In the following parable I use a number of techniques, many of which are particular to parables. Firstly, I deliberately reject the ‘show don’t tell’ command. Historically parables have contained elements of telling. I also deliberately keep the writing style simplistic because this is how parables work – parables contain depth yet seem deceptively simple at first glance.
So, obviously the fish, the fisherfolk, the king, his army and the over-competitive fisherman are counterparts to other things. This is an internal puzzle which is not hard to solve for those familiar with the genre. The woodland and the boy are harder to parallel. The king going away on a long journey is also a traditional theme. The ‘intrusive’ narrative voice is deliberate and is here used to divert the reader towards a ‘parable teller’. This is a character in himself. The narrator is not necessarily the author.
It is not a difficult parable to unravel and one feature of most parables is that they are not usually explained by the teller. They are left for the listener or reader to figure out. But here I have deliberately broken the second rule of the parable – which is to present a spiritual message. My first draft did conform to the norms of parables and contain the spiritual message but I changed the ending for it to work better in terms of story. The original ending stopped before the last few paragraphs and it is obvious that this changes the story significantly. Above all I wanted to adhere to the first rule of parable which is that it is supposed to be a story and an escape…
The parable of the over-competitive fisherman
A king once owned a vast lake in which all kinds of fish lived.
The king went away on a long journey with his army, telling his servants to fish the lake for him. He was a very kind king even though he was immensely powerful.
But as soon as he left, the servants began to argue with each other. They started to call themselves ‘the king’s fisherfolk’ (men, women and children) and they formed two groups, one on the West side, then one on the East. But even these groups split so that there were eventually fisherfolk on three sides of the lake. One side of the lake protested against another side and the third side just shrugged and said that they were the true fisherfolk anyway. The only other side of the lake was covered in woodland and no-one could fish from it.
There were intense arguments between the fisherfolk about the best way to catch fish. The fisherfolk on the Western side tended to have the better equipment and conditions. The sun seemed to shine on them although the fishing conditions were challenging in some ways. Mostly they had problems because they tripped over their equipment. Some of them had rods and equipment which was so expensive and sophisticated that it was easier for them to catch the fish. The equipment sometimes got in the way or distracted them.
The Western fisherfolk argued among themselves about the best way to catch fish and please their master. Many of them had fist fights or wouldn’t speak to each other. Others didn’t see the point in fishing and went off to do something they were more interested in. Perhaps they were the wisest.
There were all kinds of disputes. The fisherfolk on the West always looked down on the fisherfolk on the other sides of the lake. They were only united in this. They would often accuse each other of cheating or of scaring the fish away. One of the fisherfolk on the East was just a boy who only had a line which he baited with a worm and dangled into the water from the branch of a tree. He couldn’t even afford a rod.
There was also one particular fisherman on the Western side who was rich and had better equipment than many of the others. There were a lot of fisherfolk in the team which he led. But he would condescend towards the poorer fisherfolk and remain aloof and over-competitive. He would even toss grenades from his survival belt into the lake. Whenever he did this he would kill a lot of the fish and set his team to scoop them up in huge nets. He caught countless fish this way. But others noticed that he scared away most of the life within the lake.
Not content with lobbing grenades, this fisherman would also go out onto the lake in a trawler and dredge to the bottom with huge nets. All of the other fisherfolk were so scared of him because he said that he was pleasing the king more than them as he had caught so many more fish than they had.
The boy was very sad when he saw and heard all this. He went out every day to fish the lake but could never catch any fish, the fisherfolk on his side had so little equipment and, truth be told, some of the fisherfolk had made the fish very wary. A lot of the time the boy would just talk to the other fisherfolk and the rich fisherman would watch him in the distance and think he was lazy.
The rich fisherman announced from a loudspeaker: “When the king gets back from his journey he will let me relax with him in the best room of his palace because I’ve caught the most fish. I win.”
He even sometimes said that the king had sent him secret messages which told him he was his best fisherman and that he was very pleased with him. “The king is with me, me, me…” he sang. Many of the others became discouraged because of all this and gave up fishing.
For many years this was simply the way things were. But one day, as suddenly as a thief might break into a house, the king came back from his journey. He appeared, with his army at his lakeside and called all his servants together from every side. The woodland watched on silently, breathing in the wild wind. He asked each of his servants in turn one simple question:
“Did you catch any fish in my lake?”
Many of the fisherfolk had somehow caught fish and the king sent them off to relax in his palace. When he came to the boy he asked him the same question.
The boy replied: “No, I’m sorry, not one.”
The king was surprised at this, but when he saw that the boy only had a line with a hook and that the fishing conditions were so challenging he understood what had happened.
So the king told the boy that he could stop fishing and go and play in the best part of his palace.
The rich fisherman also went before the king. He had freezers stocked full of fish. He had caught so many and stocked them with salt in vast refrigerated warehouses which he had built. He had also secretly eaten and sold on a number of the fish himself. I suppose that is what happens when you are over-competitive.
“How many fish did you catch?” asked the king.
“153,000,” replied the fisherman, his chest swelling in pride.
“Pretty impressive,” said the king, “you have worked very hard haven’t you? Are you tired?”
“That wasn’t on the agenda,” replied the fisherman. “But I would like to point out once again that I have caught the most fish. You like fish don’t you?”
“Love them,” replied the king. But he was very depressed by the over-competitive fisherman as he had never wanted fish to be captured quite in the way that they were. The strange, kind king didn’t want to send the fisherman out of his kingdom into the burning heat of exile where he wouldn’t survive.
“I thought I could have a sabbatical?” said the fisherman, “Where do you want me to rest in the palace?”
“You really are very efficient and shrewd,” said the king, “so you can go and carry on working for my fisherfolk there. They will need someone to cook for them.”
And it all would have ended there if the over-competitive fisherman hadn’t been quite so shrewd (as the king had so accurately perceived).
The rich fisherman could see that he was facing a menial role as a lowly servant in the palace. Although he was relieved not to be sent into the burning heat of exile he did keenly realize that he had very little to lose at this point.
“I’ve just spent my adult career working for you despite the fact that you have been entirely absent and despite your inane request for fish,” blurted the fisherman.
The king seemed momentarily taken aback.
“I am not going to carry on being your lacky in your palace, serving fools who have been unable to fish effectively. So I utterly refuse to play your game.”
The king nodded, smiled to himself. As if unsurprised. As if nothing could surprise him. As if he knew the future. And then he said, “I’m afraid you have no choice. You put the ‘tit’ into ‘competitive’. Even now my army is coming to take you to your place. No value judgement intended, you understand.”
It was too much for the fisherman. Reaching towards his survival belt he unclipped a spare grenade and rolled it towards the king. The grenade landed at the king’s feet. He paused to look down and then smiled.
“But that’s not a fish,” he said (momentarily confused).
“You’re damned right,” replied the fisherman, turning and running away as fast as a ridiculous thought.
The inevitable explosion blasted the kind king into a thousand and one bloody pieces.
A few of the pieces landed in the lake where hungry, confused fish devoured them and then returned to the freedom of the water.
It was, some may say, ironic that the fish should win out in the end. Others may say it was meaningless, without rhyme or reason.
But I’m simply trying to tell you what happened. The over-competitive fisherman won, along with the fish and the trees of the hungry, watching woods which swayed and clapped their hands in a mad westerly wind.