Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop's Fables
. Chronicle Books . San Francisco
PZ8.2.W285 Un 2004 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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This book has a lovely dedication: To Aesop and all tellers of moral tales who, despite a monumentally ineffective history, still gently try to point the human race in a better direction. I am not sure that I understand the characterization of fables' wisdom as unwitting in the title. Perhaps Ward is pointing to the fact, underscored in her introduction, that the animals (all twelve tales here feature animal actors) are all acting out their own parts, uncomprehending, in the great game of life. She quotes Chesterton: In Aesop's fables . . . the animals' reactions are always predictable. They have no choice; they cannot be anything but themselves. The text versions make the point of the fables abundantly clear, as when the fox not only leaps for the grapes but tries to climb the tree around which the vine is curled, tries to prod the grapes with a cane, and throws and kicks sticks and stones at the vine. When he leaves, he mutters to himself that they were undoubtedly the nastiest, most horrid, disgusting, revolting, inedible, indigestible and very probably the sourest grapes he had ever had the pleasure of not eating! Ward illustrates every page, but the key illustrations are those which accompany the title and a short description on a lavish two-page spread. (The text then generally follows on a more modest two-page spread). The prizes for the grandest illustrations may go to the dressed-up jackdaw and the fox sniffing among the stork's beautiful Greek urns. A special prize goes to the description after the title of DS; it has a mirror-image just below it, on a line with the reflection of the dog in the water on the facing page. The last line of the story of the tortoise who begged the eagle to teach him to fly sinks down the page the way the released tortoise does. Does it make sense that the shepherd, as it seems, does not discover that the wolf in sheep's clothing is a wolf even while eating him?