Thursday, November 10, 2011

Underfables: How the Mice Belled the Cat

Starting today I shall be blogging from my book, "Underfables"; one underfable each day.

One person asked me, what's so under about an underfable? My original idea was; underdog, underground, underworld. Indeed, two of these Underfables bear morals stolen directly from William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell".

But you can pronounce the word 'underfable' two ways. One way is; under-fable. The other way is: un-derf-able. Therefore an 'underfable' is that which cannot be derfed. And what is it, to derf? Well, if something's un-derfed, it's under-fed, and hence is dissatisfied. So an un-derf-able is that which cannot be satisfied; it has a lean an hungry look; an underfable thinks too much, and so is dangerous.

Every un-derf-able Under-fable has an Undermoral, at least implicit; for though I am an ironist and a skeptic, I am also a moralist, and even a kind of puritan. The word "undermoral", like "underfable", has two pronunciations. One is "under-moral", as in morals for underdogs in the underworld; but it also can be pronounced "un-derm-oral", from the Greek "derm", meaning skin, and "oral", meaning mouth; so an proper un-derm-oral is words coming out of your mouth that get under your skin.

I start with this animal fable, a reply to Aesop:

     How the Mice Belled the Cat

          The mice, terrorized by the cat, resolved to make the cat wear a bell on a collar; thus they would be able to hear the cat’s approach.
          Their plan had only one flaw; namely, who shall bell the cat? The mice discussed this problem for hours, then hit upon the following ruse:
          The mice simply left out the collar and bell, along with a note saying:


            We mice live in awe and terror of you, O Magnificent Cat. How keen your nose and eyes are, how sharp your teeth and claws! We respect you so much that words fail us; only a gift will do.
            Therefore we offer you, most splendid of felines, this handsome collar and bell. The collar is silk to match your silken fur; the bell rings sweetly to please your discerning ears.
            We hope you will find it in your lion-like heart to accept this simple yet elegant tribute. After all, you deserve it.
            Your Greatest Admirers,
            THE MICE

            The vain and foolish cat was charmed to find his opinion of himself echoed by the mice. He admired the collar, then put it on, then jumped and rolled around, just to hear the sound of the bell. After playing awhile, the cat set out to thank the mice for their generous gift.
          But alas! The mice were nowhere to be found.

            Moral:  Flattery shall bell the cat!

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