Legal Fables and Fables of the Law

A new book, Fables of the Law: Fairy Tales in a Legal Context, edited by Professor Daniela Carpi of the University of Verona, Italy, and Associate Professor Marett Leiboff  has just been released. The book, published as volume 13 of the book series Law and Literature by the German publisher De Gruyter, contains contributions from legal scholars, jurisprudents, and literature and cultural studies scholars based in Italy, France, the UK, Australia and Austria.

The collection features two members of the Law and Popular Cultures theme of LIRC: Marett Leiboff and Dr Luis Gómez Romero. As well as her role as co-editor of the collection, Marett Leiboff contributes two chapters. The first, as part of the introduction to the idea that the law might ‘fable’, is called ‘Fabulous Law: Legal Fables’  in which she considers the dangers that occur to legal interpretation when the materialities, or realities of the circumstances that shape law and its principles are divorced from its interpretation. Through an examination of the meaning and etymology of the notion of the fable and its variants, she considers the ways in which law’s interpreters make new, perhaps incorrect, meanings through the veil of reason and rationality. She uses a well-known fable, ‘The Wolf and the Lamb’ and its reading as an abstract claim of power, building on the reading of Louis Marian, to one grounded in law and its practices, and its injustices in a highly material sense.

Dr Luis Gómez Romero’s chapter begins the second part of the collection, Part I: Fabulising Law, entitled  ‘The Wondrous (Baroque) Gender Revolution, or the Rise and Fall of the Empire of Fairies’. Using Kantian ethics and the shaping of Enlightenment thought and practices, and the rise and loss of principles of justice and right, Gómez Romero draws on the fairytales published by Charles Perrault to consider the role that instruction in expectations of conduct and thought are shaped – including those of law and power. Gómez Romero reminds us that the fairytale in France was the plaything of the aristocracy, denied to children and workers, and only latterly allowed beyond that small circle into the wider social order. Drawn from the fairytales shaped in the salons of the aristocratic women of the court of Louis XIV of France, Perrault’s own version of the fairytales published at the end of the 17th century reshaped their purpose, taking on the role of instruction into civilité, as passed down through time – to obtain power and recognition.

Marett Leiboff’s second chapter, ‘The Good Old Rule, the Catspaw and a Two-Headed Baby’, appears in Part II: Contemporary Fables. Here, she builds on the meaning of fable, reason, and power that she developed earlier in the collection, to read how much a significant case like Doodeward v Spence has been fabled over time, We find that the facts as we retell them were not quite as they seem, and the patterns of thinking used by the courts speak to another French institution developed in the 17th century that remained tightly embedded into 19th century thinking – the Logic and Grammar of Port-Royal. We find strategies of power deployed by Griffith CJ over that of the reason shaped by the dissentient, Higgins J, and each justice uses the same reworked fable to amplify their reasoning. Neither member of the court identifies the text they use, and the meaning of the fable is shown, in the hands of present day lawyers, to mean something very different again.

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