A Guide to the Microfables

Now that this project has really gotten going (over 200 drabbles at the site so far!), I've written this guide to what's going on. :-)

Adding new stories. I'm trying to add at least a few new stories every day. That's a virtue of microfables: it doesn't take too much time to do that! Then, when summer comes, I hope to be able to prepare some OER books and teaching materials based on what I've accumulated, plus stories I can write this summer. If you want to get the new stories by email, there's a subscription link in the sidebar.

Focus on fables and parables. My main focus is on wisdom tales from different traditions. I need to write up an essay on just what that means, along with some thoughts about the ways in which these types of stories are similar to but also different from modern literary fiction. Aesop's fables are my academic specialty, and I've been working on this genre for a long time! I'm also very interested in Nasruddin stories and Sufi traditions of the Middle East, along with Indian story traditions, including the Jatakas, Panchatantra, and other Indian folktales.

An epic experiment. In conjunction with the course on Epics of India which I'm teaching this semester, I'm retelling episodes from the Indian epics in the form of these tiny stories; right now, I'm working on the Ramayana. Unlike the fables and parables, these epic stories fit into a larger overall narrative. (As a long-term experiment, I'm wondering if I could do versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata told as a long series of short episodes; this experiment is a first test to see how practical that might be.)

African American folktales. Last summer, I worked on Brer Rabbit and African American folktales all summer long. I'm not sure yet how many of those stories will be amenable to the 100-word format, but that is a big goal for me. I probably won't start working on the African and African American materials until this summer, but I am really excited to do that. (Here is my Brer Rabbit site.)

Randomizing Widgets. I like making randomizers (this whole project started out as a Nasruddin randomizer!), so as I create new subcollections here, I make randomizers for them. You can browse the randomizers and use them at your own website or blog. They will work anywhere that javascript is allowed, and if you need a trick to make them display inside an LMS like Canvas, just let me know, and I can show you how to do that.

Twitter. I'm trying to remember to post a new story every day at Twitter, and here's a view of the stories I've posted at Twitter so far.

Okay.... I think that's all! I'll keep this post pinned to the front page, and I'll update it with any new news. :-)

The Jackdaw and the Glow-Worm

A jackdaw had caught a glow-worm and was about to eat her.
"Wait!" the insect said. "I know where you can get hundreds of glow-worms."
"Show me!" said the greedy bird.
The glow-worm took the jackdaw to a potter's workshop where there was a fire burning.
"See that light?" said the glow-worm. "Go eat those glow-worms there, and then I'll show you more!"
The jackdaw ran up to the fire and tried to eat the sparks, but the fire burned his mouth… and when he went back to complain, the glow-worm had already made her escape!


Inspired by: Indian Fables by Ramaswami Raju
Notes: You can read more about fireflies and glow-worms at Wikipedia.





Burning Down the House

There was a foolish man who had rats in his house. He was determined to destroy the rats, so he set his house on fire.
The house burned down, but the man saw the rats running to the house next door. So, the man burned down that house too. "You won't escape me, you rats!" he shouted.
But the rats just ran into the next house, so the man burned that house as well.
And the next. And the next.
It's only by a miracle that the fool has not burnt down the whole world.


Inspired by: Heeramma and Venkataswami, or Folktales From India by M. N. Venkataswami
Notes: Compare the story in which Nasruddin rejoices to see his house burning down because, at last, it will kill the bedbugs: Revenge on the Bedbugs.


(rat)


The First Dog and the First Rooster

God was in the process of creating the world, but it took a long time to create everything He sent the dog down to see how the work was progressing. The dog saw that the world was half-finished, but he got distracted by all the good food to eat that he didn't report back to God in heaven.
God then sent the rooster to find out what had happened to the dog. "Cock-a-dawdle-dog!" the rooster reported. "The dog is not coming back!"
When God finished the creation, a new day dawned, and the rooster kept on singing, "Cock-a-dawdle-dog!"


Inspired by: Heeramma and Venkataswami, or Folktales From India by M. N. Venkataswami
Notes: In the original, the rooster says kookroo koo, kookka radhu, "the dog is not coming."



Fire versus Water

The God of Fire, Agni, and the God of Rain, Varuna, were arguing about who was greater.
"Fire is greater!" said Agni.
"Water is greater!" said Varuna.
They decided to have a contest to see who was right.
The God of Fire burned trees and crops and villages, but Varuna rained down and put out the fire. The God of Fire then fled into the mountain rocks, but the Rain kept pouring down.
Even now, Agni is hiding in the rocks; that's why when you strike rock with steel, sparks fly and you can make fire.


Inspired by: Heeramma and Venkataswami, or Folktales From India by M. N. Venkataswami
Notes: You can read more about the gods Agni and about Varuna at Wikipedia.



You're Right Too!

Two men who were quarreling came to Nasruddin, asking him to decide who was right.
The first man presented his case.
When the first man had finished presenting his evidence, Nasruddin said, "You're right!"
The other man shouted, "You haven't even listened to my side of the story!" That man then presented his case.
When the second man had finished presenting his evidence, Nasruddin said, Nasruddin said, "You're right!"
Nasruddin's wife, who had been listening all along, said, "But they can't both be right."
Nasruddin looked at his wife, smiled, and replied, "You're right too!"


Inspired by: This is Nasruddin Tale Type T0199.
Notes: The characters vary from one version to another (two brothers, two merchants, etc. with his wife, etc. objecting). Sometimes Nasruddin is actually a judge.



The Philosophical Chicken

Nasruddin was indignant when he saw some small parrots being sold for a very high price in the marketplace.
"My chicken is much bigger than those scrawny birds of yours!" he said to the bird seller. "And because my chicken is twice as big as they are, I should be able to sell her for twice as much."
"But my parrots can imitate human speech," the bird seller replied.
"Well, my chicken is very philosophical!" exclaimed Nasruddin. "She thinks deep thoughts, and she does not waste her time with empty chit-chat like those parrots."


Inspired by: This is Nasruddin Tale Type T0136.
Notes: Compare the story about Birbal where he shows that while the parrots may pray to the gods in words, they do not possess real devotion because they do not understand what they are saying: T0115.




What Is Bread?

Some renowned wise men challenged Nasruddin to a contest. Nasruddin agreed, provided he could ask the first question. This was his question:
What is bread?
The wise men wrote their answers on pieces of paper. Nasruddin then read their answers aloud:
Bread is made with flour and water.
Bread is my favorite food.
Bread is a gift of God.
Bread is delicious.
Bread is baked in an oven.
Bread is the staff of life.
Nasruddin sighed. "These supposed wise men cannot even agree what bread is! Why then should we listen to what they say about matters of real difficulty?"


Inspired by: This is Nasruddin Tale Type T0057.
Notes: Compare Nasruddin disputing a philosopher without using words: The Philosopher's Pan of Baklava.