Lately, I’ve been thinking about stories, my own place as a storyteller, and what I’d like to do with my stories. These are very big questions to which the answers are often mutable and evanescent. There are so many things I could do with my stories; so many things I don’t want to do or am not yet skilled enough to do. It used to be enough just to write stories because I enjoyed writing them. Is that always enough? I suppose that depends on who you are. There are people who love writing and telling stories but who never want that to be the focus of their lives. In that case, writing a story for any reason other than loving to write stories is probably not a good idea. It would be silly to have what might be called “an agenda” for all of one’s hobbies and little enjoyments . I don’t play video games because I’m seeking enlightenment or higher truth or to change my world; I play them because they’re fun. Likewise, the more casual writers–which here means writers who don’t write as their main point in life, as opposed to writers who simply don’t take writing seriously (a lot which shouldn’t really be writing)–write because writing is fun and often brings personal fulfillment. That isn’t to say that telling a story is not also very hard and at times very painful; but ultimately, it is a true joy.
But what about those who view creating stories to be the focus of their talents, their point in life, the thing that God has given them to do? Those sorts of people need more reasons than fun or joy; we need a goal, a purpose, a higher calling than story for story’s sake. So I’ve been asking myself what my stories mean and why I’m writing them. I feel as if I must have a noble goal; maybe this feeling is something that will fade, but at this time of my life, it is strong and I don’t think I should ignore it. As an idealist, I care more about how things should be than about how they are, and I firmly believe that storytelling should have a noble purpose. Don’t misunderstand: I don’t think the lack of a purpose beyond the enjoyment of stories makes for a poor or false storyteller. But I do think that storytelling is not the best it can be without a higher purpose.
I don’t advocate preaching; I advocate having an ideal, some shining thing at which you grasp, the searching for which permeates every story you tell. It is something that goes far beyond a superficial message of the text or the words, and is in reality the depth and focus of the story.
And so, there are two things I would like to do with storytelling, though they are not the only things and I’m not sure of the reasons for why I would like to do them. The first thing is to revive the old-fashioned style of epic poetry, the style of works like Beowulf or The Illiad or Paradise Lost or any number of others, and make it popular once again in the present day. This is a somewhat curious desire, as I have not read any of the great epic poems of old (a travesty which I am working to undo). I can’t entirely say why the idea fascinates me so, except that I put great value on old things and that I think the literary world has lost something by no longer creating poetry of that caliber. I would like to write poetry of that style about subjects closer to the modern heart. Poetry is powerful and it moves the mind and heart in a way that prose can never quite achieve. Although I don’t fully understand this desire, I feel intrinsically that it is a worthy goal.
The other thing is a more recent thought and not one which I like quite so much. But it is the idea of reviving old-fashioned oral storytelling, of bringing back the oral tradition of our ancestors. The art of telling a story out loud–not acting out a scene or reciting some dry anecdote, but telling a real, complicated story– is something which seems to have been largely lost in modern Western culture. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the village storyteller or the wandering bard became once more as important as he used to be? I think there is value in hearing a story from a person who lives and breathes right next to you. It’s so much more personal and powerful than the story told by a person in a movie with no connection to yourself.
And so I’d like to start a dual movement of people reviving epic poetry and oral storytelling. I’m still trying to decide why, and to answer the greater question of why I want to tell any story. The answer is there, I’m sure, but I haven’t quite grasped it yet.