In 1915, Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the 18th Baron of Dunsany and a prolific writer known to his readers simply as Lord Dunsany, produced an updated version of another prolific storyteller’s work. He titled the tale “The True History of the Tortoise and the Hare.” Part of Aesop’s Fables, the original story tells of a plucky tortoise, who though slow and steady, defeats an arrogant hare in a foot race.
It provides a wonderful lesson in perseverance, or at least that’s how I always heard it. But Lord Dunsany’s version turns out a little differently. In it the hare thinks the whole idea of the race is remarkably stupid and he refuses to run. Later, after the tortoise has claimed his victory, the two are on a high hill and seeing a distant forest fire, decide the fastest of them should warn the forest creatures. All of the witnesses to the race event then perish, which is why few had heard the real end of the story before.
This may not have been Aesop’s original intention, but then, this may not have been Aesop’s story. Over the years, the collection of Aesop’s fables (or the Aesopica, which is a pretty great word) has grown to include more than seven hundred tales, many of which can be traced to origins that do not in any way coincide with Aesop’s life. So really, to credit a fable to Aesop is more about assigning a genre.
Also it’s not entirely clear there was an Aesop at all. Aristotle, along with other contemporary sources, describes a slave who loved to tell stories, born around 620 BC. About where exactly he was born or whose slave he might have been, sources disagree. It’s not until the 1st century AD that there was an effort to write a sort of biography, known as The Aesop Romance. From this account, attributed to no single author and freely expanded by many for hundreds of years, we learn that Aesop was an exceptionally ugly man who received his gift of storytelling from the goddess Isis.
And that, I think, is as likely as a tortoise outrunning a hare.
So it’s probably safe to say that Lord Dunsany, or any other writer, can pretty much do whatever he wants with the story. Though I like the message that perseverance pays off in the end, I’m fond of the 1915 version as well, in which the moral is obviously that tortoise brains are as thick as their shells and there’s nothing slow and steady about a forest fire. Also, from the hare we learn that running is stupid.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, or if you’ve read Launching Sheep, then you may recognize this as my personal running mantra. Also, you may recall that I only need a running mantra because I am a sucker for a goofy event. I really do despise running.
But when I recently saw there would be a Bunny Run 5k close by, including a costume contest, I decided to participate. I even did a little bit of training to prepare so I didn’t injure or embarrass myself. Then I worked on my costume. At the suggestion of my very clever husband, I decided to be the tortoise among the bunnies.
Race day dawned dreary and dull. And stormy. And cold. But because I had worked so hard on my costume (and trained a little for the run itself), I pulled myself out of bed on that awful Saturday morning and ran.
This slow and steady tortoise definitely did not win her race, but I did win the prize for best costume and I finished in a time that made me happy, ahead of a good number of bunnies. Also, no one died in a forest fire. Because it was raining.
Running is stupid.
11 thoughts on “Running is Still Stupid: A Tale of Perseverance as Told by an Ugly Guy”
Wonderful. An Aesopical-clysmic event. Congratulations!
Thanks! Have you read Lord Dunsany’s little tale? It’s linked above. It strikes me as a story you would enjoy.
I shall certainly pursue that link, Sarah. When I read your synopsis of the story I was almost jealous of Lord Dunsany!
My daughter runs (she didn’t get it from me). However, she’s in it for the fun, not to bring home a medal. That’s probably what makes running a little less stupid.
This one was nice because instead of a finisher’s medal they gave out chocolate Easter bunnies. That almost makes it worth doing.
Running IS stupid. Good on you for doing it in the rain, on a Saturday, in a costume! (Which is oh so cute by the way). And another interesting share about a story we’ve all heard but few know the origins of! I had never heard any of this before.
Thank you. There just aren’t that many opportunities for a grown woman to wear a tutu in public.
Agreed! Take advantage of every one!
I hadn’t read that story by Dunsany, though I have a couple of his novels in my collection – I just clicked through and checked it out. Great take on the fable! Yeah, have to agree, running is stupid. Years ago my doctor suggested a brisk daily walk did more good, advice I instantly seized upon for some reason…
I always listen to my doctor when he tells me what I want to hear. I think in this case, I’ll just listen to yours.
The writing of Aesop’s Romance seems to be the fore-runner (see what I did there?) to Wikipedia. Who are we to dispute it?