It is my opinion that all great stories have their roots in the knowing of other stories. Star Wars draws on King Arthur mythology. Lord of the Rings pulls also from King Arthur, and from other Christian legends and Nordic and English folk stories. In essence, loving stories and being a person who samples many is what qualifies a person to be a story teller.
Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors of our time, has thrown his hat into this arena also: said he, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Consider the old English and European bards, not those who were most famous only, but them all: they were those who knew the stories, and created more. Would they have written or told at all if they had not gained an appreciation for stories in the first place? Perhaps. But unlikely.
Not all stories are of ancient date, either. A story need only be something which one has experienced. J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote in a letter to a friend that he would use people or ideas from his own past to generate characters within his stories. One such was Gaffer Gamgee, Sam’s father in LotR. This busy bodied hobbit was based on an old man in town who spread weather gossip and the like; the name ‘Gaffer Gamgee’ was dredge from his childhood, a term referring to ‘cotton-wool.’ Any interesting or unusual fact which one picks up can and should be recorded for the use of posterity.
But why tell stories at all? What does it matter if any tale is told? Historically, stories were used as means of transmitting ideas. An abstract concept is easily forgotten. Put that concept into a story format, with character acting on, or not acting on, the ideal of the concept, and it becomes instantly memorable. Not only is this a useful means of teaching children, but it applies for all human learning.
We are beings naturally designed to interpret symbols. Take for instance pareidolia—the programing in our brains to recognize faces, shapes, creatures, and objects. This ability allows us to obtain personal identity from our own reflections, as well as interpret dangers in the form of large animals, sudden passing shadows, and so on. However, this ability also causes to occasionally see things which aren’t there. Have you ever started at a bush in the dark, thinking it was an animal? This was not you being paranoid, but simply your brain attempting to interpret the shapes around you into recognizable information. This can happen in abstract as well. Consider Isaac Newton. What was it, really that sparked the idea of gravity, if not interpreting information which had just become available to him?
Since we do this naturally, it is my belief that story telling is a fundamental part of humanity. To not participate in it, at least in the reading or viewing of stories, is to miss out on a tradition older than written language. Essentially, at our most basic human nucleus, we are all creators. It is our purpose to understand the universe, or at least to interpret it into something which we can grasp. In the past fables were our best modus for garnering understanding. Science has moved in to assist a great deal in this endeavor.
Let us not allow ourselves to become so sure of our understandings that we ignore the glorious possibilities which exist in our creative minds. Every concept brought about by science was first imagined by a human. They then labored to find some source of it in reality. We now can assist in this effort by taking those ideas and adding to them, building either out of pure fantasy or more natural understanding. Even if the story crafted is one which was meant as a joke, it can still serve to spark some reasoning human mind and again increase our global reservoir of understanding and reason.
2 thoughts on “Musings on Storytelling”
Thank you! Maybe I’ll write a few more musings!