List of Most Popular Fables of All Time and Their Authors
Popular Fabulists From Around the World
When someone asks me to define a fable, one of my favorite answers (courtesy of Gilbert Keith Chesterton) is that "a fable can't be good with a human in it and a fairy tale can't be good without one." If you're searching for a list of famous fabulists (authors of fables) and tales from around the world, I've included them below!
A sampling of popular fabulists:
- Jean de La Fontaine
- Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian
- Rudyard Kipling
- Joel Chandler Harris
- South African folk tales
- Panchatantra stories
- Fables of Bidpai
- Jataka Tales
- Leonardo da Vinci
- John Gay
- Ivan Kriloff
- George Ade
- Ambrose Bierce
Aesop was supposedly a slave from Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, or Ethiopia. No one is certain he ever existed, and we know now that it was Phaedrus—not Aesop—who wrote the famous fables. Nevertheless, the written works are an essential part of the literary tradition, and no list of fabulists would be complete without Aesop.
Aesop's Fables contains timeless messages and morals that teach and inspire readers. They're relatively short, so you can easily read them to pass the time. Many everyday phrases such as 'sour grapes,' 'borrowed feathers,' and 'lion's share' come from this collection of wisdom stories. You can read the entire collection for free on Kindle or online. Enjoy!
Have you heard of Guy Wetmore Carryl? He was an American poet, humorist, and one of the hundreds of talented writers who used Aesop's material to make new stories with amusing twists and surprising interpretations.
Jean de La Fontaine
A friend and contemporary of Moliere, Jean de La Fontaine was one of the best French poets of the 17th century—and perhaps the first real master of his language. He experienced many personal and business troubles, but he never lacked patronage for his literary ventures.
His fables are influenced by Aesop and Boccaccio, and he wrote with an adult audience in mind. His fresh narration style and skillful character development attract a broad audience. You can read Jean de La Fontaine's fables online.
Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian
Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian was an 18th-century poet, translator, playwright, and fabulist of noble origin who was second only to Jean de La Fontaine. He died at a young age, so you can only find a little over 100 Florian fables in existence today.
The Jungle Book is Rudyard Kipling's most famous work, which features stories with strong moral tones and animals with human characteristics. Through it, he pays homage to his childhood in India, where he also returned later in his life. He received a Noble Prize for his work at the age of 42, making him the youngest Nobel laureate in literature.
Kipling also wrote and illustrated Just so Stories for Little Children, a book where he shares imaginative answers to questions kids ask about animals. You can get a taste for the stories with the titles below:
- How the Whale Got His Throat
- How the Camel Got His Hump
- How the Leopard Got His Spots
Joel Chandler Harris
Joel Chandler Harris wrote Uncle Remus stories, a collection of many fables. In several collections, he featured an intriguing character named Br'er (Brother) Rabbit, who uses his wits to fight stronger opponents.
Br'er Rabbit, also called Breer Rabbit, is a trickster with questionable morals. He isn't always successful in his endeavors, but he quickly became a symbol of the fight against prominent opponents. Some people suggest he represents enslaved Africans, but this can't be true because the fables originated not only in various parts of Africa but also in Cherokee oral tradition. Many Uncle Remus tales are considered politically incorrect by today's standard.
Wisdom Stories From Africa
South-African Folk-Tales present many animal fables packed with ancient wisdom and a surprisingly fresh worldview. A few stories include:
- The Monkey's Fiddle
- The Tiger, the Ram, and the Jackal
- The Story of Lion and Little Jackal
- Crocodile's Treason
- The Judgement of Baboon
Existing since ancient Indian times, one of the oldest-known fable collections is called Panchatantra. They were written in Sanskrit and have inspired many tales and collections.
The Panchatantra fables are typically attributed to Vishnu Sharma, a wise man solicited by the king to write stories that taught his children how to run a kingdom.The fables are divided into five sections to help people (both nobility and common folk) succeed in their lives.
Fables of Bidpai (Pilpay)
The Fables of Bidpai, or the Fables of Pilpay, is a collection of Arabic tales based on the Panchatantra. The main characters are Pilpay (Bidpai), Dabschelim, Kalilah, and Dimnah. The stories are narrated in a relatively complicated frame format typical of an Oriental narration style. However, you can essentially break down the stories into short fables with morals such as:
- Don't trust flatterers.
- Bad deeds are punished.
- Don't trust your enemies.
Jataka Tales is a collection of more than 500 fables that expounds on specific virtues. The main character (animal or human) is one of the incarnations of Buddha before he became the Enlightened One. Jataka in Sanskrit means "Born" and is related to Buddha's many births.
Some of these stories date from the fourth century before Jesus Christ and can be found in Panchantantra, other collections (ex. Aesop's Fables), and various adaptations that have become part of the world's literary heritage.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
While people think mainly of his inventions and scientific work, Leonardo da Vinci wrote and illustrated many fables during his lifetime! If you want to learn more about this lesser-known aspect of his genius, you can read his fables online.
John Gay was an 18th-century poet and writer. Like many of his contemporaries, he received financial support for his work from many nobles. His works often mocked societal relationships, and he enjoyed targeting the nobility. His most famous work is The Beggar's Opera.
In 1727, John Gay wrote an educational book for then six-year-old Prince William to make learning entertaining, which you can read in his Fifty-One Fables in Verse.
Ivan Kriloff, or Ivan Krylov, was a Russian fabulist who wrote many literary works. He best demonstrated his wisdom and humor in a collection of fables.
We can't compose a decent list of fabulists without George Ade, an American writer and columnist. Due to his ironic messages and humorous morals, he is sometimes called America's first humorist.
George Ade's specialty concerned tales of ordinary lives of ordinary people. His great literary success brought him great wealth, which he donated to several institutions. You can find two collections of his below:
If you're looking for something extraordinary, consider Ambrose Bierce's Fantastic Fables. Bierce was a soldier, artist, journalist, satirist, and fabulist. He wrote many interesting works you can find in the public domain. His fables are unique because the moral is often lost in his twisted humor.
No one knows when or how Ambrose Bierce died. When he was seventy-one years old, he joined Pancho Villa's army as an observer of the Mexican revolution. In December of 1913, he vanished without a trace.
More Fabulists From Around the World
If you want to delve more into the world of fables and other authors who wrote them, look into these figures/stories.
- Oriental fables (Hindu, Persian, Chinese, etc)
- Modern fables (French, Spanish, Russian, etc)
What's the Difference Between Fairy Tales and Fables?
Ideally, stories should be both interesting and educational. Upon a first glance, fables seem to be better stories for teaching. They are simple to understand, have strong educational morals, and produce a different impact on readers. Children and adult would likely derive the same meanings from a story. This is ideal when a lesson needs to be taught quickly.
Fairy tales, on the other hand, operate on a symbolic level, which is great for children because their minds are not as structured as those of adults. Because it involves more of the mind, the themes and lessons in a fairy tale are easier to remember.
As you can see, fables and fairy tales have distinctive characteristics and thus shouldn't be considered to be the same thing. You can choose which stories to read to help reach your teaching or storytelling goals.