101 Classic Chinese Fables
. Dragon Fly Publications . Newark, CA ,
PN989.C5 O63 1998 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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This is physically an unusually well made paperback. Unfortunately, having read the whole work, I find the contents uneven and thus often not up to the quality of the material book. These are real fables, but they seem to lose something in translation. Often they seem obvious or harmless. Try Fables 81 through 84 as a sample. The first presents a man who wants shade, even from the moon; he seeks it so desperately that he gets wet and cold. The second describes a blind man being told that the sun is like a candle. Presented with a flute, he thinks it is the sun. The third has a traveler who gets tired and wants to take a boat. The boat owner demands twice what he knows the traveler has, but then is willing to make a deal to have the traveler pull the boat for half price. The last has a courageous man learn all the written rules for swimming, jump in, and drown. By contrast, here are the most engaging stories I found. The Contentious Bat (32) does things differently from standard Western bat-fables. Here he is invited to two different parties, one for birds and one for animals. He skips both, but the hosts meet each other and talk--and disown the bat from both kingdoms. The Poor Night-watch Goose (42) has a sentinel who rightly raises the alarm, but the hunters grow quiet and blow out their torches right after each alarm. Soon she is attacked by the other geese and leaves them to the hunters. In fact, she watches them as they are captured. A Fawn's Hard Lesson (51) has a fawn who lives with dogs think that he is a dog. He learns that he is not a dog only in his quick death at the hands of outraged dogs. The Hunter Who Blew a Bamboo Whistle (55) is a good serial story about which animal fears which. Unfortunately for the hunter in this story, bears fear no one! The Burdened Rider (60) is an old story about the horse-rider who, while he rides, carries the load on his head in order to spare the horse having to carry it. Requesting a Sick Leave for the Donkey (62) presents the funny story of a man who rides on a donkey to play chess. His host welcomes him lavishly and keeps him for long hours, but only so that he can use the donkey for millwork! The Blind Man on the Bridge (126) presents the great situation of a blind person hanging from a dilapidated bridge but not knowing how far he will fall or onto what. The Two Stupid Sons (135) wins a prize. The rich business man cannot believe that his good-looking sons are stupid and so agrees to a test. They are to say where rice comes from. They exasperate him by answering respectively from the kitchen and from the rice bag. He sets them straight: it comes from their rice warehouse! In The Prime Minister's Calligraphy (138), the title-character wrongly thinks himself a great calligrapher and poet. One morning he writes some typical verse and gives it to his nephew to copy out. The latter can make no sense of it and gives it back. The premier peers long at it and then crumples up the paper and throws it at the nephew. Why didn't you bring this to me right away when the words were fresh in my mind? Now my brilliant composition is lost forever. There is a T of C at the beginning. The fables are organized into four categories: divine/ghost, animal anthropomorphic, animal non-anthropomorphic, and social. I am not sure that I understand those categories.