Tag Archives: fable

Reynard the fox

–Informant Info–

Nationality: French

Age: 39

Occupation: Housewife

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): French

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as TS and the interviewer as K)

Background info: TS is a mother of 3 who grew up in Nice, France, and moved to Los Angeles when she was in her 20s. She noted that this story was told to her only by her older family members while laughing, never by her mother or other children.

K: Ok, so can you tell me the name of the story, where you heard it, and the context of the performance? Like under what circumstances was it told.

TS: Yes, yes. It is called Reynard the fox, and it is a very very old story. I only ever heard it from my grandparents after they had too much wine *laughter* because it was a dirty story and didn’t teach any uh lessons like so many of uh…I don’t know the word in English…Legende? Uh, fable?

K: Yea, a fable, like a story that teaches you a lesson?

TS: Exactly! It was only really told in the uh house because it was dirty *laughter* it’s not something you tell your child at a dinner.

K: Ok, go ahead, and make sure you even tell the dirty parts *laughter*

TS: Ok ok, it goes that uh Reynard was a fox who had done many many horrible crimes, like robbing and rape and murder, and had done so many that the king lion himself wanted to punish Reynard. But Reynard was tricky. The king sent out his best hunters to bring Reynard in but Reynard had managed to uh…trick all of them and getaway.

K: Can you elaborate on that? Tricking the other characters?

TS: I’d love to! Bruin the bear is tricked because Reynard says there is honey inside a tree and he gets stuck. Tybalt (sometimes goes by a different name) the cat is tricked because Reynard sends him to a chicken coop owned by a priest, and gets locked inside by Reynard. Reynard alerts the priest, who beats Tybalt but Tybalt retaliates by biting one of the priest’s testicles off *laughter*. Eventually, Grimbert, a badger who is also Reynard’s cousin, manages to trap him. But when Reynard is brought before the king, he uh…throws everyone under the bus I think is the phrase?

K: Like sabatoges them?

TS: Yes! So Reynard does that to everyone that tried to capture him by saying they hid a treasure from the kind and only Reynard knows where to find it so the king frees him! But reynard flees. Later, he is found by Cuwart the hare, and Belyn the ram. He murders Cuwart, puts his head in a bag and gives it to Belyn, and tells him to uh bring the bag to the kind.

K: Good god

TS: Told you it was dirty *laughter*. So when Belyn does, she is executed by the king. By the time everyone uh understands they have been tricked again by Reynard, he has already fled and was never caught.

Interpretation:
This was a very interesting story to hear. I think most notably is how the informant said specifically it’s not like a traditional fable, as it doesn’t teach a lesson, but people still regarded it as such. It’s a very satirical story, and it’s meant to be a sort of social commentary mocking the aristocratic people of the time. There are so many different versions of the story, due mainly to its old age, that nearly everyone comments on a different thing in society. Many on the aristocratic people, some on food, some on the crime itself. It’s interesting how many variations there can be of the same story.

For another version of this story, see: Anonymous. (1982). Le Roman de Renart. Champion.

The Foolish Old Man

Context:

Y is my other parental figure of mine who grew up in China and is currently living in California. 

This conversation took place over a weekly phone call with my parents after I asked them about stories that they knew from China. 

Text:

Y: The Foolish Old man removes the mountain – the story goes, this story became famous after Chairman Mao used it in his speech or writing. 

The story goes that in old times, there was an old man who was 90 years old. He lived near the mountains called the Tai Ha Sang and Wang Mu Sang, the two mountains. Basically, he was angry because the mountains blocked his view and he wanted to move them. He wanted to dig up the mountain. Because the mountains are kind of far away, even though they look near, when you go to them it’s pretty far. It takes about a year to, basically it takes time to go to the mountains and he can’t really dig up the mountain because he can only dig up some rock and dirt each time. So people laugh at him and say you’re so old with limited timee left, and you can only remove a little bit of dirt and rock at a time. How can you remove the mountain, its impossible. And he said, Oh, although I may not be able to accomplish in my lifetime, my kids can continue it and my kid’s kids, my grandkids, can work on it after. So if I have generations working on it, eventually we can succeed.

Me: mhm.

Y: yeah. So generations and generations continued to work on it, working on removing the moutanins. Eventually the gods heard about it and were impressed by his perseverance, so basically the gods seperated the mountains.

Me: Ohhh, they did it for him.

Y: Yeah so the gods separated the mountains. 

The moral is that if you are determined to do something, the perseverance will eventually help you succeed.

Reflection:

This story focuses again on the morals in Chinese culture to persevere, as well as to respect the wishes of your ancestors. It is also a direct example of advising to respect your elders because those who told the old man that he was too old were proved wrong as his legacy persisted past his lifetime. This long line of families all follow the wishes of the original protagonist before the gods reward them for their actions. I think it is also interesting that my informant remembered it because of a speech from Chairman Mao. Mao notoriously appealed to the lower class and therefore I think it is telling that he references this folktale in order to appeal to this audience. This fable also gave way to a figure of speech that references the hardship of the old man.

“The Foolish Old Man Moves a Mountain – Xu Beihong – Google Arts & Culture.” Google, Google, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-foolish-old-man-moves-a-mountain-xu-beihong/VwF2EURLdtUNww?hl=en.

The Lion Who Laughed

Alright this is a story about the lion who laughed, because the lion laughed, this is about a lion who laughed. The lion is a very cruel king, he gathers all the animals in the forest, he is a very cruel, cruel king! So all the animals gather in the forest, he goes “Everyone has to laugh at somebody who tells me a joke.” He pulls the tortoise up, the tortoise has to tell everyone a joke. If everyone laughs, he survives. If one person does not laugh, then he dies. He gets eaten by the lion. So! The lion is ready for the tortoise to make a joke and everybody laughs! The tortoise tells the funniest joke in the world, the lion is laughing his ass off, except the sloth. The sloth has not said a word, he is not laughing. So naturally the lion eats the turtle, okay? Or the tortoise sorry. Next day in the forest the lion gathers everybody, he’s a very cruel king, and he goes “Oh my god, some animal’s gotta tell a joke, or I am gonna eat an animal if everybody laughs then the animal is saved! If one person doesn’t laugh then damn. . . I gotta eat the animal.” So it happens to be a kangaroo. The kangaroo’s all nervous and he knows he is going to die and he’s the worst joker in the world. He tells a joke and the lion just stares at him, everybody is just like “what the hell was that?” No laughing. Uhh. . . but he gets eaten, he gets slobbered up but! The kangaroo is dead because he just got eaten but the sloth is laughing his ass off, and everyone is like “Yo, why are you laughing? You were the only one that didn’t laugh yesterday, now you’re the only one laughing today. What’s going on?” And he goes “Ahaha I’m not laughing at the kangaroo joke, I was laughing at the tortoise joke from yesterday. That shit was hilarious!” So the moral of the story is. . .don’t be a sloth.

Lazy Donkey Tale

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my mother. It was told casually as both entertainment and to teach a lesson at the same time

Background: The informant heard this from her grandmother in her mountain village. They remember this for the entertainment value that the story provided as well as for the moral advice.

Main piece: 

There was once a merchant who loaded his salt onto his donkey and took it to the market every day. On the way, they had to go through the forest and pass over a small stream. One day, the donkey slipped as it was crossing that stream, and the salt on its back dissolved in the water. As it stood up, the donkey noticed with glee that its heavy load had lightened considerably. 

Remembering this the crafty donkey made a plan. From that day on, every time he crossed the stream, the donkey purposely dove into the stream and pretended it was an accident. However, the merchant understood what the donkey was doing, and one day he loaded the donkey up with cotton instead of salt. When they reached the stream, the donkey once again plunged into the water. This time, however, his burden was increased several times over, and he was forced to continue with the sopping wet cotton on his back.

By the time that the donkey reached the market, it could barely walk. The next day, the merchant put salt on the donkey’s back yet again. However, the donkey didn’t fall into the stream this time but passed over it without issue. It had learned its lesson from the previous day and didn’t try to act up out of laziness again. 

Analysis: This fable is similar to many others with its inclusion of animals as characters and a negative characteristic resulting in a bad outcome, leading to the learning of a lesson. Although it is a specific version of a story, this seems very similar to any such story that might have been told around the world to children in order to teach them not to try to take advantage of things and be lazy, or else there may be consequences.

The Dojo Temple (Dojoji): A Japanese Legend

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the Japanese legend about the Dojo Temple (Dojoji in Japanese).

 

SS: The story is about the Dojo temple; the title comes from a temple that forbid women from entering. Women were considered to pollute the sacred religious space. There’s a story that surrounds this temple where at a nearby, I think it was an inn, a woman was running the inn, you know, like, a little house that she was letting people stay at and she’s running it, a beautiful monk comes, and they fall in love, or maybe not exactly in love, because she seems to be really interested in him and he promises her that he will come back after he goes to this religious pilgrimage to Dojoji, this temple. Well, it turns out that he was just using that as an excuse because he got scared of her, so he goes away. But the woman gets really angry when she finds this out and turns into a serpent and then chases the guy until he gets to the temple and hides in this, kind of like, bell, and the serpent coils around the bell and burns him to death. So, there’s a lot of variations of the story but this is like the main part. So, you can see the story can be very dramatic and the Japanese perform it a lot, so you can see it in Kabuki theater, Noh theater, puppet theater, etc., etc.

 

EK: Would you say this is a legend or more of just a story?

 

SS: Well, it’s kind of hard to say. It’s been retold a lot in narrative form, performance, and so on, it’s all over the place, it’s been around from medieval to early modern Japan, which is from like eleventh century to 1868. It first appears in a religious text, so it could be a story that was made up to alert men of the danger of women, that they kind of pollute the sacred space. But then people became fascinated in the serpent itself. So, like in artworks, they’re not at all interested in the moral of the story that was important for probably the religious community very early on, but [instead] in the serpent that keeps on becoming this dramatic highlight.

 

EK: Where did you first hear this?

 

SS: I mean it’s one of those works that you read in school, like, one of those works that keeps coming up when you’re teaching pre-modern literature. It’s just all over the place. It’s actually associated with a specific region, like there’s and actual temple and a space, so I think, there are lots of different ways to access or come in contact with it. I grew up in Japan too, so I also know the story pretty well.

 

My Interpretation:

I believe the story that SS is a legend, in that it has questions of factuality but occurs in the real world. It seems that there are several variations of this story out there as well. SS noted that its origins are in religious texts and it’s also told by word-of-mouth, as well as performed in many different Japanese theaters, all of which I’m sure have their own interpretations or performances of the story. It seems that back when the story was first thought up, women were not thought of very highly of, as the legend presents the woman as pollution to sacred spaced, as well as a serpent creature. A serpent symbolic of being sneaky and deceitful, like the snake in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I suppose that this could have been fable at the time for men to hear in order for them to watch out for women who would “cause” them cheat on their wives or manipulate them into doing bad things. Overall, I think it’s an easy legend to repeat, so although there is most likely lots of variation to the story, the way it flows has helped the main plot remain similar over thousands of years.