A brief and incomplete history of the art of story telling

With world book day looming I got thinking, a past time I try and refrain from, about books. Now this in itself is nothing out of the ordinary or special in anyway. What was different this time however, was the fact that I wasn’t considering a specific book or even several but instead all books.

After much meandering through my mind regarding styles, genre’s, the good the bad and the profound my favourites and my secret shames. I came down to one thought, an event which is especially rare, what is a book? I am not of course talking about the cover the pages and the binding nor even that new book smell or even better than that, that old book smell. But something more element than that, what is a book for?

It surely isn’t for financial gain, a google search on the profitability of writing will corroborate this and in earnest. Nor does the ‘I’ll make you rich books’ actually make you rich as far as I am aware, if so we would all be wealthy. I have books in my home which have been in their current resting position so long that the ring marks from coffee cups on them are creating some new form of abstract art but I’m sure that isn’t what they are for. I have even used some books, some of my favourite hard backs I am ashamed to add as a way to replace a the broken legs of a cheap bed yet although grateful for their ability to adapt in usage this didn’t fit the bill either. The obvious answer, for reading, quickly falls down in the face of picture books filled with technical diagrams or elephants in a clowns get up alike. What books are in fact for, I decided after much deliberation is a way to communicate information from one person to another.

This, although I was unable to argue with myself on the point just didn’t sit right, books are so much more than this, right?

Sure that maybe the case if we encompass all books within that question. Yet while there is great pleasure to be found within the pursuit of knowledge, the real treasures, those which can sway the consciousness and enrage the imagination are those which consist of lies and untruths, fantasy and never have beens nor ever will be’s. Fiction books. Those treacherous creatures which carry us beyond ourselves to places we couldn’t of dreamt of, and if we are lucky give us the odd slap in the face when we are not expecting one.

That to me is where the beauty of the written word, in the lies. Yes without books of knowledge and science I couldn’t be doing as I am now, typing, however it is the books of lies and make-believe which makes me want to do so.

Books to me are a way to share the abstract a feeling or thought that is unexplainable, an ideal or a truth found in its untruths but most of all. I read books for the sheer pleasure and companionship found in sharing a story with another person.

Once coming to this conclusion and basking in the warm fuzzy feeling which comes from time to time when a question is answered satisfactorily to oneself. The pesky thinking started again at that point and ruined it all for me. The thought which popped in to my head was ‘Sure, but there wasn’t always books, but surely there must have always been stories….

So with my browser armed and coffee cup loaded, down the rabbit hole of an internet search engine I went… Story telling started long, long ago we have evidence which goes back about as far in history as it would be reasonable to expect evidence to survive from and then maybe a little bit more, 45500 years ago one source states, others say more and some say less. One thing is sure however it was definitely long, long ago.

Long, long ago….

About 45500 years….someone made a picture of a pig. It is neither elegant nor particularly captivating once you discount its age and lack of a nearby arts and crafts shop from the equation. However, a possible way a story could have been told. Sure the story may of required just the right voice for it to be appreciated in all its glory, or perhaps it was a text book of sorts. Like a ‘hey, put that cabbage down cos well… hear me out now but… this mud sniffing creature thingy… well it sure does taste good, just gotta burn it a bit!’ Who knows but it sure is wonderful to think that a human or atleast human like creature done something one day that on another day, across a period of time which is just, well unreasonable, another human like creature has a look at it and thinks, well I wonder what all this is about then? Seriously just consider it, it is a kind of cool.

And well, as far as we know that was it for quite a while. Yes the cave paintings got more elaborate, some are truly wondrous, just take a look! And with no proof other than what I imagine to be the case the tradition of oral story telling must of surely evolved at if not at a faster rate than that of the language it was being told in. (I sure wish I could know the first fictional story told around a fire, maybe with a bit of pig being gently burnt on top. Spousal disagreements of course don’t count.)

Some of the stories told during this period still exist in the modern day, such as the ancient greek myths and legends, so they definitely were more than some rudimentary cookbook.

Then one day some clever bugger had a damn splendid idea…

Long ago

Some other human like creature, I am not an anthropologist nor was I there, but I am pretty sure they were definitely humans as we would recognise them. Did something so profound that it has perhaps had the greatest effect on humanity than any other act, before or since. He did this picture like thing which wasn’t exactly a picture but represented something else. Then he did something absurd he made another not a picture about something else, and again and again and such forth. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before this madman did something truly perverse and placed two of these not a pictures side by side to represent something which neither of the now conjoined parts represented on their own.

Whoever this person or persons was we owe them a great deal. Sure the dawning of the written word may of occurred at multiple points in our history as a race, the odds are practically stacked for it to of happened at some point, but the stakes are far to high for my liking to take something any risk concerning something so truly glorious.

The most widely accepted first record of written words came at around 3400bc from that at times mythical and most of the time mysterious place, Sumer. (Want to lost a few hours? Just type in Sumarian into a search bar and let her rip!)

Some 400 years later by some accounts, the birth of printing occurred. Now though many centuries would pass before we as a species would take full advantage of this, it is a land mark in our history.

Not so long ago

The use of the written word truly starts to become the art form that we know it as today. 200 bc onward our literal grandparents start to use story telling to persuade people in their thoughts, political and religious ideals.

The art of story telling started to accelerate at this point and to my eyes hasn’t stopped since, all the way through the dark, middle and whatever ages, dynasties and times which formed our history.

The myths and legends of the ancient peoples are a whole aspect of story telling that should not be overlooked there is great value within those words. Whether its the stories of the Norse, Saxon or Roman gods or the lore of the asian or American continents, only a fool would deprive themselves.

The written word was king, without peer in its longevity all the way into the 19th Century in its medium as a story telling technique, then there was a new kid on the block…

Sometime around now (give or take a couple hundred years)

The industrial revolution bought many technological advances in its wake, some of these inventions were sure enough utilised for one of the most grandest of human past times. The art of story telling.

Whether the stories were to be found in the composition of a photograph, or television shows and movies or the story upon which computer games are based. They are a small selection of the methods in which we use to tell them. Some of these are quite often better suited at telling specific stories more than any other, it really does depend on the story. A horror podcast for example, often relies on the fact that we are visually impaired in the world in which the story plays out to build suspense and terror.

It appears that our endeavour to utilise new mediums to tell stories is far from over, the style of radio broadcast stories have been replicated in podcasts. Hell you can even bombard your senses and emerge yourself in a story like never before with the relatively fledgling technology which is virtual reality, as well as its sister augmented reality.

The future of these new mediums fills me with excitement when I think of the possibilities. I know in my heart that nothing will grip me and take me as far away as completely as the written word. Yet there remains the ghost of a question in my mind ‘What will tomorrows story telling look like?’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: