The Storyteller’s Chain of Being


A single story has more lives than its narrator. And a fictional narrator, inside the story, has more lives than the storyteller who created him. And the storyteller, of course, has more lives than the ordinary man. So those who create stories have more lives.

For example, we remember the story of War and Peace through the life of Pierre – rather than through Tolstoy. We remember the escapades of Madame Bovary through the central fictional character, more than we remember the real life of Flaubert.

Ask somebody the significance of “Reader: I married him” and they will  in the first place recall Jane Eyre, the fictional narrator of  Charlotte Bronte’s famous book – and only in second place the writer herself.

Conversely, when the writer becomes more known and celebrated than the personalities in his or her stories, something has likely gone wrong, and he is less of a writer. Think of Hemingway, or Scott Fitzgerald in his more desperate period.

So here is some “Chain of Being” that reflects itself in modern storytelling. The writer has his own life. He or she creates a  narrator who tells the story created by that writer,  and the narrator has several lives. And the story itself told  by this narrator, has many thousands of lives. So the life of the narrator  can thereby  touch thousands, perhaps millions of lives. This is the mechanism for transmitting experiences by means of a chain of storytelling.

The French writer Jean Genet said that we live for the sole purpose of launching something  onto the eternal sea of human memory. One more legend, one more story that will sail through those wide seas and – perhaps – land on a distant unknown shore to bring a form of eternity to the life of the writer. Everything we live through deserves to be told: legends; difficult stories of pain, poems, songs, family histories, memories – all that we are made up of,  before we pass into that  great darkness that a Stoic  prepares for with dignity and without regret.

So a life is not measured by ‘Did I do well?” But also “ Did I tell the story  of  my life in such a way  that my insights and experiences, my loves and losses, have been passed on so that they can sail the seas on which float humanity’s accumulated  stories? Will my message in a bottle wash up on some strange and unknown beach and find a reader – perhaps just one reader – and so keep all that I am from oblivion?”

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