Stephen King said it best, I think, in “On Writing:” “Only story is about story.”
He wasn’t saying that stories don’t have messages to them. He wasn’t saying we shouldn’t ask for the so-called “moral of the story.” Or at least I didn’t think he was. What he was on to, I think, was the power of the story, and its supremacy in driving the narrative forward.
Some fiction – books and films included -might try to drive their work with amazing effects (literary effects like overflowing hyperboles and catchy publication of the book may be the counterparts for Michael Bay’s explosions and lasers). Or, they might try to drive their work with a political or religious message (never mind if it was awful. It had a good heart! – some might say).
Nothing wrong with not-so-hidden messages and parallelisms, or even effects. But there is definitely something wrong, if they try to drive the narrative. That’s what King was probably trying to remind us all.
There are clear examples of it – The Matrix, Inception, and of course, Lord of the Rings. Ian McKellen said it well in an Oscar Introduction. He was trying to explain why people loved both book and film so much. He concluded with, “Maybe it’s just a riveting old tale.” Or something to that effect.
And that is what glues us, right? That’s what makes me turn seven hundred pages or so. That’s what makes me sit in the same spot for three hours. That’s what makes me listen to my friend, even though I know he might be lying about his adventures. It’s because a tapestry of stories is just so darn irresistible. Spin a good yarn – and watch the millions follow you at every spin.
People might not always be interested in ecological or religious messages (especially in this doubtful age), but they will always want to hear a good story. “A guy walks into a bar” jokes are fun not necessarily because of the punchline. We wait for the punchline because we’re spun a story to get us to the punchline. Jesus himself knew how to use stories. Check out his parables. They might not always be ready to listen to the Son of God himself, but they were disarmed when he started talking in the language all humans knew: stories.
It is sad, though, when there is a dearth of stories. When all we do are remakes, movie-book tie-ins, or sequels. When money and vested interests get in the way of a good telling. We want more stories. We can’t get enough of it. Stories don’t just stir our imagination. They stir our souls. That’s why we need them. That’s why we need more storytellers.