Parables make great short reading

2021-01-21 @Literature

A parable is generally a very short tale with a moral.

I myself have not come to know the precise term until the last couple of years, but it turns out some of my favourite examples of short prose are parables.

Parables thus form great reading for three reasons:

  1. They are short and succinct. This is great especially for those who have, how can I say, lost the appetite for dense prose surpassing a few minutes of attention.
  2. They unwind as a fiction narrative, often of quality rhetoric (especially metaphors) intertwined throughout, along with a lesson, or an element of a moral.
  3. Being remarkably dense and cohesive in their form and intent, they enable (very) quick reading and yet leave much opportunity for lengthy discussion and pondering. This is ideal.

Parables also comprise epic religious or mythological texts. The Old Testament contains parables (ie Book of Ecclesiasticus). Certain sections of the Poetic Edda (one of the primary sources for the Scandinavian Myths) read like parables. Many individual tales of the Greco-Roman myths can be considered parables. Etcetera.

However, I often prefer something independent of the above sources. Here I’ll survey a handful of my favourite parables of a couple of more recent authors:

Franz Kafka - An Imperial Message.

For those otherwise distant from Kafka’s major works, his short parables are nevertheless very representative of the sort of mood his lengthier opus transmits.

Many, I perceive, consider Kafka’s prose as heavy and not the most accessible. Reading some of these parables may ease the apprehension and actually inspire a journey into his longer stories if not the major novels.

An Imperial Message is merely a sizable paragraph and should consume but 2-3 minutes of your reading attention. Yet it is demonstrative of the sort of bureaucratic fatalism you’ll encounter in works such as the Trial or the Castle.

Here are links to a couple of different translations:

Franz Kafka - Before the Law

Hardly longer than the previous, demanding but minutes of your time, Before the Law treats a man’s lifelong resolve to gain entry into a bureaucratic facility.

Franz Kafka - Poseidon

Poseidon is a short parable placing the Sea God in clutches of his own bureaucratic system, wrapped in the never-ending office of paperwork within his sea kingdom.

Franz Kafka - An Old Leaf (aka An Old Manuscript)

A bit of a lengthier parable (relatively), consuming a few pages of text. I don’t have a link to an online text handy.

This piece of compact prose I consider one of the most sardonic and wittier examples. In essence, a community of nomadic barbarians encamp in front of the Imperial Palace, the phenomenon observed from a bookstore across the street.

Edgar Allan Poe - Shadow, a Parable

I think I’ve mentioned Shadow aplenty as one of my favourite of Poe’s writings, but it deserves another.

Shadow is everything: a parable, an allegory, a brooding horror vision characteristic of Poe’s macabre works, and even prose poetry, for the lyrical quality evinced within.

It may demand a couple of reading attempts to wrap your mind around the imagery, especially if distant to Poe’s writings, but the sensation is thrice worthwhile.

This short list should suffice. I would also reference many of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as some of the most acclaimed parables in their own right, but Chaucer is not what one considers the most accessible reading. It would be incongruent with the simplicity theme I’ve here set. See my post on the Canterbury Tales for more.

Questions, comments? Connect.