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New Age Fables For A Brave New World

Written by Sheeba Manish

Fables by Alfred Lobel are great, great fun like all fables are. Think Aesop, Jataka, Panchatantra, Biblical fables, fables from the Quran…and the common characteristics are pithiness, moral value and very often comic introspection. The truths of life are laid bare exposing human foibles, making us look inward but kindly. Sometimes, we find ourselves quoting a moral to explain a point.

A stitch in time saves nine or Greed ends in tragedy; There is no cure for foolishness. Depending on the story, the moral is laid out, sometimes contradicting each other in the process. We quite expected predictable tales of morality with foxes, snakes, cranes, tigers and the like masquerading as people and behaving like them.

Imagine then to our surprise to encounter fables that have all the usual suspects but with entirely new storylines, that you will relate to in a jiffy. Take for instance this gem.

An illustration from the book Fable by Alfred Lobel

A baby kangaroo was very ill behaved. Fed up, his school principal came to visit his parents. Soon the poor principal found himself hit by spitballs, startled by firecrackers in the bathroom and thumb tacks on his chair! The poor principal could do nothing because it was the work of parent kangaroos.

Fittingly, the moral of the story is:

A child’s conduct will reflect the way of his parents.

The author’s narration style is quite contemporary and will bring to mind that pair of unmindful parents and their ill-mannered child.

Or the one in which a gibbon counselled a baboon. Baboon lamented that he was unable to enjoy the sunshine, being as he was under the umbrella’s shadow. “Why not cut some holes and let the light in”, asked the gibbon. The baboon promptly did so to realise it was not such a good idea when it started to rain.

The moral of the fable being,

Advice from friends is like the weather. Some of it is good; some of it bad.

The baboon and an umbrella riddled with holes!

These and many a fable are told quite simply by the author. No moral finger wagging to the reader. Instead the reader finds herself chuckling ever so often at the colourful titles, the manner of the story and of course the morals at the end of them.

The morals belong to today and not the distant past. Sample these:

A locked door is very likely to discourage temptation

Knowledge will not always take the place of simple observation.

All the miles of a hard road are worth a moment of happiness.

The colourful and detailed illustrations in the book have been done by the author. This book won the Caldecott prize for illustration in 1980. Lobel has also written the Frog and Toad series as well as the Mr.Muster series.

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