Universal Story Ideas from the Aesopica
Widely believed to have been an Ethiopian slave, the stories attributed to Aesop still resonate today. The appeal of Aesop’s fables lies with the archetypal nature of his characters, and the universality of the lessons they teach us. His best-known translator, Reverend George Fyler Townsend, latched onto the ubiquity of the tales in the 19th century. Townsend is credited with creating the tradition of calling out the moral of each story, turning them explicitly into tools for teaching values and ethics. It’s in this context that we think of Aesop’s fables in the modern world.
It may not be intuitive how these fables relate the stories you’re creating. What does a children’s bedtime story have to do with your work of epic fantasy, science fiction, or horror? How do talking animals fit in with my heartbreaking piece of literary fiction? Isn’t Aesop a little twee, or linear, or overly simplistic for the sensibilities of today’s reader?
Whether you’re creating an adventure for a roleplaying game, a short story, or a screenplay, you will need to address the needs and wants of your characters. There will be themes you will want to play with, lessons to be learned, and a point that you want to put across to your audience. Even though Aesop’s fables are short, and most of them feature animals rather than people, at their heart he was speaking of human behavior.
Some of the most memorable stories ever created are character-driven. It doesn’t matter where the story takes place, or when, or what genre it falls into. Those elements create possibilities, but the drives and desires of human beings remain the same. This is where Aesop can help you. Consider who the characters in the fable might be within your own story. What will the events leading up to the moral of the story look like in the genre, time, and place of your own work? How can you get your characters, and the premise of your story, to resonate with you audience the way Aesop’s fables have for millennia?
This booklet contains five fables, along with notes on how you can use them a plot hooks and adventure seeds for your own roleplaying game adventures or works of original fiction. Remix, recycle, and re-imagine them with careful consideration or reckless abandon.
The fables in this volume are:
The Father and His Sons
The Boy Hunting Locusts
The Rooster and the Jewel
The Kingdom and the Lion
The Wolf and the Crane