fable, brief allegorical narrative, in verse or prose, illustrating a moral thesis or satirizing human beings. The characters of a fable are usually animals who talk and act like people while retaining their animal traits. The oldest known fables are those in the Panchatantra, a collection of fables in Sanskrit, and those attributed to the Greek Aesop, perhaps the most famous of all fabulists. Other important writers of fables include Jean de La Fontaine, whose fables are noted for their sophistication and wit, the Russian poet Ivan Krylov, and the German dramatist and critic Gotthold Lessing, who also wrote a critical essay on the fable. In England the tradition of the fable was continued in the 17th and 18th cent. by John Dryden and John Gay. The use of the fable in the 20th cent. can be seen in James Thurber's Fables for Our Time (1940) and in George Orwell's political allegory, Animal Farm (1945). The American poet Marianne Moore wrote poems quite similar to fables in their use of animals and animal traits to comment on human experience; she also published an excellent translation of The Fables of La Fontaine (1954).
See H. J. Blackham, The Fable as Literature (1985) and bibliography comp. by P. Carnes (1985).