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Beast Fable

A beast fable, also known as an animal tale, is a short story or long poem that uses animal characters to relay a moral or narrative. 

In the story, the animals talk to one another and are anthropomorphized by the writer. This means that in addition to communicating, they do other human things. They walk upright, have jobs, play games, have human problems, and more. Commonly, these stories are shared across languages. Readers may find similar versions of stories from around the world. 

Beast Fable pronunciation: beest fay-buhl
Beast Fable definition and examples

Beast Fable Definition

A beast fable is a short story or poem that uses animals as the main characters. These animals display human characteristics and convey particular morals to the readers.

Some are aimed at young readers, while others are far darker and contain themes that are less appropriate for children. In most of the stories, animals are used to represent different qualities as they go on adventures, encounter obstacles, get into fights, and learn important lessons about life. 

Examples of Beast Fables 

Roman de Reynart 

Roman de Reynart, or Reynard the Fox, is a French beast fable that’s been translated into numerous languages. It also includes Dutch, English, and German fables. The stories focus on Reynard, an anthropomorphized red fox who serves as a traditional trickster figure. He takes advantage of other animals, faces enemies, and more. Most of the stories were written during the Middle Ages, but the stories have remained popular to this day. Some of the other animals in the stories include Isengrim the Wolf, Ibert the Cat, and Bruin, the Bear. 


The Panchatantra is a collection of Indian tales, most of which are animal fables. The works sate to 200-300 CE. They are widely known stories, ones that have been translated into many different languages. Throughout, animals talk and exhibit other human characteristics. The first book of the series contains over thirty fables—these range from including characters like lions, rams, jackals, snakes, and mice. In the third treatise of the collection, the author discusses war and peace using animal characters to convey the specific morals they’re interested in. Crows are represented as “good” and as creatures of the day, while owls come to represent “evil” and night.

Aesop’s Fables 

Aesop’s Fables, or Aesopica, is a collection of stories by Aesop, a storyteller from Ancient Greece. He’s thought to have lived sometime between 620 and 564 BCE. The stories remain incredibly popular to this day, and many are categories as beast fables. His stories have been used for different purposes throughout history, including and religious and social guides and later as broader ethical guides and in the education of children. 

Throughout, there are examples of talking animals. Some examples include “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,” “The Young Man and the Swallow,” and “The Frogs Who Desired a King.” The first of these is perhaps the best-known of the list. 

In “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” Aesop tells the story of a town mouse who goes to the country to visit his cousin. The country does not provide the city mouse with the kind of life he’s used to. The country mouse then visits the city where the two have a vast meal. A cat interrupts it, one who is responsible for the deaths of the town mouse’s family. The country mouse decides to go home, choosing safety over the opulence of town life. 

Animal Farm by George Orwell 

Animal Farm is a great example of a beast fable from far more recent times. The story is set on a farm where the animals rebel and take back control of their lives from their human overlord. What starts as a revolution turns into a new form of oppression as the smartest animals, the pigs, take control and force all the other farm animals to do their bidding. The entire story was written by Orwell as a commentary on the Russian Revolution. There are numerous morals through the lines of this well-loved book. It serves as a cautionary tale and as a harsh critique of Russia during this time period. Here is a famous quote from the book: 

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet, he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.


Why are beast fables important? 

Beast fables are important because of the long history they have and the way they have been passed down through generations. They date back t ancient Greece and the works of Aesop, if not earlier. These stories are an integral part of the way human beings tell stories and share wisdom.

Why do authors write beast fables? 

Authors write beast fables in order to tell stories with moral messages. These stories convey messages to readers, young and old, about the best ways to behave, how to be kind, considerate, and not make the same mistakes as the animal characters in the stories make. 

Which tale in The Canterbury Tales uses the tradition of the beast fable?

“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is an example of a beast fable. Chaucer based it off on a series of events in the Reynard the Fox cycle of fables. It includes talking animals that reflect human beliefs and perceptions. 

What is the purpose of a fable?

The purpose of a fable is to highlight human struggles through the guise of animal characters. These characters represent human mistakes and positive/negative attributes. They are often used to teach lessons to young readers.

Related Literary Terms 

  • Apologue: sometimes a fable, that shares a moral lesson. For example, kindness is more important than power, or love triumphs over hate.
  • Fable: a short and concise story that provides the reader with a moral lesson at the end.
  • Exemplum: a rhetorical device. It is a short story, narrative, anecdote, or tale that’s used in literature to explain moral reasoning. 
  • Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
  • Parable: a short fictional story that speaks on a religious attitude or moral belief.
  • Anthropomorphism: used to make inanimate objects, forces and animals appear to actually be human beings
  • Fantasy: a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.

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