The most famous fables are Aesop's Fables. The morals and symbols from these have passed into common parlance in everyday English. Being a dog in a manger is a favourite of mine: a person who cannot benefit from something themselves, but will not allow others to benefit from it either. The fable tells of a dog who lies in a cows' manger for a nap. The cows come to eat the hay, but cannot because the dog is in the way. The cows low and the dog cannot sleep. He will not move to let them eat, but he cannot sleep himself. It's a metaphor for a stubborn person who is unwilling to do things differently, even if the things he does currently are not getting him anywhere.
Chances are you know about the hare and the tortoise, and the idea that slow and steady wins the day. You'll also know what 'sour grapes' are, for a person who is resentful. The Boy who cried Wolf is also a fable, as is the tale of the North Wind and the Sun who compete to get a man to take his coat off.
Parables are slightly different. Parables often have a religious rather than a general message. Fables come from the word for 'story', the word that gives us 'fabulous' (made up!) and a confabulator (someone who lies) Parables more often than not include people, rather than symbols. So the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are both well-known parables. 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights are also fables, illuminating some moral message.
An allegory has a wider symbolic meaning, and the moral message might not be as obvious. An allegory can take a situation or event and parallel it with symbols. For instance, George Orwell's tale 'Animal Farm' is an allegory of Communism - its rise and fall. The pigs represent the leaders of Russia, Boxer represents the hard-working proletariat. The Farmer represents the Russian monarchy.
My Top Ten Fables, Allegories and Parables:
- Aesop's Fables
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- The Prodigal Son
- 1001 nights - the Arabian Nights
- The Little Prince - Antoine de St Exupéry
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck