Stories are at the heart of everything we do. They are how we learn about the world around us and how we make sense of that world. Fairy stories delight and awaken children`s imaginations; cautionary tales teach them not to put their hands in the fire or run off alone into the woods. Our history is at its liveliest when presented to us in narrative form - even the old chestnut ‘What I did in the school holidays’ was only ever interesting to read when it moved away from being a list of unrelated events into a story with some sort of resolution at its end.
Stories are the essence of most works of art: from early cave paintings depicting hunting trips right through to Tracy Emin`s tent, they are all attempts to either tell a story or draw attention to a particular aspect of a story. This applies to any art form: plays, poems, novels, films, short stories, ballads, sculpture, and painting are all different ways of presenting what the artist has experienced in some form of narrative so that others can, in some way, share the same experience.
Early humans created myths to answer questions such as how and why the world was created and why we are here, and even though science has largely disproved these stories their essential elements remain true and there is still much that we can learn from them.
Let`s take the Story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden as a quick example:
This text is being written using an Apple Computer - the logo for which is an apple with a bite taken out, symbolising Eve`s biting into the fruit of knowledge and implying that those of us who use Apple computers are biting into that same fruit and acquiring knowledge which will then, according to popular mythology, give us power. Already we can see to what extent ancient stories are still used as common reference points - we still talk about opening Pandora`s box, and the rocket that launched the first trips to the moon was named after a Roman God.
Science tells us that human beings first evolved in parts of Africa and Australasia and then some time later moved further north to colder, harsher environments. Why did they move? Conditions would have been perfect where they were - plenty of food and water and the right materials for housing and warmth. Perhaps the population grew too quickly and they began to fight over depleted resources; perhaps there was some natural disaster such as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Whatever the reason, we know they moved away and gradually settled in different parts of the world and developed different languages and customs.
One thing we can be sure of: they will have told their children stories. And when their children asked why things were so hard they must have responded along the lines of “Ah, yes, things are hard here, but one day we`ll get home again or find somewhere just as good. You should have seen what it was like in the old days, how beautiful it was, how perfect.......” And there we have the beginnings of the story of the Garden of Eden, the perfect home that had to be abandoned. It`s easy to imagine how early peoples must have believed that the Gods were angry with them for some reason if there was a major storm, earthquake or natural disaster, and their moving away from their perfect environment must have seemed to them like an expulsion.
Stories are part of our psychological and genetic make - up. We constantly think in terms of stories and crave stories from others, whether it be Dickens or Tolstoy, Shakespeare or Brecht, Eastenders or neighbourhood gossip. They`re such a part of us that we almost forget they`re there at all and ignore how important they are to us.
This is why we need Storytellers. A good storyteller doesn`t just bring a story to life, he or she draws the listener into another world so completely that a sense of that other world lingers on long after the story has ended, sometimes almost becoming part of the listener`s life in much the same way as a great book does.
And when a child hears a great story wonderfully told they sink into the tale and fall back on that deep rooted love of stories that all humans have. That love of stories is, in itself, a great thing but also brings with it great benefits: a love of stories is essential to a love of reading, and a love of reading is essential to knowledge and understanding and that, in turn, brings us..... back to the apple.