The gift blocked up
On the power of beauty

Why stories are subversive


From "The Joys of Storytelling" by Ben Okri:

"Storytelling is always, quietly, subversive. It is a double-headed axe. You think it faces only one way, but it also faces you. You think it cuts only in one direction, but it also cuts you. You think it applies to others only, when it maintly applies to you. When you think it is harmless, that is when it springs its hidden truths, its uncomfortable truths, on you. It startles your complacency. And when you no longer listen, it lies silently in your brain, waiting.

Little Red Cap  illustrated by Lisbeth Zerger

"Stories are very personal things. They drift about quietly in your soul. They never shout their most dangerous warnings. They sometimes lend amplification to the promptings of conscience, but their effect is more pervasive. They infect your dreams. They infect your perceptions. They are always successful in their occupation of your spirit. And stories always have mischief in their blood.

The Legend of Rosepetal

"Stories, as can be seen from my choice of associate images, are living things; and their real life begins when they start to live in you. Then they never stop living, or growing, or mutating, or feeding the groundswell of imagination, sensibility, and character.

The Seven Ravens

"Stories are subversive because they always come from the other side, and we can never inhabit all sides at once. If we are here, story speaks for there; and vice versa. Their democracy is frightening; their ultimate non-allegience is sobering. They are the freest inventions of our deepest selves, and they always take wing and soar beyond the place where we can keep them fixed.

The Tortoise and the Hare

"Stories are subversive because they always remind us of our fallibility. Happy in their serene and constantly-changing place, they regard us with a subtle smile. There are ways in which stories create themselves, bring themselves into being, for their own inscrutable reasons, one of which is to laugh at humanity's attempt to hide from its own clay. The time will come when we realize that stories choose us to bring them into being for the profound needs of humankind. We do not choose them....

The Swineherd

"In a fractured age, when cynicims is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are living the stories we planted -- knowingly or unknowingly -- in ourselves. We live stories that give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness.

The Swineherd

"If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives."

The Swineherd

Pictures: The paintings above are by the great book artist Lisbeth Zwerger, who lives and works in Vienna, Austria. She has illustrated many editions of fairy tales and children's classics, and her work has been collected into two fine books: Wonderment and The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger. All rights reserved by the artist.

Words: The passage above is from "The Art of Storytelling I," from A Way of Being Free by Ben Okri (Phoenix House, 1977). All rights reserved by the author.


Stories sound right tricksters! To paraphrase Nietzsche, if you gaze long enough into story, story gazes back into you.

Yes, all of this, absolutely.

I am always amazed and grateful for all that I learn by telling stories.


"And stories always have mischief
in their blood."--Ben Okri

Tell it once, you fall for its charm.
Tell it twice, the magic stirs.
Tell it thrice and the trickster tale
turns on you and knocks you silly.
You will not be hurt by the blow,
but you will see now
out of a different eye;
hear now out of a different ear.
Your heart will beat in double time,
and your blood, once an easy O,
will change so you can see fairies,
read a message in a leaf,
hop over counties,
wade in vast oceans,
cuddle in a cave with bears,
hold converse with the dead,
and bleed on to the page
of any poem you choose to write.

© 2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

This is perfect. Just perfect.

Thanks,dear Muse. Glad to have you back.


Those last two lines did exactly what they should. I'm stung. Thank you, Jane!


Just a short note to say thank you for posting these sentiments. I've been wondering, indeed, about why certain stories choose me and whether the (already existing) stories that have resonated so deeply most of my life are ones I can ever move beyond. Not that I'd abandon them, just that I'd love to find a home in new, sunnier, stories sometimes. I've missed Myth and Moor so much and am grateful for your gentle return. As always, your health and happiness are of primary importance, so I'm grateful too that you're feeling a bit better.

Much much love,

I know what you mean. There are stories that claimed me at a young age, and continue to resonate in my life long after I wish I had done with them. What I find is that you're never really done with them, but you can move on to different parts of the tale, and different characters within them. And while I don't think it's possible to leave those kinds of stories behind (or at least it hasn't been for me), as you age you can create room in your life for new stories to claim you as well -- stories that are easier to rest in. "Donkeyskin" is one of the former for me; I don't think I will ever be done with that tale, it is too much a part of me. The stories that call to me now are folk tales full of animals and hedgewitchery: the henwives, witch hares, and women who live at the edge of the village, mediating between the human and more-than-human worlds.

Big honking grin, Edith.


I don't comment often but just wanted to say that one of the joys, in addition to the posts like this one, is wandering through the comments to see what piece of poetry Jane Yolen has been inspired to write <3

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