly, they are often different from Legends in that they are timeless and unconnected from specific locations and cultures, being able to be understood through several places and time periods far removed from their origins and still remain relevant. The term 'apologue' can also be used to refer to a fable, although some definitions consider this type to be more focused on the moral than on the narrative elements. That said, the line between fable, fairytale and other folktales is blurred, and the term fable has also been used for any fantastic, ludic or imaginative narrative in general.
Despite its name, the genre isn't inherently the same as the Beast Fable trope, as the latter is about stories using animals as allegories for human society in general, not necessarily to teach a moral like a fable classically does. They overlap and the trope was influenced by the genre (hence its name), but not all fables feature animals (such as "The North Wind and the Sun" and "The Oak and the Reeds") and not all Beast Fables are brief stories focusing on conveying universal, everyday moral lessons (such as Reynard the Fox and Animal Farm).
See also the "Just So" Story, which explains the origins of some natural or social phenomenon through supernatural means.
Common characters from fables can appear in Fairy Tale Free-for-All settings, as well as in a Fractured Fairy Tale. If you are searching for the video game series, check here. For the comic book, see Fables, and for the manga, see The Fable.
- Gáspár Heltai
- Ivan Krylov
- Jean de La Fontaine
- Vishnu Sharma
- Vardan Aygektsi
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Leo Tolstoy
- John Gay
- Marie de France
- Robert Dodsley
- Tomás de Iriarte
- Aesop's Fables
- Fables by La Fontaine
- Fábulas by Monteiro Lobato, as part of the Sítio do Picapau Amarelo series.
- Kalila wa-Dimna
- "The Three Little Pigs"note
Common tropes in fables:
- An Aesop: Fables are the Trope Codifier for the main moral lesson teached in a work. They may be either subtle or resumed in a final phrase or stanza, but they always intend to pass a message about how to differenciate right and wrong, properly behave in an ethical way, foresee attempts at deceit, lead with difficult situations and live life.
- Allegory: These stories usually make use of metaphors through facets of nature to tell stories relating to the human experience.
- Beast Fable: Fables are famous for usually featuring animal characters with human qualities, thus using the traits associated with them and their roles in nature to further convey the moral: the fox is cunning, the lion and the tiger are mighty, the wolf is vicious, the ox is strong, the ant is hard-working etc.. This also allows fables to save text, since the symbolism already associated with specific animals means the story can reduce the amount of description and make itself briefer.
- Nameless Narrative: Being meant to be universal and straightforward tales, rarely do fables name any of their characters, who are instead called after their species or role.
- Older Than Dirt: They are some of the oldest forms of storytelling out there: anthropomorphic animals, at least, date far back to engravings in Ancient Egypt.
- Satire: Alongside their moralizing lessons, some fables also allegorically criticized powerful people of their time, acting as a folk expression against dominant classes; in fact, Aesop and Phaedrus, two of the most important fabulists in History, were probably both slaves. For example, "The Animals Sick of the Plague" ends with the council of animals flattering predators like lions, tigers and wolves despite their admittedly evil deeds and instead declaring a donkey wicked merely for having eaten a little grass from someone else once, and its moral is that the judgement of a court will be biased towards the more powerful. In addition, the moral of "The Wolf and the Lamb" is that tyrants always find pretext for tyranny.
- Talking Animal: Most of the most famous fables incorporate animals with human characteristics, talking either between each other or with humans and other kinds of characters. If they are otherwise normal animals, Civilized Animals or Funny Animals depends on the author and illustrator, though.
Adaptations, pastiches, parodies or other uses of fables in worksComic Books
- Monica's Gang occasionally adapts famous fables with their characters, both in the main line and in additional educational books. For example, in the edition Mônica n° 127/Globo, the story "Fables" has Blue, Franklin's dog, disdain the book of fables his owner was reading, since the dog's individual stories in the comics already have talking animals that only humans can't understand. However, Blue accidentally falls into the book, ending up in a land where all the classic fables take place and the morals appear as literal pieces of paper delivering the lesson. He loses a bet after betting on the hare from "The Hare and the Tortoise", gets chased by the wolf from "The Wolf and the Lamb", gets tricked by the fox from "The Fox and the Goat" and in return tricks her into tasting castor beans in "The Fox and the Grapes", until he finally returns home.
Film — Animated
- A Bug's Life's premise is inspired by "The Grasshopper and the Ants", portraying the grasshoppers as bullying the ants into giving them food.
- Sítio do Picapau Amarelo: Besides the book Fábulas, in which Mrs. Benta tells several classic fables and some of her own to the folks of the farm, some of the chapters from Reinações de Narizinho, the first novel of the series, involve the characters using the Pirlimpimpim Dust to travel to the Land of Fables. There, they witness famous stories and rescue the donkey from the fable "The Animals Sick of the Plague" from being killed by the King Lion and the council of animals, welcoming him to go back with them to live in the farm afterwards. The Talking Donkey then becomes a somewhat recurring character in the franchise, being named "Counselor" by Emília in the following book Viagem ao Céu due to the former's words of wisdom.
- How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: In-Universe, Souma illustrates a flaw he noticed in the Mankind Declaration with a parable about a Divine Conflict between a God of the East who believed all mankind should be equal, and a God of the West who believed all mankind should be free. The God of the East eventually broke up, but this caused unforeseen problems in countries that had declared themselves neutral. This story is an in-universe allegory to the Helsinki Accords ratified by several countries during the Cold War, and how they later hampered the international response to The Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.
- Walt Disney Presents: The first half of "From Aesop to Hans Christian Andersen" is devoted to the fables of Aesop and La Fontaine. The former's segment features a biography of Aesop and a brief adaptation of "The Frog and the Ox" before presenting the Disney version of The Tortoise and the Hare. La Fontaine's segment gives an overview of some of his "elegant" takes of Aesop's tales, including "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse", before segueing into Disney's modern retelling, The Country Cousin.
- sasakure.UK's "A Soliloquy of The Boy who Cried Wolf" is based on the eponymous Aesop's fable.
- Aesop's Fables was a series began by Terrytoons creator Paul Terry in the silent era and continued by Van Beuren Studios. They were only fables in the loosest sense, consisting mostly of aimlessly plotted stories starring Funny Animals, with the moral at the end most likely being a Spoof Aesop.
- The Fox and the Crow is a series of animated shorts whose first episode is based on "The Fox and the Grapes", with the title also being the same as the eponymous fable.
- Looney Tunes:
- "Foney Fables" is a collection of shorts that spoofs several fairy tales and fables.
- "The Tortoise and the Hare" is spoofed in a trio of Bugs Bunny cartoons — "Tortoise Beats Hare", "Tortoise Wins by a Hare" and "Rabbit Transit" — in which Bugs races against Cecil Turtle. They are among the few cartoons in which Bugs is the loser of the story.
- Rocky and Bullwinkle: The "Aesop and Son" segments have Aesop try to teach his son a lesson by telling one of his fables, after which the son would provide an alternative joke moral.
- Many of the Silly Symphonies were adapted from fables, such as "The Tortoise and the Hare", "The Grasshopper and the Ants", "The Wise Little Hen" and "The Country Cousin".