Posted by jlubans on May 21, 2015

Caption: Illustration by Milo Winter (1886-1956)

“A very young Mouse, who had never seen anything of the world, almost came to grief the very first time he ventured out. And this is the story he told his mother about his adventures.
‘I was strolling along very peaceably when, just as I turned the corner into the next yard, I saw two strange creatures. One of them had a very kind and gracious look, but the other was the most fearful monster you can imagine. You should have seen him.’
‘On top of his head and in front of his neck hung pieces of raw red meat. He walked about restlessly, tearing up the ground with his toes, and beating his arms savagely against his sides. The moment he caught sight of me he opened his pointed mouth as if to swallow me, and then he let out a piercing roar that frightened me almost to death.’…
‘If it had not been for that terrible monster,’ the Mouse went on, ‘I should have made the acquaintance of the pretty creature, who looked so good and gentle. He had thick, velvety fur, a meek face, and a look that was very modest, though his eyes were bright and shining. As he looked at me he waved his fine long tail and smiled.’
‘I am sure he was just about to speak to me when the monster I have told you about let out a screaming yell, and I ran for my life.’
‘My son,’ said the Mother Mouse, ‘that gentle creature you saw was none other than the Cat. Under his kindly appearance, he bears a grudge against every one of us. The other was nothing but a bird who wouldn't harm you in the least. As for the Cat, he eats us. So be thankful, my child, that you escaped with your life, and, as long as you live, never judge people by their looks.’

“Do not trust alone to outward appearances.”

The anonymous translator – more likely accumulator since Aesop is easily “borrowed” without attribution – decided on this lengthy rendering, more like a short fairy tale. The precocious mouse’s story advises caution when trusting someone, that all may not be as it seems. One rendering of this fable has Uncle Sam as the Predator Puss and guess who is the Friendly Fowl? Mr. Putin! Now, there’s a reach, at least for me.
So, remember sometimes even the best story can be taken and twisted to fit someone’s unique, even disturbed, perspective. Are we really any less gullible than in the days of this fable?
In the 80s, a young woman’s father defected from the Soviet Union to America. Torn between her family in Latvia and her father in the USA, she nevertheless decided to join him. Surely, she thought, she would be immune to the effect of her exposure to the Soviet’s daily anti-America propaganda. Still, when she got to NYC, she experienced a genuine, however irrational, fear – “a gun pointing at my neck” - that she would be shot on the street.
We should be mindful of the power of stories to shape, even distort, our personal views. Living in Riga, I’ve been told by some to never go to the Central Tirgus, the fabulous market. Why? Because bad people are there. And, I’ve been told with certitude to avoid one trolley bus route because I would be robbed. My real experience contradicts all these warnings. Had I followed this gossip I would be the poorer for it.
Aesop, a critical thinker, was forever peeling away the layers of untruth. He advocated in his own way, thinking that was “clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.” Of course, we – in these enlightened times - are all “critical thinkers” are we not?

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available online at Project Gutenberg.

NOTE: I usually post twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. This Tuesday I was "off the grid." Twice a week posts will resume on May 26.

© John Lubans 2015
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