A short history of story

A quick look at how stories evolved to ensure we’d, err, keep evolving.

It was part of a two-part BBC program that aired recently. Here’s a quick slice.

‘Eventually the cave dweller who paints scenes of the hunt, like a child with their drawing of a house and a tree and a sun and a pet dog and a family was always going to put himself into the picture. The naming and then the mapping of the word fosters first lists and then creation myths. The self-regulating brain provides the cautionary tales for our survival and prosperity is the end game. It was rival societies coming into contact with each other that led to the epic, a more combative form of story and finally to the last kind, the novel, the one that provides a greater prospect for peaceful cohabitation.’

Poet Robert Bringhurst suggests you entertain for the moment the idea that stories are the genuine inhabitants of the world, that humans are not really in charge here. That we are not at the top of the food chain.

Suppose stories are the actual dominant life form here, the climax species and we are necessary to the species, to genus narrativus, because the stories depend on us to reproduce them.

And if we stop telling stories, we won’t find our way. Not only because we won’t have the maps which is what the stories are for us, but because there won’t be a world for us to live in anymore because the stories are the real king of the mountain.

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