Stories are the most important thing in my life. It doesn’t really matter to me what form these stories take – written or spoken word, film, television or simply my own imagination – I can lose myself in a story for many very enjoyable hours.
I am not the only person who feels this way – in the words of Phillip Pullman: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Nor is this a new phenomenon. Stories have been important to societies around the world since words were first developed, far back in our history as a species. This can be clearly seen in the myths, folktales, songs and rhymes which have been carried down from generation to generation.
But why are stories so important to us?
The main answer to this, in my opinion at least, is that stories connect us.
Firstly, they connect us to other people. Stories grant us glimpses into lives which would be otherwise hidden. Each of us exists in our own space; our thoughts are our own, the true detail of our passage through life – our attitudes, feelings, and motives – are known only to ourselves. We can share information with those we encounter by telling them our stories. As a child I used to make up stories about the people who lived in the houses on my street, fascinated by the mysteries of their existence. Through stories we are given a chance to view life through the eyes of characters from all walks of life: rich and powerful, weak and dispossessed, from cultures all around the world and from any period in time into which we care to venture. This allows empathy to be developed and can, in turn, lead to greater understanding and tolerance.
Stories also connect us to our society. Historical stories give us a sense of our roots, both family stories and those of our nation’s past – my own personal favourites (I’m a Nottinghamshire girl through and through!) are the tales of Robin Hood. The content of stories can also connect us to our society by informing us of the beliefs and moral leanings expected of us. Stories can illustrate the difference between right and wrong, with characters’ actions shown in positive or negative light. Religious stories from around the world are the best examples of this but non-religious texts can also be said to reflect and reinforce societal norms.
Finally stories can be said to connect us to our inner selves. When experiencing a story we lose ourselves in our imaginations, we create our own images to fill in the gaps between the words. Long after a story has been told, these images remain in our heads, to be revisited at will. As Deena Metzger says: “When Stories nestle in the body, soul comes forth.”
Stories have always, and will always be important and I’m quite happy for them to remain that way.