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FAIRYstories (3)

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.

Leave your answers on the comment section. The winner will be chosen randomly.




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.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

11 Responses to “Can You Decode the Hidden Message in Teju Cole’s Powerful Fable?” Subscribe

  1. Adésewà 2016/08/17 at 00:48 #

    I am seriously itching to get my hands on Teju Cole’s ” known and strange things” so I am going to take a stab at this.

    I interpreted this fable as Cole’s commentary in the events that are currently going on in the American Political sphere. More specifically, the imminent likelihood of Donald Trump becoming the next president of the united States of America just the virtue of him being constantly talked about. The Leviathan metaphor also alludes to the fact the Donald Trump became a formidable opponent because we all contributed noise to his fame.

    I hope I am perfunctorily analyzing this. I will deeply heartbroken..This book is within my grasp.

  2. Adésewà 2016/08/17 at 00:54 #

    Oh there is another question. I really need to read instructions fully.

    This fable highlights the danger in over sensationalization. Events and people that hold no power tend to take on epic proportions when they are constantly discussed. Case in point, celebrities associated with intense emotions of hatred or obsession or Donald Trump or even Nigerians super elites. Monsters are created from fear and paranoia in both fables and real life.

  3. nhlanhla 2016/08/17 at 05:01 #

    ecstatic, exhilarating, superb- indeed the fable is really exclusive.. I liked it.

  4. Hannah 2016/08/17 at 05:15 #

    Gbam, Adesewa! I’m not sure there’s more to be said. I guess it’s not so hidden with so many clues. And ‘eighth month of the year’? Pretty current.

  5. Ngozi Oguguah 2016/08/17 at 05:59 #

    The monster is David Trump.
    Lesson- do not take anyone for granted. Ignore warnings at your peril.

  6. Shade 2016/08/17 at 08:35 #

    The monster refers to Donald Trump and how much popularity he has gained considering the fact that be has spent little or almost nothing in publicity. Through the noise of the media and the people, his name is heard in almost every nook. Donald Trump sneezes, we hear about it, we talk about it for days. Donald Trump forgets to sleep, we get to know and talk about it for days.
    What does one learn from this?
    Your fear is what feeds a monster and give it importance.
    You are what you see as important. Most times, we give attention to what shouldn’t be called important.

  7. Lesley A 2016/08/17 at 09:02 #

    Monster – Donald Trump as the Personification of Ego

    Lesson – Ego thrives and grows when it is being paid attention. Withdraw attention it withers. Ego is weak.

  8. abdul-sataar 2016/08/17 at 14:11 #

    Between Teju and Michelle Obama, I am not sure who is better at throwing shades. The Donald is the perfect embodiment of these descriptions, a man who blows hot air and rides on hate and mindless rhetoric.
    And the lesson is as clear and baffling that I wonder how the media, including the night show hosts, failed to see that they were among the stokers of the fire that was his campaign. Yes, you mock people who propagate dangerous narratives enough to dissuade them. But at some point, you could see clearly that rather than dampen his spirits, it rather gave him the ammunition to shoot more useless talk. They not only failed to realise this, they helped create this ego, this us against them mentality that so many frustrated people – many of them racists – have been having. But how could I blame them, they made a lot of money off of his notoriety; Donald himself knew it.

  9. Gwen Suehunu 2016/08/18 at 22:09 #

    I interpreted the “monster” to be “fear.” Fear is something strengthened by constantly paying attention to it or sensationalizing. The lesson is that the more we put our fears on a pedestal –whether to worship it or to demean it– we are granting it power. Especially with the advance of social media, we are constantly being “told” by the media what to be excited about, scared of, or outraged about. Once the fear grows enough from us metaphorically watering it with our obsessing over it, it takes over and cannot be bound.

  10. ezicat 2016/08/20 at 17:11 #


  11. Damilare 2016/08/21 at 08:44 #

    The monster is Donald Trump

    The lesson in the fable: we empower the mischief maker and attention seeker by paying him attention. The more attention he gets, the better equipped he is to demand more attention. It’s a loop that continues to get bigger and bigger.

    The irony of the whole story is that by writing this fable, Teju Cole has made Trump stronger. By posting this challenge, Brittlepaper has made Trump stronger. By writing this reply, even I have made Trump. It seems the world is destined to ’empower Trump into the White House’.

    I think ‘noise making’ is humanity’s weakness.

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