A World of Fables
Schildgen, Brenda Deen
Van den Abbeele, Georges
. Pacific View Press . Berkeley, Calif.
PN981.S35 2003 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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I am surprised not to have learned before of this paperback book, put together apparently by two Davis professors. In its 140 pages, it covers a great deal of territory. Might it be meant as a textbook for a course on fables? I count twenty-eight chapters after an introduction and before a bibliography. There are expected chapters on authors or works such as Panchatantra, the Jataka Tales, Phaedrus, KD, Marie de France, da Vinci, de la Fontaine, Lessing, Krylov, Harris, Tolstoy, and Thurber. There are also somewhat more surprising chapters on authors such as Juan Ruiz, Rumi, Charles Perrault (Little Red Riding-Hood), Georges Sylvain, Victor Montejo, Barry Lopez, Nubia Kai, Leon Trotsky, and Colette. Further surprising chapters present Italo Calvino's Italian folk tales, Hottentot fables, Ananse Stories from Ghana, and Ogoni folk tales. I am surprised that there is no chapter devoted to Aesop other than the Phaedrus chapter. The book starts with the -- to me -- surprising claim that fables exist in one form or another all over the world (ix). As the introduction gets further into its subject, it seems to assume (x) that fables have to do with animals, even though a more careful statement earlier described fables as fictitious, short, secular narratives often using animal figures to convey a truth (ix). Readers can probably relate easily to the statement that fables, by contrast with fairy tales, are the genre that deliberately features the connection between narrative and proverb (xi). Again we read that Fables are among the most widespread of narrative forms, appearing in virtually every culture and historical period (xi). The introduction rightly points to the ambivalence of fable and its ability, noted by Hegel, to develop the contrary of its stated point. Such contradictory possibilities are what make the fable so explosively applicable to political and historical change while ultimately making its ideological convictions elusive (xiii). And so Marx uses the very capitalistic fable of the belly and members to claim Agrippa failed to show that you feed the members of one man by filling the belly of an other (xv). Surely many of us can agree with the introduction when it comes to Disney: In place of the hard lessons offered by the animal characters in classic fables -- where any lapse of judgment could mean becoming someone else's meal -- the likes of Mickey Mouse and Scoobydoo propose only cuteness, silliness and what, from the perspective of traditional fable, could only be a dangerous foolishness presenting itself as anodyne insipidity (xv). I am surprised at the ease with which the introduction moves between folktale and fable. The Perrault section gives its case for including Little Red Riding-Hood: it has a typed animal character, a moral, and no magical or supernatural element and thus it shares traits with the fable (70). New to me and enjoyable is The Bear and the Old Lady by Colette (109). Leon Trotsky's An Aesop Fable (108) is also surprisingly good.