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The Genre of Fables

[...first page - Index The fables]

Since the Greeks and Romans’ times much widespread was the custom of telling stories, whose main characters were “thinking” and “speaking” animals (cat, mouse, wolf, sheep, etc.) who had the task of “educating” to behave according to the rules accepted by most people. The fables were told by word of mouth and also written and collected in books where the students could practise in the schools, too: this strengthens the didactic value of the fables.
The fables are usually very short stories in prose or in verse which tell the adventures of one or more animals, but also of people or things; they are simple and immediate stories depicting an event which turns out quickly. Few elements are needed to settle the situation: the particular story soon gets to an end because what matters is not the tale, but its moral, a teaching which the reader gets from the story. The moral helps to counsel and let the reader reflect; “brevity” and “moralistic ending” are the main elements of the fable and fairy stories texts and after the narrative texture (the plot), the fanciful atmosphere turns over, and the meaning of the story is made clear. The function of the story does not change if, as it sometimes happens with PHAEDRUS, the judgement is put at the beginning rather than at the end.

The fable is often linked with a historical and political background, where it is not assured a complete freedom of thought and expression speech, and the message of common sense, of call to the main values of life, becomes nonconformist and revolutionary.

Myths and tales - oral tradition

In the East, especially in India, the fable achieved a high degree of literary elaboration (processing), as it is testified by famous collections, like the Pancatantra, the oldest selection of tales in Sanskrit (the archaic Indian language) and the Hitopadesa.

Deep Africa, too, owns a very rich heritage of myths and tales committed to the oral tradition. The tribe culture, which cannot be handed down to the new generations by books, is jealously protected by the old and by those belonging to the secret societies. They, in special circumstances of life, tell them to the younger people and for this task they are held in great consideration.
Even if the fables and the fairy tales, the myths, the legends, etc., are not committed to writing, it does not mean that we are faced by a rough and not elaborate production, on the contrary, in the African tales we can find a great refinement of invention and of tasteful narration. Besides, the cultural heritage of a group is handed down not only by narration, but also by dance, artistic production, music and singing.

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