And Susan/Miranda said…
>>I think that the storytelling impulse is something we’re all born with, long before books and reading enter the picture. We all want to explain things that happen in our lives, or understand them, or escape them, and stories remain the best way anyone has discovered for doing this. Whether we whisper stories to dolls, or read them to children, or exchange them in a blog on the internet, the real power of storytelling itself never changes.
Fantastic quote, Susan/Miranda, and it got me thinking about that storytelling impulse.
What shapes us to become storytellers in the first place? What early influences come along to start that yearning in us? I’m convinced we’re each born with the spark of something unique, some ability or inclination that can bring us satisfaction and direction in our lives, whether it’s art, writing and storytelling, acting, math (yeah, I hear some people are born mathematicians!), or nurturing, analyzing, healing – the list goes on, and can be archetypal. And I think each of us has our own individual mythic base and power. Maybe that’s part of our inner connection to myth and story. We could go on about Joseph Campbell, et. al., delightful stuff — but I’ve got a deadline and I’m going to ramble off in another direction here….
For those of us here who aren’t storytellers, but avid audience, drawn by the power of a good story, what shapes that, too? Some are compelled toward story and some aren’t. I got to thinking about how I got hooked…
The power of Story, that "story soup" that Tolkein once talked about, got hold of me early on, maybe from the very first.
I remember a favorite, tattered fairy tale book that I kept throughout childhood (I think I teethed on that thing) – and I still remember the pictures in it. Besides that one, there were so many favorite storybooks that I loved as a kid: fairy tales, Greek myths, Norse myths, Arthurian legends, Tolkein, all of it. And for me in particular, the illustrations helped bring the stories to vivid life for me–Rackham, Dulac, Neilsen, N.C. Wyeth, others–give me a good book of fairy tales with great pictures, and I was in paradise (and stayed quiet for hours, which my parents, with three other little girls to raise, probably appreciated).
For me, it wasn’t just the books and pictures, though they were portals to magical places in the imagination. I was lucky to have a couple of natural storytellers in my everyday surroundings.
My great-grandmother, who was French, lived nearby; we could walk to her house after school, and if we were very good, we could stay overnight at her house, do some baking, and listen to stories (and sometimes hear her argue in French with my other grandmother, who was Canadian French; they would dispute the pronunciation of French words <g>). In the evenings, she would sit knitting, and begin to tell stories of her childhood in France in a large family; we’d hear about life in rural France, the pranks and adventures of six siblings, and her adventures crossing to America with her older brother and their young twin sisters.
These were funny, clever, and sometimes poignant stories (the day they sold their beloved cow and the children stood in the dusty road crying and waving while the cow mooed–that had me in tears every time!). I would beg to hear more, and though she would say it was getting too late and I must go to bed, she could usually be talked into just one more story, usually a favorite (the time the cook chased her around the ship to get a kiss and her brother came to her rescue! The time her brothers snatched pears from an orchard and the visiting bishop saw them and dragged them to confession! And the pears weren’t ripe and one brother’s loose front tooth came out!). Lovely, funny stories from a dear and charming woman.
My older sister had a gift, too, though her stories were fabricated, hilarious, and supremely silly. We would stay up late whispering and giggling while she made up one story after another (one continuing goofy theme involved tricking the bratty neighbor kid into jumping into a pool filled with jello). And then I would make up a story for her, while she dissolved giggling under the covers.
I’ve always thought that those early, simple, delightful experiences – books I truly, madly, adored, and my family members who made storytime such a treat, brought out the storytelling impulse in me. From an early age, I was absorbing the elements of good storytelling, what Tolkein called "the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story."
As an avid reader, crazy mad for stories, books, genres of all sorts, I kept on absorbing those elements. And when I had kids, from the time they were babies, I read to them every night, and often during the day. That gave me the chance to revisit all the wonderful stories, myths, legends, and books that I had loved as a kid. The Mom was sometimes more eager for reading hour than the busy kids: – Oh c’mon, don’t you want to hear another chapter of Babe? How about you, there, baby boy-–let’s read another Max the Rabbit book! –Maybe later, Mom <big sigh>).
When my boys were older, the oldest was a crazy-mad reader, the middle one less so, the younger still willing to let Mom freely indulge herself among the kids’ books. The reader was okay on his own, surrounded by huge TBR piles, and I gave the middle guy tapes to listen to: myths, legends, King Arthur, Tolkein, Japanese and Celtic fairy tales, all of it, everything I could find. He insisted he didn’t like reading, and didn’t want to be read to – but he loved those tapes. And I felt better knowing that he was still going to absorb those mythic elements that I think are so essential to the human psyche (the pay-off on those tapes came unexpectedly one day when he was a teenager… his girlfriend had the flu, and he sat on the phone with her, telling her a story from King Arthur to lull her to sleep…and beautifully told it was, too. And P.S. he’s crazy for reading now!).
Stories, and myths, and legends are not just entertainment, not time-wasters. We gain something on an inner level when we hear a good story, well told, well-framed: we’re learning, exploring, feeling, thinking, experiencing — even if we just think, hey that was a great story, and move on quickly to the next one.
Stories are part of the fabric and weave of the human spirit. They embody and express qualities that we all explore in life–hope, fear, joy, sadness, love, courage, all of it. Storytelling has been an essential part of human social activity for eons, from the myths told by shaman to the Celtic myths of the seanachaidhean or the Norse myths and epics recited by the skalda poets – those very tales and legends, remembered and handed down for ages, and their modern incarnations in genre and general fiction, are still important today.
As fiction writers, especially genre writers, we are still an active part of that great storytelling stream, that story soup, still dipping into that great mythic cauldron. There may only be a few basic story types and a handful of elemental themes at the foundation of the stories we hear and the stories we tell, yet they still give of themselves, endless and fresh, and we still benefit from them. The cauldron is never empty, and we can partake of as much as we like.
So what about you all? Where did the power of storytelling first find you, and how has it helped you to become the writer, or reader, or person that you are today?