Big things come in small packages as they say. On August 1, Teju Cole posts a story titled “Fable” on his Facebook page. The story is set in a fantastical land called Noiseville, and the lead character is a monster who essentially lives on noise. The more people talk about it’s outrageous actions and comments the more it grows.
Fables provide object lessons on just about anything. Cole doesn’t mention any names because the reader is expected to decode who he is referring to and learn a thing or two from this revelation.
We would love to read your interpretation of the fable.
Answer these two question—Who is “the monster” and what lesson does the fable teach?— for a chance to win Cole’s new book, Known and Strange Things.
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It was true that the Adversary had brought other monsters into being. Each had been wicked in its own way, each had been an embodiment of one or other of the seven vices, and each had been strong and difficult to vanquish.
Some of those monsters still roamed the land. But what made this new monster remarkable, indeed uniquely devious, was that it wasn’t strong at all. In fact, it was weak. The weaknesses through which the other monsters had been vanquished, this monster had tenfold.
The new monster was not moral, but it is not in the nature of monsters to be moral. But the monster was also not beautiful, or intelligent, or brave, or well-dressed, or charming, or gifted in oratory, though usually monsters had at least some of those qualities. The Adversary had sent this new monster out, designing it to derive its strength from one source and one source alone, as in olden days was said of Samson and his locks, so that if that source were cut off, the monster would wilt like a severed flower stalk in the noonday heat. The source of the new monster’s strength was noise. If it heard a bit of noise pertaining to it, it grew stronger. If it heard a lot of noise, whether the noise was adulation or imprecation, it was full of joy, and grew even stronger. Only collective quietness could vanquish it, quietness and the actions that came from contemplation.
Having thus designed it, the Adversary sent the monster out to Noiseville.
“A new monster!” the cry went up, and the monster grew a little stronger.
“It grows stronger!” went the chorus, and the monster grew stronger still. And thus it was in Noiseville that the new monster, weaker than all the other monsters ever sent by the Adversary, was the only thing the people of Noiseville spoke about. The sound had reached a deafening roar. In every newspaper across Noiseville, the most read articles were about the monster. On television, the reporters spent most of their time making noise about the monster. On little devices the people carried around with them, it was all monster all the time. If the monster smiled, there was noise in reaction. If the monster scowled, there was noise. If it coughed, there was an uproar of coughing and commentary on the manner of the monster’s coughing. The Adversary was astonished by how well his little stratagem had worked. The monster smiled and scowled and coughed, and learned to say the things that generated more noise. And on and on it grew.
“But it is so weak!” the people shouted. “It is not beautiful, or intelligent, or brave, or well-dressed, or charming, or gifted in oratory. How can it grow in strength and influence so?”
And if the noise went down even one decibel, the monster did something again, anything at all, and the noise went up. And the people talked of nothing but the monster when they were awake, and dreamed of nothing but the monster when they were asleep. And from time to time, they turned on each other, and were distraught if they saw their fellows failing to join in the noise, for any quiet form of contemplation was thought of as acquiescence to the monster.
Other monsters in the past had been drowned out by sufficient loudness. Besides, this was Noiseville, and there was no question of not making noise, there in the home of the loudest and best noise in the world, the most beautiful noise, it was often said, the greatest noise in the history of the world. And so the noise swelled to the very limits of Noiseville, and the new monster grew to gargantuan size as had Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, and their ropes were powerless against it, and there seemed no limit to its growth, though it was but the eighth month of that year.