There was an old film that I remember first watching wth my mother -you know the type...glorious (that is, garish) technicolour, twee incidental music and the entire range of good to bad acting. The film was set in China, just after the revolutionart period, and was all about a young missionary, who assists a senior bible-thumper in establishing an inn in a Chinese provincial town. The purpose of doing this was to tell stories to the wayfarers and travellers who stopped by in the inn. These stories were Bible stories, of course -the hope was that by interesting the chinese in the stories first, the missionaries could then work upon converting them. This pattern has been repeated in missionary work throughout time and the ages, from St Paul in the Middle East to St Colum Cille in Scotland and Ulster, St Patrick in Ireland, to Livingstone in the heart of Africa. Start with the story first...get em hooked. Similarly, Muslims tell stories of the last prophet and of Allah to convert the infidel - Buddha generates stories and tales around him as he goes, and Hinduism boasts a stupendous collection of stories, tales and cycles that make up its holy texts. Similarly, the animist religions of the Native Americans, the pagan religions of the european Geats, Celts and Teutons, rely heavily on fireside tales to transmit their beliefs. The Story is one of the most potent inventions on this earth, undoubtedly one of the oldest, perhaps even predating fire-but certainly is bound up in that invention, and no doubt, was crystalised around the allure of dancing flames and spitting logs. It is no wonder that most self-conscious writers take their work very seriously....
It can, at times, be a religious experience -though not a religion in itself. But stories are part and parcel of the mechanics of devotion. An involving story has tremendous importance to its readers...it touches us in a VERY deep way. We have a devotion to it -it is not a religion, and we are not followers of a faith...though in fleeting moments, it can give us cause to contemplate the same rubicons and questions of self as a religion demands. But it is a serious devotion nonetheless, secular though it be. And here we are, the majority of us, who congregate in this virtual village, here because we all saw and were touched by Star Wars, and it moved us...provided something to our lives, indeed, serve as references for what we have done with our lives, with our own story. In a sense, it all part of our own desire, our own quest to bring some art into how we have lived.
Ande we have all chosen to interpret this, and other stories in our own way -that much is clear. Some of us have commited themselves to defending the vision of the storyteller -against any and all comers. some seek to define what devotion to this story should be -and what a devotee should do to demonstrate it. Still others see no reason for their devotion to prevent them from discussing the flaws in the cycle.
Why is SW so appealing? more interestingly...why are stories so appealing?
A story is an arbitrary, artificial creation. Furthermore, a story is an IDEAL in itself. It is an ideal of comprehensibility, an ideal of purpose -stories have, a defineable beginning, a middle, and an end -each process within it, each happening has a reason, a purpose and an eventual resolution. It is a profoundly religious impulse -stories and religions tap into the same sphere of the human consciousness -a desire for order, for comfort. a narrative sends boundaries and makes life understandable...for just a wee while -for as long as the story continues. Close the book, and we are in an environment with much less form to it. Perhaps, without even without purpose.
We fall back on the ideal of the story consistently. How many times, when asked about your day, will you sum up the day with one chosen incident, which you tell as a story? You dont tell perhaps, of the long three hours on the afternoon that had your brain in meltdown, or the bus journey or making yourself a cup of coffee...well, whod want to hear that? instead you make a story out of an encounter that day, and tailor the story to express the general jist of that day. on a good day -youd maybe chose a pleasant happening -on a day in which youd been depressed -perhaps something typical of the kind of stuff you have to put up with. Its an odds on bet that a more thorough auditing of events will throw up much contradicting, disparate evidence that muddies the picture.
so we also ask stories to give us a clarity of view -even of that view is not clear cut, we can still use the text of a narrative to trace the origins, the whys and the wherefores of events. Stories take facts, brush them up, and using skill, language craft and artistic sense, in low or high measure, synthesise these into a plot. Messages and meanings are alos most easily conveyed in stories. Not just in biblical parables, or Hindu vedas, or in anecdotes of the Prophet, or in the sayings of Lao Tzu (all of which are narratives, small or large, collected together) but in political, national and social creeds also. The Pilgrim Fathers, Paul Revers Ride, Bruce and the Spider, Dunkirk, the Cuchuilain cycle, Easter 1916 ,the myths of the Lakota, the dreamtime of the Aborigines- some of these are hIstorical in origin, some have always been fireside tales -but they are all distilled into story formats, and are thus, imbued with a seductive power that has built and threatened civilisations. Not the be all and end all -but the root, of the ideologies and values upon which loyalty and belief are founded -upon the ancient ideal of order and harmony and purpose of which the story is the most concise exponent. the great storytellers dont just entertain, they inspire devotion -[a ndevotian based not on logic, but the striking of a deep chord within the recipient.
An epiphany that enters through the skin, not the mind.