Before there were libraries; before there were books; before the advent of written language, word of mouth was the only way to tell a story. People of every shade and hue held on to their stories by passing them orally from generation to generation. But in a world such as today, when there are few storytellers to listen to, it is easy to forget the importance of storytelling. Just imagine – there were once bards who roamed from town to town, telling stories to make a living. And if you think about it, nothing captures an audience’s attention more than a story. Although today’s stories are different and often appear on screens, the world has not yet run out of stories to tell. And I don’t think it ever will.
The CEO of my company is convinced that the way to guide a successful tour is not to spit out information like a robot as you drive past landmark after landmark, but to tell your guests a story, interweaving the places they see out the window into your tale.
The CEO’s talks about the importance of storytelling reminded me of one of my favorite books: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. I read this silly story for one of my Literature courses in college and absolutely loved it. It tells the story of a boy named Haroun and his adventures through a whimsical land. Although the book might seem childish, it is actually an allegory representing the importance of storytelling.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories will make you cringe to even imagine a race of people or a world without storytelling.
I recently received The Magnificent Defeat by Frederick Buechner. I hardly ever read religious books, but since it was a gift from a long-time family friend, I decided to give it a shot. Buechner really hits the head on the nail when he explains the way he views stories and storytelling. I wanted to share the following quote because I think that many people do not recognize how important storytelling is.
“…the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning – that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere. The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story. And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feeling it gives us that if there is meaning in any life … then there is meaning also in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and it makes us listen to the storyteller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is” (Buechner 60).
Come to think of it, even when I am at my most depressed, an inspiring or exciting story (even if it is just a science fiction movie) can snap me out of my bad mood and make me feel like my life is worth something!
Another quote on the importance of storytelling that struck me can be found in Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. Published just this year, the book tells the story of a hippie commune’s successes and failures through the eyes of a tiny hippie child named Bit. The story follows Bit as he grows into an adult, and near the end of the novel he states why he feels stories are important:
“It isn’t important if the story was ever true. He understands, with a feeling inside him like a wind whipping through a room, that when we lose the stories we have believed about ourselves, we are losing more than stories, we are losing ourselves” (Groff 208).
Here Bit is reminiscing about his days growing up in Arcadia, the hippie commune. Eventually, the commune fell into ruin and he moved to Philadelphia. Even though he is no longer in Arcadia, it is the stories from the commune that tie him to his past and his family. He realizes that if he ever forgets about his childhood experiences in the commune, he will lose a part of himself.
Any person, whether he be an author, engineer, accountant, or teacher, can tell a story. Go forth and tell stories – and even more importantly, never forget those stories, good and bad, that make you who you are! 🙂