The hunger for narrative
Last chance...

A trail of stories

The Arabian Nights illustrated by Charles Folkard

Following up on yesterday's post: Another reason we hunger for narrative, writes Scott Russell Sanders in "The Power of Stories," is because stories create community.

Ottoman Wonder Tales illustrated by Charles Folkard"They link tellers to listeners, and listeners to one another," he says. "This is obviously so when speaker and audience share the same space, as humans have done for all but the last few centuries of our million-year history, gathered around fires or huddled in huts; it is equally if less obviously so when we encounter our stories in solitude, on the page or screen. When two people discover they have both read Don Quixote, they immediately share a piece of history....Strangers who discover their mutual devotion to fairy tales or gangster movies or soap operas or Shakespeare's plays become thereby less strange to one another.

"Frank O'Connor went so far as to declare that 'the one subject a storyteller must write about' is 'human loneliness.' Whether or not stories speak to it directly, they offer us a relief from loneliness, by revealing that our most secret feelings and thoughts do not belong to us alone, by inviting us to join the circle of readers or listeners. The strongest bonds are formed by sacred stories, which unite entire peoples. Thus Jews rehearse the events of Passover; Christians tell of a miraculous birth and death and resurrection; Buddhists tell of Guatama meditating beneath a tree; the Hope recount the story of their emergence from the earth; the Aborigines repeat in song the primal deeds of their ancestors.

Ottoman Wonder Tales illustrated by Charles Folkard

"As we know only too well, sacred stories may also divide the world between those who are inside the circle and those outside, between us and them, a division that has inspired pogroms and inquisitions and wars. 

From British Fairy Tales & Folk Tales illustrated by Charles Folkard

"There is danger in story, as in any great force. If the tales that captivate us are silly or deceitful, like most of those offered by television or advertising, they waste our time and warp our desires. If they are cruel they make us callous. If they are false and bullying, instead of drawing us into a thoughtful community they may lure us into an unthinking herd or, worst of all, into a crowd screaming for blood -- in which case we need other, truer stories to renew our vision. So The Diary of Anne Frank and Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz are antidotes to Mein Kamp. So Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's Beloved are antidotes to the paranoid yarns of the Ku Klux Klan. So the patient exchange of stories between people searching for common ground is an antidote to the hasty sloganeering and slandering of talk shows."

From British Fairy Tales illustrated by Charles Folkard

 "We are creatures of instinct," Sanders writes later in the essay, "but not soley of instinct. More than any other animal we must learn to behave. In this perennial effot, as Ursula Le Guin says, 'Story is our nearest and dearest way of understanding our lives and finding our way onward.' Skill is knowing how to do something; wisdom is knowing when and why to do it, or to refrain from doing it. While stories may display skill aplenty, in technique or character or plot, what the best of them offer is wisdom. They hold a living resevoir of human possibilities, telling us what has worked before, what has failed, where meaning and purpose and joy might be found.

Cinderella by Charles Folkard

"At the heart of many a tale is a test, a puzzle, a riddle, a problem to solve; and that, surely, is the condition of our lives, both in detail -- as we decide how to act in the present moment -- and in general, as we seek to understand what it all means. Like so many characters, we are lost in a dark wood, a labyrinth, a swamp, and we need a trail of stories to show us the way back to our true home."

The Princess and Curdie illustrated by Charles Folkard

The paintings today are by Charles Folkard (1878-1963), who was born in south London and worked as stage magician before turning his hand to design and illustration. He created Britain's first daily newpaper cartoon strip (The Adventures of Teddy Tail), but he's best known today for his long career as a children's book illustrator, producing sumptuous editions of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, Aesop's Fables, Alice in Wonderland, Pinnochio, The Princess and Curdie, and numerous other classics. Folkard died at the age of 85, still painting right up to the very end.

British Fairy Tales & Folk Tales illustrated by Charles Folkard

The Old Fashion Picture Book illustrated by Charles FolkardThe passage above is from "The Power of Stories" by Scott Russell Sanders, published in his essay collection The Force of Spirit (Beacon Press, 2000), which is highly recommended. All rights reserved by the author.

Comments

'There is danger in story, as in any great force.'

With all the divisive figures in Britain, America, France and elsewhere telling very dangerous stories in the press right now, this post couldn't be more timely.

I'm going to have to order a copy of The Force of Spirit and read Mr. Sander's full essay, the excerpts from it are wonderful. Myth & Moor has expanded my reading list yet again.

'Like so many characters, we are lost in a dark wood, a labyrinth, a swamp, and we need a trail of stories to show us the way back to our true home.'

Thank you, Terri and Scott Russell Sanders, for showing us the way.

Story's Hand

"Story is our nearest and dearest way of understanding
our lives and finding our way onward."--Ursula LeGuin


So I took her hand, old and gnarled,
like a living statue it was,
though her touch more breeze than stone.
We walked in and out of mists,
across taiga and tundra,
through forests where trees shook fists
at the sky.

We swam rivers and rills, climbed hillocks
and mountains that rose like dragon backs.
Nearly drowned in an acre of mud.
She's tougher than she looks,
softer than she feels. I was never afraid,
not even when we faced the trolls.

And at each journey's end,
she tucked me into the wide bed,
head stuffed with dreams,
the night made safer for me.
And the day.

©2015 Jane Yolen all right reserved

Thank you, Cynthia. The full essay is indeed wonderful, and well worth seeking out. I hope you and your family are well!

Jane, your poems just go straight to the heart. I love this image of Story...and have surely met her in the guise in the dark of the woods.

Absolutely wonderful post, full of such rich thought and truth, I've bookmarked it for reading over and again. And that art - oh! Gorgeous.

Hi Terri,

What really struck my heart/mind this morning was this revelation about essentials in writing -- "Frank O'Connor went so far as to declare that 'the one subject a storyteller must write about' is 'human loneliness.' Often, when we are left in the "afterwards" of a project, mutual dream or relationship, time haunts us with solitude and reflection. The haunting becomes poignantly regretful as we realize what we had and did not take seriously or cultivate into something beautiful and substantial. The ghost of place and circumstance becomes pathos letting the ache deepen and loneliness come as both an
unwelcome companion but also a sense of enlightenment. This experience is a vital part of the human condition and gnaws at the heart of a poem, story or novel with
such intensity it must be voiced and shared. I can deeply relate to Frank O'Connor's perspective and thank you so much for sharing it along with the other breathtaking wisdom of Russell Sanders and Ursula Gains.


Afterwards

The trees stand bare and bristled
like the brush of a chimney sweep
while a few birds cling
to what holds the work of winter and wind.

The last leaves have been scraped
off the season. Their colors embered
in the wine and loaf of bread afternoons
we shared on a bench. Sun flickered
through its verdigris ribs. We allowed words
to loosen and crackle in the light
never thinking what they really meant

or how they transubstantiate
into tears, the ache of untouched flesh
when our shadows no longer mingle
on the back yard grass. When we are left
to feel the grip of year round birds
and those stark branches begin to scratch.
__________________________________
P.S. The paintings by Charles Folkard are exquisite and simply take the breath away. This past week, it's been hard to decipher whom I love more, Dulac, Neilsen or now him. Each artist has his or her own original beauty and character. I will end by saying, I adore them all equally!

Thank you!
My Best
Wendy


Hi Jane

This is not only beautiful but speaks to me in a very personal way. That Story Woman and her extended hand

So I took her hand, old and gnarled,
like a living statue it was,
though her touch more breeze than stone.

was also my Slavic grandmother. She was a natural storyteller and both entertained and soothed us as children with her tales and her ways of telling them.
I love the scenes in this piece and the journey it takes
through woods and rivers, that "acre of mud" and the confrontation with trolls. I also love the journey it offers the heart and mind.

Thank you for the beautiful poem as well as the memory
of my grandmother echoing , for me, through its lines!

Take care,
Wendy

Hi Jane

This is not only beautiful but speaks to me in a very personal way. That Story Woman and her extended hand

So I took her hand, old and gnarled,
like a living statue it was,
though her touch more breeze than stone.

was also my Slavic grandmother. She was a natural storyteller and both entertained and soothed us as children with her tales and her ways of telling them.
I love the scenes in this piece and the journey it takes
through woods and rivers, that "acre of mud" and the confrontation with trolls. I also love the journey it offers the heart and mind.

Thank you for the beautiful poem as well as the memory
of my grandmother echoing , for me, through its lines!

Take care,

Oh gracious, I certainly know that feeling well, the poignant ghosts of "afterwards," the roads glimpsed but not taken, the future lives that might have been and the people we might have been in them. The older we grow, the more of these ghosts we accumulate...or at least, I do.

Thank you this beautiful poem.

Charles Folkard is wonderful, isn't he? Not as well known in our day as Dulac, Rackham, and Nielsen, though he certainly was in his. I love the fact that he was a magician before he became an artist!

Thank you Terri

For your wonderful comment and keen understanding! And yes, as I ripen in age, those ghosts do accumulate! I really appreciate it!

Take care
my best
Wendy

Hi Terri

Thank you so much for the kind words toward this poem and the keen understanding!! As I ,too, ripen with age, those ghosts do seem to accumulate!

Again many thanks,
Take care
Wendy

Such beautiful images, sentiments, and poems. This site does for me precisely what Mr. Sander says of the best stories: grants wisdom and connection. Thank you, Terri.

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