Thematic Sheet


My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies,
Fairy tales of yesterday will grow but never die,
I can fly, my friends…

Freddie Mercury

A new perspective

Today, a revolution is taking place, centred on the animal cause. Scientific studies encourage us to think about animals differently. After having considered them as machines or as inferior beings, scientists are giving them intelligence and culture. In European societies and everywhere else, mentalities and behaviours regarding animals are changing. They now seem to us sensitive, inventive, expressive, they appear in a new light, and yet… it is a kind of return to our roots.

In 2015, the French Civil Code acknowledges that animals are sensitive beings, which cannot be reduced to their use and are therefore subjects with rights.

In the days when animals talked…

This closeness between human beings, animals and nature can be found in myths, fables and tales from all over the world, which tell us that there was a very ancient time when the boundary between man and animal did not exist, when human beings and animals spoke the same language.

  • This idea can be found in the introductory formulas for the stories [read the Small Forms theme sheet]. For example:
  • It was when birds had teeth, animals talked, trees sang and stones walked. (Catalonia)
    It was when animals were talking, the blackbird was a coal merchant, the horse was a baker, the dog was a carpenter. (Turkey)

    Indeed, there is a tendency to say that the more animals speak in tales, the more we are dealing with ancient versions, belonging to the field of the marvellous, which have not yet been struck by the phenomenon of rationalization that has accompanied the evolution of human societies.

  • Animals can be found throughout the oral tradition, not only in so-called “animal tales” and fables, but also in cumulative tales [theme sheet], etiological tales [theme sheet], and fairy tales [theme sheet].

Animals, a precious help for human beings

In fairy tales, the animal is a figure of consciousness, a link between one world and another (dog, cock, dove…). The animal also plays the role of commentator of the action. Birds are very often gifted with the power of prophecy, for those who know how to listen to them, they can predict the future, they know more than we do about the human adventure. The animal also often has the role of magical helper (auxiliary for Vladimir Propp). Animals are recurring donors (a term also used by Vladimir Propp, [theme sheet]) in fairy tales. They are thankful and they are helpful. For example, a hero meets a fawn caught in the brambles, sets it free and the doe comes and says: “I’m forever grateful to you. If you need anything, call me, I’ll come and help you.” [Read the tale]

Some tales, known as “animal tales“, are characterized by a sense of rivalry, and most often feature two animals meeting and confronting each other. Sometimes humans can play a role. The characteristics carried by the animals are humane. A peculiarity of animal tales is the direct speech, which is often a dialogical one.

Numerous, varied, often lively and funny, these tales are a great source of inspiration and often easy to approach for the beginner storyteller. Cunning characterizes them, with the figure of the fox (Kuma Lisa [read the tale ?]) or the fox in Europe, but also, depending on the region, the spider, the tortoise ( [read the tale] “The name of the tree”), the hare, the gazelle…

Fables, from India to Europe

Animal tales are stories of “practical intelligence”, just like fables. Underneath the animality, a disguise that no one is fooled by, which allows them to better convey their symbolic effectiveness, lies a teaching, a trick to enable the smallest, the weakest, to defeat the strongest.

Widespread in Europe, a number of fables came from India, sometimes via the Middle East. Many of them were transcribed very early. As early as the 6th century BC, the Greek Aesop echoed them, followed by the Roman Phaedra in the 1st century AD. It is from this common collection that La Fontaine and his followers drew their materials for educational and political use. Thus, without knowing it, some children unknowingly tell very old Indian fables in class, such as The Turtle and the Ducks [read the fable], which is found in both the Indian Panchatantra (6th century) and La Fontaine (17th century).

Along with these written versions, these stories were also transmitted orally for centuries.

The fables have a more or less explicitly formulated morality, which is either clearly stated at the beginning and, in this case, the narrative illustrates it, or drawn at the end as an explicit lesson.

The childhood of mankind

Tales come to us from the childhood of mankind. By abolishing all frontiers, they speak to the child’s intelligence. Naturally sensitive to an animist world, the child more easily appropriates a story with animals than with human beings.