Saturday, March 10, 2012

Parable, Fable . . . What's the Difference?

Hm, well . . . not so much and at the same time a heckuva lot?

I've been severely slacking on the blogging recently, so I thought I'd try and give it a jump-start with a simple post on parables and fables, which some (like this scatterbrained writer) may sometimes confuse because of all those 'able's hanging around the joint.

Now, the similarities. Both fables and parables are usually very short and to-the-point. Both teach a valuable (or worthless, I guess, depending who you ask) life-lesson. The characters in both serve a purpose, having no life beyond that purpose.

The one jarring difference between the two is that in fables, life and the power of speech is imbued into plants, animals, and/or inanimate objects, whereas in parables all the actors are human.

The most famous parables found in Western culture are in the New Testament of the Bible: The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, The Ten Virgins, The Rich Man and Lazarus.

Worldwide, the most famous collection of fables is Aesop's Fables, a few of which come pre-loaded on the device when you purchase a Kindle or download the Kindle reading app. I think most folks read these in school and growing up, and they're just as fun and poignant now as they were back then. Read 'em again and reminisce on simpler times.

One of the most famous tales credited to Aesop is The Tortoise and the Hare, where the plodding tortoise beats out the hare in an impossible finish by staying the course in a steadfast, determined manner while the hare screws around, his overconfidence and arrogance leading to his downfall. Classic themes, those. It has been adapted in countless books, cartoons, movies. My personal favorite is the old Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny.

In Eastern culture. . . Jataka Tales, a vast collection filled with both parables and fables. The stories in the Jataka tell of the Buddha in his previous lives. Each gives a different lesson the Buddha learned on his long path to enlightenment, which he finally attained in his most-famous incarnation, Siddhartha Gautama, in India in the 5th century B.C.E. The guy did a little bit of everything in his past lives, from deer to nobleman to beggar to demigod. Just like with many traditional American Indian tales, you'll find variations of the same Jataka story across different Eastern cultures.

So there you have it. Parables and fables, fables and parables. Similar, but oh-so different. Anybody out there know any good ones? What's your favorite? Which one has stuck with you, in the back of your mind, through the years?

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