“So, what’s your play about,” I asked. Five minutes and 500 words later, I still didn’t know. If Aesop had been a moviemaker, he would have had no difficulty answering such a question.
A shepherd once found a young Wolf which had been abandoned by its mother. The Shepherd took the Wolf home and cared for it. After a while he began to teach the Wolf to steal lambs from the neighboring flocks. The Wolf proved to be such a good pupil that one day he stole a sheep from the Shepherd’s own flock. The Shepherd reproached him bitterly. But the Wolf said, “Was it not you who taught me to steal?” If you teach evil, you must expect evil.
Aesop’s Fables ,or the Aesopica, is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and story-teller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BCE. Of diverse origins, the stories associated with Aesop’s name have descended to modern times through a number of sources. They continue to be reinterpreted in different tongues and cultural settings using a variety of popular and artistic mediums.
I keep a book of the Fables on my desk, both for entertainment and inspiration. Half the battle for finding the idea for a screenplay is nailing down a well articulated premise with a promising theme — which, without exception, I find concise examples of on each page of the Aesopica. Now here’s another version of The Shepherd and the Wolf.
A Wolf had been prowling around a flock of Sheep for a long time, and the Shepherd watched very anxiously to prevent him from carrying off a Lamb. But the Wolf did not try to do any harm. Instead he seemed to be helping the Shepherd take care of the Sheep. At last the Shepherd got so used to seeing the Wolf about that he forgot how wicked he could be.
One day he even went so far as to leave his flock in the Wolf’s care while he went on an errand. But when he came back and saw how many of the flock had been killed and carried off, he knew how foolish to trust a Wolf.
Or, as we shall see, a Fox.
Each one of Aesop’s fables has a lesson, or moral, to teach – just like a parable or allegory. A moral is added at the bottom of each of Aesop’s fables. Many of the morals, sayings and proverbs featured in Aesop’s fables are well-known today. Some of the most famous morals are as follows:
“Appearances often are deceiving.” – The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” – The Fox and the Lion
“Slow and steady wins the race.” – The Hare and the Tortoise
“One person’s meat is another’s poison.” – The Ass and the Grasshopper
“Things are not always what they seem.” – Bee-Keeper and the Bees
“Never trust a flatterer.”- Fox and the Crow
“Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” – The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
“Little friends may become great friends.” – Lion and the Mouse
So, back to the Shepherd and the Wolf. Two movies come to mind:
One is about two crooked Wall Street commodities brokers who teach a street beggar/con artist, Billy Ray Valentine, their trade as part of a social experiment. In the end they are brought down when Valentine turns their devious practices against them. (Trading Places, 1983)
And of course the classic matchup for The Wolf and the Shepherd finds blindly ambitious Bud Fox using tricks of the trade learned from his mentor, Gordon Gekko, against him. (Wall Street, 1987)
If you teach evil, you must expect evil.
Now here’s an exercise of your own. How many movie plots fit the “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” template.
A certain Wolf could not get enough to eat because of the watchfulness of the Shepherds. But one night he found a sheep skin that had been cast aside and forgotten. The next day, dressed in the skin, the Wolf strolled into the pasture with the Sheep. Soon a little Lamb was following him about and was quickly led away to slaughter.
That evening the Wolf entered the fold with the flock. But it happened that the Shepherd took a fancy for mutton broth that very evening, and, picking up a knife, went to the fold. There the first he laid hands on and killed was the Wolf.
The evil doer often comes to harm through his own deceit.
Amazing, isn’t it, how often we find in the movies a villain hung on the gallows he prepares for another? Not just in the movies, but in everyday life as well. Right?
The great thing about using the Fables as kickstarters is that you have the theme expressed for you at the conclusion of the story.
It can also be seen that in each of the fables, the main characters are driven by desire. The bad guy is defeated by a flaw, and the good guy is victorious through a virtue in spite of his flaw, or weakness (the Tortoise and the Hare comes to mind). The various character flaws drive the Fables.
Here’s one of my favorites, The cock and the Jewel:
A Cock, scratching for food for himself and his hens, found a precious stone; on which he said: “If thy owner had found thee, and not I, he would have taken thee up, and have set thee in thy first estate; but I have found thee for no purpose. I would rather have one barleycorn than all the jewels in the world.”
Be content with your life.
How many rags to riches stories in literature and movies find the protagonist rising out of a meager existence to a life of wealth and fame, only to discover they were happier with the simple things they left behind? I am reminded of Dickens’s “Great Expectations” and Pip’s epic rise and fall through which he discovers the value of the barleycorn over the jewels, so to speak. David Lean’s 1946 adaptation remains unrivaled.
One great writer stated the theme this way: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… ” (Hebrews 13:5). Good advice for us all. This little cubicle I write in isn’t so bad. There are, apparently, a lot of unhappy people in the plush environs of Hollywood Hills who long for the simpler life of bygone days.