Painting of the boy who cried wolf.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Aesop’s Fables)

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is one of Aesop’s most famous fables. It’s been popular for nearly 3,000 years and shows no signs of fading into the mists of time. It’s a dark story with two grim moral lessons, which I’ll explain at the end.

Some retellings soften the ending, attempting to make it more palatable for children. I’ve kept the ending as it was. Aesop’s fables were never meant for children. They’re often brutal. This is one of those.

The Fable

A long time ago, in a land far away from here, there was a small village nestled between a dark forest and a gentle meadow. The villagers were simple, hardworking folk who relied on their flock of sheep for sustenance.

The villagers were wary of the wolves who lurked in the dark forest, so they appointed a young boy to keep watch. He was to stand on top of a rock, watching the shadows for movement. But the shadows rarely moved, and the mundanity of the task weighed heavily on the boy, threatening to crush his spirit.

The boy climbed atop a boulder and cried at the top of his lungs, “Wolf! Wolf! A wolf is attacking the sheep!”

Hearing the boy’s cries, the villagers rushed from their homes, brandishing their gleaming silver swords, ready to defend their precious flock. But when they arrived at the pasture, panting and out of breath, they found no wolves, only the young boy hiding behind the rock, choking on his laughter.

The villagers were furious, but it didn’t last. They had been young once, long ago, and still remembered the youthful urge to create a little chaos. They gently scolded the boy, warning him not to deceive them again, and returned to their homes to hang up their swords.

The boy heeded their warnings. He really did. He behaved for as long as he possibly could. But days passed, and the boredom once again began to crush his soul. So, he climbed back onto the boulder, and with only a hint of trepidation, he cried, “Wolf! Wolf! A real wolf has come!”

The villagers grabbed their swords once more and raced to the boy’s aid, only to find him rolling on the ground, tears rolling down his insipid, joyful cheeks.

This time, the villagers lost their temper. They shouted and screamed at the shameless, lying scoundrel.

Not long after, in the dead of that same night, the boy saw a dark shape slinking through the shadows. Fear gripped his heart, and he cried out, “Wolf! Wolf! Please help! A real wolf is here!” But the villagers were weary of his mischief and ignored his cries.

The wolves feasted on many sheep and one small boy.

The Moral & Meaning

The obvious moral lesson is that you ought to uphold your reputation. If people come to think of you as a liar, they won’t believe you when you tell the truth. If you’re never any help, people won’t come running to help you. You’ll need to face the wolves alone.

We can also look at the story from the perspective of the parents who lost their mischievous son. I have one of those. I’ll often hear him shouting, “Ayuda! Ayuda!” I’ll rush over to see what the trouble is, only for him to pounce from the shadows like a panther. I tell him this fable, and he listens, and he understands, but the lesson doesn’t last for very long.

Needless to say, I don’t want my son to be eaten by wolves. So perhaps a second moral lesson is that we ought to take our children seriously, even if they aren’t always serious. Maybe we ought to give our children a few extra chances.

Similar Fables

If you liked the Boy Who Cried Wolf, you might like Aesop’s other fables. Perhaps the Frogs and the Ox. It’s one of his stranger stories. I like it very much.

If you like stories about Greek men being devoured by wolves, there’s another: The Legend of Milo of Croton.

If you want more cautionary tales with grim moral lessons, you may like these:

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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