Sunday, August 5, 2012

More Fables of Aesop by Jack Kent (1974)

 More Fables of Aesop was one of my favorites as a kid.  The inside cover has our names written on it, in my mother's handwriting - "Shawn and Patrick, 9 Aug - 1975."  The publisher was Parents' Magazine Press - mail order book club in the sixties and seventies.  Other books I still own  - very ratted and torn, falling part, and very loved - include Miss Suzy, Babar, The King and His Six Friends, How Fletcher was Hatched, Gus Was a Friendly Ghost, and The Pooh Storybook.  There may have been others that haven't survived!

I suppose we all live our lives by such homilies, but I was really amazed at how much of this particular book is part and parcel of my psyche.  Like so many books I read in my tender years, this is one of those that really stuck in my head and made me who I am today, I think.

Each story was familiar to me upon re-reading it, and the morals even more familiar.  Over the years, I've changed and adapted some of the homilies in my head (and said them to other people I suppose, being a boorish boring know it all).  But the moral and ethical ideas are still there. I wonder if Aesop is taught?  It should be - in school and in Sunday School too.

These are really conservative in nature too - does that make me a conservative at heart?  Relativism has not place in Aesop.

What's the difference between a parable and a fable?

Here's a short run down of each fable in this particular book, with what I think they have meant to me.
Angry Fox With no Right to Be Angry

The Wolf and the Lion.  A fox steals a sheep, which is in turn stolen from him by a lion. He bitches about it, and the lion says "Belongs to you, does it? It was given to you by a friend, I suppose."  The moral:  "One who steals has no right to complain if he's robbed."  Another moral - it's okay to come back with a sarcastic remark (see also Charles Schulz Peanuts).

Gays on a Bike
The Man and the Satyr.  A man and a satyr are on a tandem bicycle, which I think it so gay.  The man blows his hands to warm them, then blows on his soup to cool it.  The satyr says "I want nothing to do with anyone who can blow hot and cold with the same breath."  The moral:  "We don't trust what we don't understand."  That's certainly one way of looking at the story.  But I immediately think of the phrase:  "He blows hot and cold air" meaning he's a flip flopper who one moment says yes and then turns around and says no.  We certainly don't trust what we don't understand - but we also don't trust flip floppers either.

The Hare and the Tortoise.  I discussed this one in a previous blog post.  Janet Stevens's story and Jack Kent's story remain the same (Jack Kent's story is taken from the translator  of Aesop V.S. Vernon-Jones from around the turn of the last century).  Interestingly, in Stevens's story, the race starts with a raccoon striking a gong; in Kent's story from about ten years before, the fox starts the race by shooting a pistol into the air.  A politically correct change, perhaps?    "Slow and steady wins the race" has certainly stuck in my head - it's how I interpret the story, as much as I also like the ideals of hard work and perseverance.  Of course, I've learned in other ways (hard other ways) that quitting is okay too, on occasion.  (the moral is the original from Vernon-Jones translation).

The Hare and the Hound.  A quitting story!  A dog chases a hare for a while, then gives up.  The goatherd mocks him - "The little one is a better runner!"  The dog replies "You do not see the difference between us:  I was only running for a dinner, but he was running for his life."  Kent's moral:  "WHY we do a thing often determines HOW we do it."  Which seems to me a great lesson for strategic planning - figure out the why, and then the how.  But this is also about quitting, isn't is?  Sometimes you have to give up on something.  The hare wanted it more, and the hound eventually knew it.  Why keep at something you can't win at?  That's kind of a crappy moral though, and completely the opposite of the last one!

The Fox and the Crane.  When the fox invites the crane over for dinner, he serves the crane food he can't really eat.  The crane turns around and does the same thing to the fox.  Kent's moral:  "Sometimes a dose of our own medicine is good for us."  Here's another interpretation:  Be a thoughtful host.  And another:  Turn about is fair play.  And another:  Don't turn the other cheek - it's okay to be a dick to someone who is has been a dick to you.   I wonder if they found new friends after this?

The Crow and the Pitcher.  A thirsty crow finds a pitcher with a little bit of water in the bottom that he can't reach, so he collects pebbles and adds them one by one until the water rises high enough to drink.  Kent's moral:  "Little by little does the job."  "Ingenuity does the trick" seems to be another moral.  Too bad the fox from the previous fable wasn't friends with the crow.

"Don't be greedy."  "F*** off Bystander!"
The Boy and the Filberts.  A boy reaches into a jar of filberts and grabs such a big handful that he can't get his hand out of the jar.  A "bystander" sees the boy crying about and it and says "Be satisfied with half the amount and you'll have no trouble getting your hand out."  The moral of this one seems to be completely unambiguous:  "Don't be greedy."  The "bystander" from the illustration seems to be most likely the boy's sister, which would make more sense - if a "bystander" tried to tell me what to do, I'd probably get a little pissed regardless of how right they were and tell them to mind their own damn business.

I'm pretty sure when I read this as a kid, I had no idea what the hell a "filbert" was.  I still don't.  I think they are hazelnuts.
Welfare Mother Hard At Work

The Grasshopper and the Ants.  One of Aesop's most famous tales, that needs little introduction - the grasshopper plays all summer while the ants work diligently, and then when winter hits he starves.  When he asks them for help, they say to him:  "If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer you must dance supperless to bed in the winter."  Kent's moral:  "You can't play all the time."  Also:  Make hay while the sun shines.  The moral of this tale is both a conservative's dream - it's all about welfare, isn't it?  Grasshopper = welfare mom.  This certainly isn't a tale about compassion for those less fortunate than you.  It's also saying something negative about art and artists.  Actually, the grasshopper was working all summer long.  He was entertaining the ants while they worked.  He deserves some compensation!  Why can't he play and entertain them during the winter months and they pay him?  Essentially, these ants are conservative Republicans, aren't they?  Palins and DeMints.  Of course you can't play all the time - but define "play" for me?  This is probably one of the fables where moral relativism can swoop in and make a mess of things.  You can also tell from this fable that Aesop was no Christian.  Some of his homilies can sound vaguely Christian, but Jesus would have whipped up some fishes and loaves and fed the grasshopper regardless of what he did all summer.  A lesson Republicans seems to have forgotten.

The Lion and the Mouse.  Another famous tale, about the mouse who helps out a lion.  Kent's moral:  "All of us, the great and the little, have need of each other."  Unless, of course, you played all summer long.  Then fuck off.

Love hurts.
The Cat and Venus.  A cat falls in love with a man, and asks Venus to turn her into a human.  The goddess does, the young man and can now beautiful human woman fall in love and get married.  But the human woman can't resist chasing mice, and fickle Venus turns her back into a cat, she's so disgusted by her.  Kent says "It's easier to change our looks than it is to change our habits."  This is a Biblical proverb as well:  the leopard can't change his spots.  Also, you may want to do a little investigating about a potential mate before marrying them.  And love is fickle.  Venus is a bitch.  If the young man loves his wife, who cares if she chases mice?

The Bear and the Two Travelers.  Two hobos comes face to face with a bear.  One runs off and climbs a tree; the other plays dead.  The bear bends down and whispers in the "dead" man's ear then lumbers off.    His companion later asks what the bear said.  "He gave me this advice... never travel with a friend who deserts you at the first sign of danger."  Kent's moral:  Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends."  Over the years, both Scott and I have had a great variety of friends - some them "fair weather" friends only.  And I suppose we've occasionally been guilty of being "fair weather" friends as well.  It's a great little lesson though - a friend isn't really a friend if they desert you at the first sign of trouble.

Unless, of course, you're a grasshopper who played and sang all summer long.  Then, once again, fuck off.

The North Wind and the Sun.  The sun and the north wind argue about who can strip "a wayfaring man of his clothes."  The wind blows and blows, to no avail.  He can't blow the clothes off.  The sun warms the man up, and he strips down.  "Persuasion is better than force."  Or "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar."  That cat that Venus turned into a hot chick could have done the job too!

Belling the Cat.  Mice decide to bell the cat - a great idea, but someone asks the question "But which of us is going to do it."  The moral:  "Some things are easier said than done."

The Fly on the Wagon.  A farm wagon rumbles down the road, stirring up clouds of dust.  A fly sitting on the back of the wagon says "My my we're raising a lot of dust , aren't we?"  The moral:  "We sometimes take credit for more than we do."

More Fables of AesopMore Fables of Aesop by Jack Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my absolute favorites from childhood - my copy came in the mail from Parents Magazine Press, a mail order book club from the seventies - 1975 to be exact.  Kent's illustrations are perfect.  The fables are both familiar (The Hare and the Tortoise, The Grasshopper and the Ants) and unusual (The Man and the Satyr) but the morals remain beloved.  Two thousand years ago, Aesop was telling these stories, and they still ring true today.  Although discussion may ensue on what the actual moral of each tale is is a far different society than that of Aesop (aren't we still debating The Grasshopper and the Ants today?).  Completely wonderful book - part of my soul is built on these lessons from antiquity with 1970s illustrations.

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