Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

NeilGaiman-by-AdrienDegganI tend to think that all forms of art– music, literature, dance and the visual arts– somehow transmit information or knowledge of some sort that enhances our lives as humans.  It is something beyond the sheer pleasure it offers, something deeper and necessary.

In the most recent post from Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings,  there is an outline ( and an available full Soundcloud recording) of a recent lecture from author Neil Gaiman ( of Sandman fame among many other things) where he speaks on the purpose and lives of stories, how stories grow and spread through time and cultures.

One of my favorite bits from this post came as Gaiman illustrates the purpose of story telling in telling an anecdote about his cousin Helen, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor:

A few years ago, she started telling me this story of how, in the ghetto, they were not allowed books. If you had a book … the Nazis could put a gun to your head and pull the trigger — books were forbidden. And she used to teach under the pretense of having a sewing class… a class of about twenty little girls, and they would come in for about an hour a day, and she would teach them maths, she’d teach them Polish, she’d teach them grammar…

One day, somebody slipped her a Polish translation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind. And Helen stayed up — she blacked out her window so she could stay up an extra hour, she read a chapter of Gone with the Wind. And when the girls came in the next day, instead of teaching them, she told them what happened in the book.

And each night, she’d stay up; and each day, she’d tell them the story.

And I said, “Why? Why would you risk death — for a story?”

And she said, “Because for an hour every day, those girls weren’t in the ghetto — they were in the American South; they were having adventures; they got away.

I think four out of those twenty girls survived the war. And she told me how, when she was an old woman, she found one of them, who was also an old woman. And they got together and called each other by names from Gone with the Wind…

We [writers] decry too easily what we do, as being kind of trivial — the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction … is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armor, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better… It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.

Helen’s story is a true story, and this is what we learn from it — that stories are worth risking your life for; they’re worth dying for. Written stories and oral stories both offer escape — escape from somewhere, escape to somewhere.

I think that is a wonderful example of how art serves as a template or pattern that we can follow in order to survive life in general.  And as I said, that is one of the great purposes of art.

Please check out the full article on Brain Pickings.


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