A good fable is like a doorway to another world. Or maybe to another part of yourself, where you then discover that perhaps this other world isn’t so far off after all. It’s been inside you all along, just around the corner, only by some trick of perception you never noticed it before. Scheherazade knew this; it kept her alive for a thousand and one nights, much to the amazement of all. But fables are much more than simply fanciful entertainment, and always have been. In the ...
A good fable is like a doorway to another world. Or maybe to another part of yourself, where you then discover that perhaps this other world isn’t so far off after all. It’s been inside you all along, just around the corner, only by some trick of perception you never noticed it before. Scheherazade knew this; it kept her alive for a thousand and one nights, much to the amazement of all.
But fables are much more than simply fanciful entertainment, and always have been. In the days before the written word and widespread literacy—still the case in many places on the earth—they were the means of passing on a legacy from generation to generation. These tales, heard around the fire as children, told by adults, became the reference points for their world, often for the rest of their lives, a cosmology held in common by the ones who bore and remembered them. As they grew older, these tales took on a new and different meaning, the amusing or wondrous unfolding a significance the child had never discerned.
The best fables don’t speak of another world, they speak of many worlds at once. Nominally they begin in the world in which we live, or some imagined variant of it (once upon a time…), but as they progress all sorts of echoes and resonances of heart and spirit filter in, like the harmonic notes on a piano that vibrate in accord with the key being played. Then as the piece continues all these become part of it, so that from then on hearing one note carries the sense of the other harmonies, in the same way a particular scent or color may bring an entire spring landscape into memory. The truth is that as human beings, our hearts and spirits can operate on a number of levels of resonance at once. We just have to learn how to listen.
Why “from the boundary?” On the inner level as well as the outer, fables work at the boundary of our knowledge and perception, and the boundary of our “self” as we conceive it. Because something in our heart resonates with them even if we do not know what it is, we often find ourselves bound to them with a strange affection. Why do Cinderella and Aladdin appeal to adults as well as children, and across all cultures? They cross all our boundaries, and speak to something deeply human. This is true of what we think of as great literature as well, the truth of our humanity shining through a Macbeth, a War and Peace, a Don Quixote. The ancient fables are just a shorter version of this brilliance, without civilization and a printing-press behind them.
Sometimes, too, these stories have kept alive in the listener a sense of something beautiful, purer, and possible, and so lifted their spirit in difficult times. How often have children around the world clung to the image of a particular story in lieu of being overwhelmed by a war-torn country, a broken home, the death of a parent? How often, for that matter, have we? It gives the heart something to aspire to, without which it would be all too easy to descend into the mire and the darkness and remain there. The vision of something better has brought many a soul through terrible times.
More than this, however, they are voices from beyond our boundaries, hinting like dreams at realms beyond. This is especially true of the teaching-fables from different spiritual traditions, which are designed to unlock something in us and provide doorways in what we thought were the limits of our world. Like certain kinds of music, they can take us to places we never knew were there. There are reasons why these have survived through many centuries and the rise and fall of civilizations: because they give us the gift of a world in which we are whole, and belong.
All the fables in this collection are original, and came to the author at different times and in different ways. Two followed spiritual retreats, another came from a dream, several evolved out of life situations. All, hopefully, share that quality of resonating in the many levels of the heart. Enjoy!
David Reid is a nom de plume. The author has enjoyed fables for many years, studied in several different mystical traditions, and is currently working on another novel. See his work at Davidreidbooks.com.