Back to the Oral Tradition

storytellingThe Christian Bible is a much translated, and edited, version of stories from the oral tradition. Unfortunately, the modern-composite book of stories has been amended to suit various political climates, but still tells us that: “…In the beginning was the word.” It is a continuing and attractive metaphor. Unfortunately again, it is taken by some as literal truth, which destroys the truth of the metaphor. I am not writing in any metaphysical sense, except that we generally disbelieve that language has always been with us, that the word existed, that 300,000 years ago, cave dwellers in Spain, spoke Spanish. That the artist painting a bison on the wall, stepped back and in admiration of his work said in the subjunctive, “Had that we had had more time, we could have loved each other more.” What he probably said was “Ugggh”. He would have repeated the sound in various ways and through various tones until he was satisfied. There is an awful lot of communication in grunting. To verify that for yourself all you need do is visit your local school tuck shop, or sit and listen to the family conversation at the breakfast table.
I once read that the average domestic cat has a vocabulary of some 200 sounds. So, the average cat would probably rival the vocabulary of many humans. I also read later on, that in Southern California, workers who spoke no English had an average vocabulary of only 500 Spanish words. Apparently they get by. In contrast, most literate Spaniards command a vocabulary of some 13,000 words.
Storytellers depend on words. So, if you want to know the strength of your vocabulary, run some of your stories through the word count and all the information available such as the Fog Analysis. It probably won’t improve your writing style, or your telling, but it beats Solitaire.
Storytelling is different to reading, or watching television. With the visual media, you want to know what will happen next. With storytelling as with radio, the listener hears the bits of the story that have just passed. The words in each sentence will have conveyed an image. The listener will convert the teller’s words into images in their private-individual imaginations. This doesn’t happen with comics, film or TV. The image is there. There’s no work involved and, no ownership of the past image. So, rather than what will happen next, the listener is ruminating on the image, just past. In this way your story is the journey. It is the journey not the end that matters.
The telling of the journey is all that matters.
Storytellers soon become aware that there are limitations to their craft. Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist, pointed out that there are three areas of thought and experience; the areas that move an audience when you tell your story.
The first area cannot be expressed because it transcends our thinking.
The second area alludes to the first. But only rarely can it have meaning because we don’t have the means of accessing the first area.
The third area is the one in which we live, daydream, write and tell stories.
Through music and the emotional repetition of sounds and rhythms in poetry we can sometimes feel ourselves on the threshold of the first area. It is numinous. We will feel it, sense it, but find it impossible to relate or describe. It may have happened, when, as a very young person, you sat beside someone for whom you inexplicitly felt an overwhelming surge of emotion. You were driven to say something like – “I love you”. The moment you said such a thing, you became shockingly aware that you had destroyed the moment – the beautiful touch of youth evaporated. The person beside you turned to face you, wondering if you were of the same planet. Your words came from the second area. From an area full of strange emotions, that cannot be understood by either of you. When you tell some archetypal story some of your audience will drift to another sensation. Campbell called it The First Area. You just tell the story. Many in the audience will thoroughly enjoy the performance. But for some however, it will be an epiphany and they will never be the same again.