liar — fabulist
storyteller — fabulist
difference is intent
senryu by M. LaFreniere
Storyteller and liars are both fabulists but storytellers are not liars. Love that. Feels like a logic exercise. The fictional stories a storyteller weaves may have no basis in reality, no connection to any event that actually happened. Fiction means not true. And yet within our fictions, the threads we pick out for our story’s tapestry often reveal truths we hope the reader picked up on. No one really believes a grasshopper and ant had a conversation.
Many of us know the story of the grasshopper who sings all summer while the ant harvests and stores food for the coming winter. Yet truths change as cultures change because it is your cultural eye that interprets stories. In some cultures, the ant is the smart one as he refuses the grasshopper for being diligent and the grasshopper is the soon-to-be-dead idiot who will have enjoyed a short life.
As times change, the story has had different interpretations. The grasshopper is the hero for being an artist and the ant is looked down upon for not choosing to support the arts. Another interpretation is the ant is a hoarder, mean and uncharitable who should have helped the grasshopper. Two variants on that story — one is that the ant’s hoarding caused the shortage that would starve the grasshopper come winter. Another one includes a backstory where the grasshopper rescues the ant when he is sick and nurses him back to health and then in the grasshopper’s time of need, the ant turns away. In that story, the grasshopper is seen as charitable and the ant is not.
Somerset Maughn did a short story with a grasshopper-type brother always being rescued by his ant-type brother. Then the grasshopper brother marries a rich widow who dies and leaves him all her money which just pisses off the ant brother. Yeah when someone gets lucky, wins the lottery without doing any work at all; it can piss off the people who slaved away for a lifetime especially if they’ve hated their job but put up with it for their security.
The same story, tweaked slightly carries divergent truths interpreted through the primary values at the time.
Did you know Aesop had another fable? The grasshopper and ant fable that we are so familiar with is #373 in Perry’s index of Aesop’s Tales. This story is #166. A farmer who worked hard, farming all day, was not satisfied with his crop so at night would go out and steal from the neighboring farmer’s fields. This angered Zeus so he turned him into an ant. The ant did not give up his old habits and continued to steal from farmers’ fields, storing the produce up for himself albeit his size did reduce the amount of stealing. The moral of this story? It’s easier to change your appearance (from man into ant) than it is to change your moral nature (a hoarder/thief is still going to hoard/steal).
And if #166 is an earlier fable, one well known at the telling of the grasshopper and the ant, did everyone at that time know that ant from #373 to be the same ant from #166? Did that change how the story was interpreted that a hoarder/thief did not share his loot with an unemployed singer? Just a thought.
So when you tell your stories, weaving your fabulist lies to tell the truth, don’t be too surprised that your readers come away with a different truth than the one you intended. Could be you may even find a truth you didn’t expect.
The Ant and the Grasshopper
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