I started this series on the Power of Story with the point that, in one way or another, we all want to create. We are creative beings, and stories are works of creation, or sub-creation as Tolkien writes. In this sub-creation we reflect the image of our Creator, who made us and gave us the ability to be creative, in His image and likeness.
In the second post I gave a working definition to the question, What is a story? I believe that a story is a creation of a secondary world through which the reader can enter in and experience life from a different perspective, in order to nourish his or her soul in ways he or she could not from his or her own limited perspective. John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture, said it this way, “Each book a self-contained world.” Writing a story is creating a believable world, but it’s a believable world into which we can enter, and through which we can be nourished. Tolkien says it this way in “On Fairy Stories:”
Children are capable, of course, of literary belief, when the story-maker’s art is good enough to produce it… What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator’. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are , as it were, inside.
With those two posts as our starting point and foundation, I want to move into the heart of the primary question I want to answer, What do stories do? Because I believe stories do something in us – good, well-written stories. I believe the best way to define or describe what stories do is through the word nourish. Stories have the ability to promote growth in us. Stories can furnish or sustain us with nutriment, like food. Stories can maintain and support us in varied and different ways.
We have all read stories, or seen or heard stories, that resonate deep within our souls. These stories give flesh and bones to truths that we know or have heard, but did not really move us until the story gave that truth depth and meaning and substance. How do stories do that?
First, stories nourish when they reflect. Stories are mirrors. Stories reflect to us something that already exists. Stories tell us truths we know or should know about
Stories show us ourselves. Stories give us the ‘Eureka!’ moment – that’s me! That’s what I do! Growing up I was always the youngest, the smallest, the late bloomer, the last one picked. I felt small, like a Hobbit. I have always resonated, then, with Frodo and Bilbo and their ability to surprise others, especially Gandalf, with what they were enabled to do, despite their smallness.
“My dear Frodo!’ exclaimed Gandalf. ‘Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch…. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you…. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”
From what story have you learned more about yourself?
Stories tell us about life. Like a container we cannot open, life has a way of befuddling us. But stories can often reflect and clarify life in ways we had never thought before. Frank Capra had a way of doing just that, in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life!” Clarence said it this way: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” We have trouble believing it at times, don’t we – but it’s true. That movie cleared the grime and dust and smudges off the mirror to show truth about life to me.
What story has cleaned the mirror for you?
Stories tell us about God, the great story teller. If stories are sub-creation, reflecting the Creator, then stories will, when ‘true’, tell us about the One who has written the master story of which we are a part. Dan Taylor, in his talk on the life-shaping power of story, said that stories are God’s idea. And God shows us they are his idea by having the majority of the Bible written in the form of stories. Taylor said “The single best way of conceiving of faith and the life of faith is by seeing it as a story in which you are a character.”
Stories that ring true to us are true when and because they fit into and reflect the Master Story that God has written. The story of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9) rings true for us because each of us is a broken crippled person who needs the God of heaven to take us in, love us, and give us the privilege to eat at the king’s table always.
What story has revealed more of God’s nature and character to you?
Join me in upcoming posts as we continue to flesh out what stories do to nourish us.