The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf
(A Boy and False Alarms)
Of all the fables I learned as child, I like best the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!” After bluffing twice, thrice, and make fun out of wit, people didn’t believe in him anymore. Then the real wolf came and killed all the sheep.
Here is the story from Bewick written in Medieval English style.
“A shepherd’s boy kept his sheep upon a common, and in sport and wantonness had gotten a roguish trick of crying. A wolf! A wolf! When there was no such matter, and fooling the country people with false alarms. He had been at this sport so many times in jest, that they would not believe him at last when he was in earnest; and so the wolves broke in upon the flock, and worried the sheep without resistance.”
The fable shows us the dangerous consequences of an improper and unseasonable fooling. The old moral observes, that a common liar shall not be believed, even when he speaks true.
The Mice in Council
(Who will bell the cat?)
It’s an interesting fable that behooves upon whose who are good only as critics, and ruefully poor doers. It also applies to those who may be sincere in a thing they think is right, but lack the courage to do it. Why many evil things continue to prevail because of indifference!
Let us look into the story. This is the simpler version for children to understand. Once some mice lived in a house where there also lived a big cat. Everyday she liked to eat some mice. At last the mice said to one another. “This must stop, or soon we shall all be eaten.”
So after a time an old mouse said. “I know what we can do. One of us must put a bell on the cat. The bell will tell us when she is near and when we must stay at home. After she has gone away, we can come out again.”
“Yes, that will be a wise thing to do. Let us do that,” they all said.
“But which one of us will put the bell on her?” said the old mouse. “I am too old, I cannot run very fast so I don’t think I can do it.”
“So are we,” said some of the others.
“And we are too little,” said the baby mice. In the end no one would do it. So the bell was never put on the cat and she went on eating the mice.
Another interpretation suggests that the fable must have been addressed to celebrated personages - people who are members of a council. In the story, the members offered solutions which they debated upon. Here the one who offered the solution to bell the cat came was a young mouse, who in fine florid speech convinced the council. Thereafter an old grave Mouse, who had sat silent all the while, gave another speech, in which he said that the proposal is ingenious. However, he thought it would not be so proper to thank the proponent unless he informs them how the bell was going to be fastened around the cat’s neck, and which mouse would undertake the dangerous assignment.
Bewick’s interpretation speaks on a higher level of thought. To wit:
“The different lights, in which things appear to different judgments, recommend candor to the opinions of others, even at the time we retain our own.”
The Dog and the Shadow
(The Dog and His Reflection)
Perhaps the most popular fable about avarice is The Dog and the Shadow (The Dog and His Reflection)
One day, a dog took a bone from a shop. He ran off with it before anyone could catch him. He came to a river and went over the bridge. As he looked down into the water, he saw another dog with a bone. He did not know that the dog he saw in the water was a reflection of himself.
“That dog has a big bone. It is as big as mine,” he said. “I will jump into the water and take it from him.” So he jumped.
When he was in the water, he could not see the other dog. And he could not see the other bone either. He had lost his own bone, too, because it fell as he jumped in. So because he was greedy, he got nothing in the end. The story invites the reader to reflect upon himself on these related lessons:
• Excessive greediness mostly in the end misses what it aims.
• Disorderly appetite seldom obtains what it would have.
• Passions mislead men, and often bring them great inconveniences.