Parables, fables, tales & the modern short story

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1 PARABLES, FABLES, TALES
&
the modern short story
£This hand-out contains:
1. General discussion of Parables, Fables and Tales

2. Examples of each form.

3. Explanation of writing assignment}
1. GENERAL DISCUSSION:
Parables, Fables and Tales are the forerunners of the modern short story. More primitive in their approach to character, they nonetheless provide elegant and subtle notes on understanding form and perhaps most importantly plot. The goal of this exercise is to observe the basic function of narrative: action, the desire to explain something about the world, and the desire to derive some meaning from those actions. Ultimately this should lead to a deeper understanding of the concept of plot and how a story obtains its structure.
A) PARABLE:
Parable: "b. A fictitious narrative or allegory (usually something that might naturally occur), by which moral or spiritual relations are typically figured out or set forth, as the parables of the New Testament." --from the Oxford English Dictionary

C The parable's moral or lesson, unlike the fable's, is implicit in the story. By seeing the interactions or happenstance or consequence of a character's actions, we see the "point" of the story, what the storyteller wants the reader to know.

C [Remember the old writing adage: Show don't tell.]
C Also think of the sermon.

B) TALE:



Tale: "4. A story or narrative, true or fictitious, drawn up so at to interest or amuse, or to preserve the history of a fact or incident; a literary composition cast in narrative form." -- from the Oxford English Dictionary

C There are numerous types of tales: fairy tales, creation myths, tall tales, legends, trickster stories, etc.

C The tale's raison is to explain and to make sense of something about the world: physical or societal or personal.



C The Essence: the love of narrative: the delightful impulse to lie.

C) FABLE:


Fable: "2. A short story devised to convey some useful lesson; esp. one in which animals or inanimate things are the speakers or actors: an apologue. Now the most prominent sense." -- from the Oxford English Dictionary
C The fable turns on action:

-the raven puts more pebbles into the cup & hence gets to drink the water

-the boy has the courage to pull the thorn from the lion's paw and thus befriends his would-be attacker

-the grasshopper fails to store food for the winter and make a home and therefore must rely upon the good graces of the industrious ants come winter.


C These are pictures, or tableaux --you can see what is going on; unlike the parable, in which interactions are more complex, generally dealing with ethics and societal mores.
C The fable ends with a moral.

General Note: these forms use (in lieu of developed characters) -- archetypes: i.e., butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, kings, queens, princesses, witches, wizards, good little boys and girls, rich women, poor men, etc.; animals: i.e., fox=clever & sly, raven=survivor, owl=wisdom, lion=majestic might, bear=brute might, rabbit=luck; spirits & monsters & phantastical creatures: Gods, faeries, ghosts, demons, dragons

__________________________________________________


D) THE MODERN SHORT STORY:

C The modern short story varies primarily in that the characters are made to mimic (or simulate) real human beings, i.e. characters in modern fiction have psychology. Nonetheless, good modern stories contain the most important parts of these three forms: parable --an implicit meaning or lesson seen to be a direct consequence of some action; tale -- the desire to explain something about the physical or human world, this form is the soul of narrative, the love for storytelling for story's sake; fable -- a physical action which defines the movement of the story, a visible act which has consequences and can be moralized about



2. EXAMPLES: PARABLE/FABLE/TALE:

.PARABLE: from The Book of St. Luke: 19:12-27


12. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
13. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy til I come.
14. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
15. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
16. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
17. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
18. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
19. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.
20. And another came, saying Lord, be hold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
21. For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapst that thou didst not sow.
22. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
23. Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

24. And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.

25. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
26. For I say unto you, That unto ever one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
27. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

TALE: from Japanese Tales, edited by Royal Tyler (1987)
"A Model Demon"

Nichizo led the life of a wandering hermit in the Omine Mountains. One day on a remote trail he met a seven-foot-tall, dark-blue demon with red hair like flames, a slender neck, a grossly protruding breastbone, a swollen belly, and skinny shanks. The demon turned to Nichizo beseechingly and began to weep.

Nichizo asked it how it had gotten that way, "Four or five hundred years ago I was a man," the demon sobbed, "but then my grudge against someone I hated made me like this. Yes, I murdered him and his sons, his grandsons, his great-grandsons, and his great-great-grandsons too, and now there's no one left for me to kill. If only I knew where they were reborn, I'd murder them all over again. My rage burns as fiercely as ever, but my enemy's descendants are gone! Now I'm alone with the pain of this fire that nothing will extinguish. If I'd never felt this way I might even have been born into paradise, but hate has brought me an eternity of suffering. A grudge against someone else is just like a grudge against yourself. I wish I'd known, I only wish I'd known!

The demon's tears swelled to a flood as it spoke, and flames leaped from the top of its head. Suddenly it turned and fled further into the mountains.

Nichizo felt sorry for it and prayed the best he knew how that it might suffer less.



TALE: from African Folktales edited by Roger D. Abrahams, (1983)
"Why Monkeys Live in Trees" -- (from the Ewe peoples)
Listen to the story of the bush cat.

The bush cat had been hunting all day, and had got nothing. She was tired. She went to sit down and rest, but the fleas wouldn't giver her any peace.

She saw a monkey passing. She called to him, "Monkey, please come and flea me," (for that is what friends do for each other). The monkey agreed, and while he was picking out the fleas, the bush cat fell asleep. Then the monkey took the tail of the bush cat, tied it to a tree, and ran away.

The bush cat awoke. She wanted to get up and leave, but she found her tail tied to the tree. She struggled to get free, but she could not do it, so she remained there panting.

A snail came along. "Please unfasten my tail," cried the bush cat when she saw him. "You will not kill me if I untie you?" asked the snail. "No, I will do nothing to you," answered the bush cat. So the snail untied her.

The bush cat went home. Then she said to all her animal friends, "On the fifth day from now, announce that I am dead, and that you are going to bury me." The animals said, "Very well."

On the fifth day, the bush cat lay down flat, pretending to be dead. And all the animals came, and all danced round her. They danced.

The bush cat sprang up all at once. She leaped to catch the monkey. But the monkey had already jumped into a tree. He escaped.

So this is why He is too much afraid of the bush cat.

FABLES: from The Fables of La Fontaine, by Marianne Moore (1954)

"The Fox and the Grapes"

A fox of Gascon, though some say of Norman descent,

When starved till faint gazed up at a trellis to which grapes

were tied--

Matured till they glowed with a purplish tint

As though there were gems inside.

Now grapes were what our adventurer on strained haunches

chanced to crave

But because he could not reach the vine


He said, "These grapes are sour; I'll leave them for some knave."
Better, I think, than an embittered whine.
(Book Three, XI)
3) ASSIGNMENT:
As if you didn’t guess: Pick a form and write one. The goal is to 1) have fun and 2) explore the form and come to some basic understanding of WHY one would tell a story. Remember this exercise when writing your own story and while reading the stories for class: how are those stories -- and how is your story -- like a parable, like a fable, like a tale?
Have fun!




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