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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cooper - An Argosy of Fables - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Oh boy, here I go again!  Didn't plan on developing a new research project, but I have a fascinating book which might be considered, if not a Public Domain encyclopedia of fables, certainly a great introductory resource to a major type of storytelling literature.  I started the Keeping the Public in Public Domain series with two very different books of Aesop's fables.  This isn't all I own using that ancient pedagogue's fables, but they were the only two pre-dating 1923, thus safely in Public Domain.  Frederic Taber Cooper in 1921 also saw the value of fables, not just those attributed to Aesop, but their value in classical and modern times and as a view into ethnic literature. The book's subtitle declares it's "A Representative Selection From the Fable Literature of Every Age and Land."
His book is so large, 485 pages, he divided it into three books: Classical Fables; Oriental Fables; and Modern Fables.  In trying to choose one or even one fable from each "book" I felt like Alice having fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. 

I've often recommended going to Project Gutenberg to read the rest of a book featured here, but Wikisource did a loving reproduction of this book, complete with the beautiful Paul Bransom illustrations.  When I go to Project Gutenberg I'm so text-oriented I usually omit the illustrations for a swifter download.  From the cover illustration above, you can see that would be a shame.  They may have used a different edition as I find slight illustration differences from my book.  Their site also is not always as intuitive to search for a book, but once you find it, the reproduction is well done.  I suggest clicking those illustrations to enlarge them.  They were full-size in the original book and deserve a larger look to appreciate them.

The value of fables comes from their taking the wisdom of a culture and putting it in very brief form.  (Brevity...always a trick for a storyteller!)  Animals often are the characters, illustrating human traits, but they aren't the only possible actors.  Wikipedia points out they also can be mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature.  (That Wikipedia article is worth visiting for its large listing of their many articles on classical and modern fabulists -- way more recent than Cooper's "modern" fabulists, as well as "notable fable collections."  As an example of what I mean, the list of modern fabulists includes people like George Orwell, Dr. Seuss, and James Thurber.)

As a storytelling teaching device, fables are perfect for student storytellers and writers.  I like to create fables starting with a proverb as fables teach a lesson.  Something worth considering is whether that lesson is stated or not.  Cooper seems to prefer stating the moral, especially for Classical Fables.  Modern thinking tends to consider stating the moral at the end too didactic.  That view prefers to let the audience or reader draw their own conclusions without hitting them over the head with a stated moral.

If Cooper calls his anthology three books, who am I to disagree?  It deserves at least three postings here, so starting tomorrow I will post a bit of the Classical Fables.  Aesop will be omitted since he's been covered earlier.  Tomorrow will be a bonus posting since today was spent discussing fables and specifically An Argosy of Fables.  Following my new schedule for the Keeping the Public in Public Domain series, I will post one story a week unless other research needs to interrupt the schedule.    That schedule is explained in the following new series summary.
This is part of a series of weekly posting of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  I will post on Saturdays in the series unless that week I have other research articles.  I hope this will satisfy all who have found these stories worthwhile.  I include myself in that audience.  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories. 

At the same time, I'm returning to involvement in projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my normal monthly posting of a research project here.  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my monthly postings as often as I can manage it.  

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