Beast fable: A fable in which the principal characters are animals. Beast fables may be didactic or satiric. Noted beast fabulists include seventeenth-century French writer Jean de la Fontaine, nineteenth-century American journalist Joel Chandler Harris, and twentieth-century American humorist James Thurber.
EXAMPLES: Aesop’s story of the fox and the grapes (c. 550 B.C.); Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” (1387), in which Chauntecleer, a prideful rooster, nearly loses his neck when he exposes it to a wily fox who has challenged him to prove his singing ability; the story, probably of Russian origin, of the little red hen, whose animal friends don’t want to help her plant, water, or harvest the grain but do want to help her eat her bread; Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (1902).
George Orwell’s beast fable Animal Farm (1945) is a political allegory of the Russian Revolution in which a rebellion by oppressed farm animals against their human masters devolves into even more brutal totalitarianism when the pigs gain unchecked power.