WHAT IS A FABLE?
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
I've been scratching my head, thinking hard about fables. It's hard to define what a fable is, don't you agree?
Traditionally, a fable is a story that is a little or a big step away from reality and which involves animals or objects that are given human qualities; and there is often a moral, of course.
To me, that's only half the story, at most. All fiction, by definition, is a step away from reality, and to suggest that a fable is somehow more divorced from 'real life' than a contemporary novel is to give a negative sense, perhaps, to the very word, fable.
Instead, I like to think of a fable as a kind of prose drama or masque: where themes that affect human beings, in everyday life, in any period, are played out in a mysterious or fictional setting.
When we watch a play by Shakespeare, for example, surely we are not suggesting that we cannot believe in the human dramas that are played out, simply because the setting is fantastical? If so, that would be The Tempest consigned to the rubbish pile…
The fables I like to write, then, might well have animals as characters, but not always; and supernatural events and magic are part and parcel of the action.
But the themes are rooted in the age-old problems we face, and the dreams that arise, because we are human. The outcomes of life are usually uncertain, and we can get around this uncertainty by telling stories about life to each other.
But there's more to say, I think, about fables; and what I have to say is also generally true about fantasy writing in general. We might not believe in witches any more, for instance, but the figure of the witch is as real as your mind, because the witch lurks in your subconscious. You cannot reach out and count the warts on the nose of the witch, but neither can you touch your mind. However, you know your mind is there, because otherwise you would not be you: an individual person with individual thoughts. The witch is there too; it's just that she's usually in the shadows. When she steps out into the light, in fiction or through the imagination, somehow we recognise her. She's always been there.
And she is not a stranger.