Painting of a classic fable and how it compares to a parable.

The Difference Between Fables & Parables

Fables and parables are both ways of telling stories that convey moral or ethical lessons. Although they share the same purpose, they differ in their structure, characters, storytelling approach, and cultural origins. To better understand their differences, let’s delve deeper into the characteristics of each.

Painting of a classic fable: The Mongoose and the Farmer's Wife.

What Are Fables?

The Definition of a Fable

Fables primarily use anthropomorphized animals as characters and have more straightforward messages. If it’s a story about a monkey and a crocodile who behave like humans, it’s probably a fable.

  • Characters: Fables predominantly feature animals, plants, or inanimate objects as main characters. These are given human-like qualities, emotions, and behaviours. This can make the stories more engaging and relatable, especially for children.
  • Storytelling: Fables tend to be straightforward stories with simpler morals, making them more suitable for children. They typically involve a conflict or dilemma, which the characters resolve by the end of the story, illustrating the moral lesson.
  • Cultural Origins: Fables can be traced back to various cultures worldwide, including ancient Greece, India, and China.

The Most Influential Fables

Aesop is by far the most influential fabulist. His fables have dark, often humorous moral lessons. Here are some of his more popular ones:

There are fables from all over the world, though. Here are some of my favourites:

A painting of the fisherman from the Heinrich Boll's Anecdote for Lowering Work Morale.

What Are Parables?

The Definition of a Parable

Parables involve human characters in realistic settings and often require deeper interpretation to understand the moral lesson.

  1. Characters: Parables generally feature human characters and are set in realistic contexts, making them more relatable to adults. The characters often face moral or ethical dilemmas, serving as the basis for the story’s lesson.
  2. Storytelling: Parables are more complex and nuanced than fables, making them more relatable to adults. The moral lessons in parables are often not explicitly stated. You need to figure them out for yourself.
  3. Cultural Origins: Parables are commonly associated with religious teachings, particularly Christianity and Judaism. Jesus Christ, for example, frequently used parables to convey spiritual lessons to his followers.

The Most Influential Parables

Some well-known parables are The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Christianity), The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant (Buddhism and Jainism), and perhaps most relevantly, Truth in Fine Clothes, a Jewish parable about the value of parables.

Here are some of my other favourite parables:

The Difference

Fables are simple stories with animals as characters that teach children important moral lessons. Parables are profound stories with people as characters that help adults ponder morality.

If you want to read more fables and parables, I’ve composed a large compendium of them. I’ll be gradually adding new ones.

If you have any favourites I’ve missed, let me know in the comments.

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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