Real-life cases spur on modern fables book

November 30, 2007

Carlisle, Pa. – For law professor Bob Rains, inspiration for writing modern fables comes from the actual court cases described in law journals. And, his new book, "True Tales of Trying Times: Legal Fables for Today," illustrates the absurd legal gyrations of plaintiffs and defendants, and often their lawyers, in attempts to win their cases.

"True Tales" serves up brief humorous stories of law cases in fable form, each with a moral in verse, and a pen and ink illustration. The clever illustrations are the work of the artistic team of E. A. Jacobsen.

"Fact is stranger than fiction; you can’t make this stuff up," Rains said. "People are endlessly inventive in their quest to beat the system, or to justify a really stupid decision."

One example is the man who tried to swap his truck for child support payments to his ex-wife:

"If one fine day you make a kid
And now must pay 'cause you’re a father;
A traded truck will not get rid
Of child support; so do not bother."

The Penn State Dickinson Law School professor has been writing poems and other creative forms as relaxation for many years. During airplane flights, he would bring along law journals for reading and find court decisions that struck him funny, prompting him to take out his legal pad and jot down lines of verse.

"True Tales" is a collection of his legal fables, a few of which have been published in law journals. In the foreword, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Michael Eakin notes, "Bob gives us lessons worth learning, with fables as broad as the fruited plain and as addictive as salted peanuts. The teller makes these tales come alive and displays their useful truths and precepts for all of us to appreciate."

After handling family law cases including divorces for more than 20 years, Rains now teaches courses in family law, juvenile law and the law related to persons with disabilities. He also supervises the law school's Disability Law Clinic and co-supervises its Family Law Clinic.

Second example: a pair of brothers was arrested for murder. After they were acquitted, they sued their former jailers for having deprived them of toothpaste for three weeks, which they claimed was cruel & inhumane:

"Those who may have caused a death
Retain the right to minty breath."

The book is written with wry humor, free of legal jargon, and offers a wide range of predicaments created by humans and other non-rational creatures.

"We throw our self-made problems into the judicial cauldron, which often just mixes them up and throws them right back at us," Rains notes.

Example: the pet squirrel’s owner who successfully appealed a conviction for unlawful possession of wildlife:

"The Pennsylvania Game Commission
Was ill advised to hurl
The book at a "matrician"
Who saved an orphan squirrel."

"Enjoy the fables for what they are. Take them, like the truth, in small doses," Rains notes. “And, whatever you do, stay out of court."

"True Tales of Trying Times" was printed by Cambridge University Press and is published in the U.S. by Willow Crossing Press ( and in the U.K. by Wildy, Simmonds and Hill Publishing (

  • IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated July 28, 2017