A fable is a form of literary fiction that often involves magical creatures and places and has a moral to the story it tells. Its origins are unknown, but they are probably as old as spoken language itself. Though fables are usually written in prose form, they often have an alliteration or metrical rhyming sense to them known as verse, which is a early form of poetry. The characters in these stories usually represent archetypes of powerful human emotions such as greed, foolishness, love, and self-sacrifice.
One of the core features of most fables is that they include elements of the natural environment, along with native animals, forests, lakes, and other features of the region. In many cultures, they provide a rich oral history of the past. Some cultures such as that of the Irish, Celtic, or Gaelic people tend to have popular and memorable fables, which spread around the world and are adopted by other cultures.
Though fables involve the natural environment, talking animals, and archetype humans, they also often feature tales of gods and humanity's attempts to understand life's meaning. As human culture began to become mechanized, fables left their pastoral origins behind and became more critical of human behavior and avarice. This was the birth in western culture of the Aesopic fable, named after Aesop, a slave who lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BC. Most of the well-told stories in western culture today originated in the time of Aesop, though no direct writings can be attributed to him.
The telling of a fable today is considered something for an audience of children. Since they are relatively short stories that are full of wondrous events and teach values, they are considered a good way of educating children in proper behavior in society. In the Middle Ages, however, these stories were considered to be an element of high literature and were adult stories meant to convey adult themes. A famous French fabulist, or fable teller, of the time, Jean de La Fontaine, who lived from 1621 to 1695, used such narrative storytelling as a means of criticizing the court, the church, and the ruling class of his day. His example was later followed by English, Spanish, and Russian fabulists in their own native lands.