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Margaret McAlister, The Lion Classic Aesop's Fables. Amanda Hall, ill. Oxford: Lion Hudson Plc, 2011, 27 pp.
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Author of the Entry:
Sonya Nevin, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Susan Deacy, University of Roeampton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hanna Paulouskaya, University of Warsaw, email@example.com
Margaret McAlister (Author)
Margaret McAlister is a British children's author from the North East of England. Her publications tend to focus on historical and fantasy themes. Her publications include High Crag Linn (Lion Children's Books, 2007), Women of the Bible (Lion Children's Books, 2013), and the Mistmantle Chronicles series (Bloomsbury).
Official website (accessed: June 26, 2018).
Bio prepared by Sonya Nevin, University of Roehampton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fables attributed to Aesop were collated in antiquity by Demetrius of Phaleron, c. 300BCE (Diogenes Laertius, 5.80), and passed on through various retellings in antiquity and the medieval, early modern, and modern periods. In this collection of retellings by Margaret McAllister, it is explicitly stated in the inside cover that the stories "provide a cautionary moral to help young listeners grow clever and wise." This emphasis on morality and personal development is in-keeping with the publishing house's mission statement to publish "quality literature, worldwide, which is true to the Christian faith" (see here, accessed: July 31, 2018). The first page of the book offers space to fill out who the book is 'To' and 'From', indicating that the book was envisaged as a book that would be bought as a gift for a child.
The stories included are:
The Lion and the Mouse
The Hare and the Tortoise
The Frogs who asked for a King
The Milkmaid and her Pail
The Fox and the Crow
The Dog in the Manger
The Jay and the Peacocks
The Father and his Daughters
Belling the Cat
The Lark and her Young
The Miser and his Gold
The Fox and the Crane
The Donkey and her Shadow
The Silkworm and her Spider
The Clown and the Countryman
Androcles and the Lion
The Monkey and the Dolphin
The Swallow and the Other Birds
The North Wind and the Sun
The Fox and the Leopard
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The Stag at the Pool
The Fox and the Grapes
The Lion, The Fox, and the Beasts
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs
The Boy who Cried Wolf
Aesop and Me
Aunt Isa's Bookshelf
The title to each story is accompanied by a section illustration of a plant found in Greece, including olives, vines, figs, and pine. Each has at least a half-page illustration, and many have a full-page illustration and further small pictures. The stories all conclude with an explicitly stated moral in a decorative text box; this follows the medieval tradition of applying moral epilogues to the fables.
The book's title page expresses the connection between antiquity and the contents through an illustration of Aesop, seated on an ancient-style chair dressed in a white tunic with bare feet, sitting under a vine tree, writing, in front of some white classical architecture. He is surrounded by several of the animals from the fables: cat and mouse at his side, tortoise before him, and chicken, goose, fox, wolf and lion around him. Nonetheless, as there is no introduction to the collection, child readers may miss the significance of this illustration; however, if they are able to decipher the signifiers of antiquity (e.g. tunic, architecture, writing on a scroll), they may understand the implication that the writer depicted is the writer of the stories. At the end of the collection, a section called Aesop and Me offers a very thoughtful discussion of how the book came about. It summarises some of the traditions about Aesop, and explains that many people have retold their own versions of the stories "ever since Aesop's time." Margaret McAllister then explains that when she came to write her versions, "I began with a good look at the collection," (although no information on the edition used is offered). She remarks on her surprise that there were so many Aesop's Fables, and that a choice had to be made about which to include. She also describes the process of discovering that many of the traditional tales known to her are Aesop's Fables. On style, the author explains her preference for telling some of the stories as funny stories. The discussion then moves on to content, helping readers to understand the morals behind the stories, acknowledging that the stories depict a harsh world, and asserting that although "Life is easier now than it was in ancient Greece," the life lessons that the stories offer "are still worth knowing." Readers are invited to consider if they know characters like some of those in the stories, bringing the morals right into the readers' lived experience. McAllister ends with reference to The Lion and the Mouse, noting that even though you the reader may be small, "you count, you matter, you can do great things." The stories' survival from antiquity is thereby brought to act as a testament to the value of the stories while they are also explicitly linked to the experience of coping with life in the modern world. The final section, Aunt Isa's Bookshelf, then extends this encouragement to think of the stories as having enduring appeal by capturing the author's own experience of encountering the stories as a child and her determination (now fulfilled) to produce a more visually appealing edition of the Fables. "Look out for wolves," it cautions, again inviting the reader (albeit humorously) to apply the lessons of the stories to their own lives.
The book's illustrations place the stories in a range of periods and places. The opening story, The Lion and the Mouse, includes an illustration with a small detail of ancient hunters, as indicated by their tunics, sandals, and spears. Androcles and the Lion is set in an explicitly ancient context, with Androcles depicted in an ancient-style tunic, and an illustration of the amphitheatre. By contrast, The Milkmaid and her Pail and several other stories are set in the early modern period, as indicated by reference to a 'little bonnet' and an illustration featuring non-ancient dresses and shoes. Architecture and clothing in the illustrations are the key means by which this period is evoked. None of the stories is set in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. Architecture, clothing, and emphasis on deep green landscapes situate most of the stories in Northern Europe. The Donkey and her Shadow is the exception to this, with the illustration suggesting an early modern Near Eastern setting, as indicated by the characters' clothing. There is nothing in the text that places the story anywhere, in particular, making it unclear if this setting was the choice of the author or the illustrator. The combination of different yet not modern periods conveys a sense of the stories as traditional but essentially timeless.
Babrius and Phaedrus Fables, trans. B.E. Perry, 1965, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge MA, London, England: Harvard University Press.
Cooper, Kenneth, "Aesop's Fables for Adults", Peabody Journal of Education 33.3 (1955): 143-147.
Daly, Lloyd, R. (trans. ed.), Aesop Without the Morals. The Famous Fables, and a Life of Aesop, New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1961.
Finch, Chauncey E., "The Greek Source of Lorenzo Valla's Translation of Aesop's "Fables"", Classical Philology 55.2 (1960): 118-120.
Perry, B.E., Aesopica: Studies in Text History of Life and Fables of Aesop, 1952
Rothwell, Jr. Kenneth S, "Aristophanes' "Wasps" and the Sociopolitics of Aesop's Fables", The Classical Journal 90.3 (1995): 233-254.
van Dijk, J. G. M, "The Function of Fables in Graeco-Roman Romance", Mnemosyne 49.5 (1996): 513-541.