Imagine you are sitting in a theatre. All around you is darkness. The audience is silent. Suddenly, a spotlight reveals an actor at centre stage. He takes a deep breath and begins. You know that the words he speaks are not true. Dragons to do not exist, knights did not fight trolls, and the woman for whom he declares his love is not a real princess. However, you are captivated by his words nonetheless. You fear for him as he sets out to face unknown perils, you watch with bated breath as he crosses swords with his enemies, and you rejoice when he declares his foe vanquished before he and his lady love disappear, stage left. The lights come on and you go home; the spectacle is over.
This scenario plays out thousands of times every day in every corner of the planet. The phenomenon of storytelling seems to be as old as human language. Stories inspire us, teach us, console us, and above all, they entertain us. Far from their humble beginnings as the memorized works of master orators recited around ancient fires in the dust of our past, stories find themselves in film, in journalism, on the stage, and around the watercooler. We are addicted to stories.
Everyone has a different reason for loving a good story. I would like to share mine. The first story that I can recollect from my childhood is that of Robin Hood, though not exactly Langland’s Piers Plowman, I found myself lost in the pages of that comic book. My imagination was set alight, running through Sherwood Forest, stealing from the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and sharing the spoils among the peasantry. After reading and rereading that book until the pages started to free themselves from their binding, I wanted more. Before, during, and up until the end of elementary school I drowned myself in stories. Greek myths, the epics of the Old Testament, traditional West African stories, The Canterbury Tales, Gilgamesh, and far too many others to include in this short blog post. I suppose what I mean is, I read a lot.
Reading these great stories was an escape for me. For an undersized asthmatic with poor coordination and an obsession with Star Trek, popularity was not exactly in the cards for me. Often the subject of torment and exclusion at the hands of my peers, stories were an escape for me. It was a fantasy where I could put myself into the leopard skins of Sri Rama Chandra and the faces of my tormentors on the many heads of Ravana as I battled demons to save my 5th grade crush from her captor’s gilded palace in Lanka. Between the covers of my classics, I was invincible.
In secondary school, I started to write my own stories; some short, some long, and some formed into rhyme for poetry and badly sung songs. I filled my head with Shakespeare. I tried (and often failed) to emulate his artful poetry and prose. I reread the classics of my childhood in their original and more mature forms. I learned that Achilles was kind of a dick, but I suppose so was Paris (I mean who steals people’s wives anyway?). In fact, a lot of the heroes of my childhood turned out to be bags of dick tips, but that knowledge only made their characters better. Their complexity, inner conflict, and often times their terrible mistakes made them interesting, and made me question my own life and what decisions I would make if faced with the same situation. Stories taught me about life.
Today, a grown, hard back man in my 30s, I am still a lover of great stories. Sometimes they provide an escape from a long day, other times they continue to make me question myself and what I believe. They always make me feel better, and they always make me want to aspire to something great. Now I tell traditional African stories whenever I get the chance, and I am putting the finishing touches on the first book of my own epic series. I hope that the stories that I share will touch someone in the same way that those that came before did me.
The truth is we are all storytellers. It doesn’t matter if you share the latest celebrity news, a tragedy that you heard on the news last night, or sing a grand solo from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. We all have stories to share, and each one makes the world that much richer.
Until next time be good to yourselves, and each other. One love,
– Adam H.C. Myrie