Fabled for Thoughts

I have, as you probably know, a real fondness for fables. When one is out of sorts, as they say, there’s nothing like a good Hungarian fable to jump-start your soul. The Eagle, the Hen, and the Lonesome Fiddler, most versions of which come in under three hundred words, is one of my particular favourites: a near faultless piece of storytelling. Or what about a fable from further afield? The Black Sea has an especially rich tradition of fantastic fables, amongst which one may find such masterworks as The Snake who saw the Midday Moon and Uncle Boris and the Angry Cloud.

Western Europe, of course, has also produced its fair share of fables – though it must be said that I rarely venture into those well-worn fields. This last weekend was, however, an exception, as I enjoyed several happy hours devouring the works of everybody’s favourite seventeenth-century French fabulist, Jean de la Fontaine. Here, for your immediate edification, is an example of his concise and witty writing.

The Mountain’s Delivery

A mountain having labour
With clamour rent the air.
The neighbours who came running
Predicted she would bear
A city broad as Paris
Or at least a manor house,
But at the crucial moment
The mountain dropped a mouse.

How like so many authors
Who say they’ll set to paper
A vast Promethean epic
But all that comes is vapour.

Like all good fables, this one sets the mind thinking. And my own thoughts turn, inevitably, to that uncertain philosopher Leo Barnard, the self-professed ‘mountain of thought’ who drops more than his fair share of mice. Consider, for instance, his much-hyped History of Boredom, in which the great man aims to prove that ‘boredom is greater than love’. A fair claim, perhaps, but one that hardly requires two thousand pages to prove. I could do the same in half an hour.

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