Posted in Short Stories

Mark Twain’s “Some Learned Fables for Good Old Boys and Girls”

I don’t know whether the phrase “good old boys” had the same meaning in Mark Twain’s time as it does today. I’m guessing not because his short story “Some Learned Fables for Good Old Boys and Girls” doesn’t have much relationship to the ideas that the phrase might conjur up today.


One could call this a reverse fable in the sense that the animals of the  woods discover items made by human beings, such as a train or a building, and determine, based on their knowledge, what these might be – unlike traditional fables where stories are told by men how animals came to be.

It’s a pleasant story and unsurprisingly a funny one. The animals all have minds that help them identify the items that they find – even if they are wrong – exemplified in one of Professor Snail’s conclusions:

“The fact that it is not diaphanous convinces me that it is a dense vapor formed by the calorification of ascending mositure dephlogisticated by refraction. A few endiometrical experiments would confirm this, but it is not necessary. The thing is obvious.”

A locomotive becomes the transit of Venus crossing the earth – even though the transit of Venus was suppose to cross the sun. The train tracks are lines of latitude.

Since Twain usually makes fun of something, I wonder what he may have been satirizing with this story. Maybe he’s just throwing the whole fable concept upside down and, if so, he does a nice job of it. If he’s making fun of human beings in the process, its not quite as obvious.

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