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The Importance of Stories


Long before the advent of a written history, the elders of ancient civilisations used stories to teach the new generation. The lessons might have related to the values of the society, their particular version of how they came to be, their purpose on the earth, or methods of obtaining food or a spouse.

The most well known of the ancient stories were the civilisation’s particular version of how Earth came into existence and how they came to be here on earth. These are known as the great Creation Stories. Every civilisation had an explanation for what the Earth sun, moon and stars were, along with more intricate details of the place of fire, water, animals and humans in the ecosystem.

The Creation Stories of various civilisations include the Stories from Genesis in the Bible (the writer here makes no value judgement on the veracity of the account in Genesis, merely acknowledging it was part of Jewish oral history before the actual writing of the Bible), to the Dreamtime of the Australian Aborigines, along with the whole gamut in between. These two examples are used as “bookends” because the Stories in Genesis have been printed and distributed more than any other literary work, whereas much of the Australian Aboriginal account has yet to be even collated in one place, let alone set down in writing.

Over time, the stories were written down for ease of teaching. During this period, the Bible Stories, Aesop’s Fables, Homer’s Epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, along with countless other classics were recorded on stone, paper, papyrus or some similar form.

As literacy became more prevalent and written works were used for teaching purposes to a greater extent, the long, detailed stories were stripped of their emotional content and reduced to their bare essence. For example, the Seven Days of Creation in Genesis was reduced to what is now known as “the Big Bang Theory”. People slowly turned away from the richness of meaning behind the Creation Stories from each civilisation and sought after clear and concise explanations for the same questions.

Inevitably, the time came when history “textbooks” were written. Often these give merely the facts of a time, place or period. It was about this time that a clear separation between “stories” and “facts” emerged.

In the era when Voltaire and Rousseau were loudly proclaiming the supremacy of Reason and their theories regarding the absolute importance of being able to prove something for it to be real, the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson were quietly spinning their “Fairy Tales”, which were often so fantastic that they stretched the bounds of believability.

Nevertheless, what child has not heard the story of the Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the Lion and the Mouse, or the tale of Snow White? What adult would not prefer to listen to a fairy tale or a fable over a list of bare facts teaching the same message.

Essentially, what we often associate as “history” is merely the moral of the story. It is the message that if you habitually lie, you will not be believed when you do tell the truth. Would you prefer to here an explanation of that line, or hear the story about the Boy who Cried Wolf?

To summarise, one cannot separate facts from stories. Stories have been used for millennia to teach the new generation. The next time you read a fact, realise that there is a story behind it. Indeed without the story, there would be no fact as the fact is the essence of the story. You be the judge of the importance of stories.

Submitted by:

Mike Haydon

Mike Haydon has a Bachelor of History from the University of Notre Dame. This article is copyright (c) 2006. You may use this article as long as you provide a link to http://www.aesopresources.com.






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