Telling stories

gemmellbooksThe stories that we tell each other, the stories that we live with, shape us in ways that we don’t always recognise.

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

Terry Pratchett says in Witches Abroad. The rest of the book explores what that might look like. He might be over-stating the case slightly, but he has got a point!

Another author who knew the power of stories was the fantasy writer David Gemmell. He wrote heroic fantasy books, with an emphasis on “morality, courage, redemption and sacrifice”. He also said:

All of my books have a religious basis. They’re essentially Christian books.

Writing a few years before his untimely death (aged 57), he was critical of the modern dismissal of fantasy writing, due, he argued to the “superficial” nature of the modern world, which he saw as “an age of style and spin in which perceptions of good and evil slither and shift with the political view of the moment.” He concluded:

A fan once wrote to me saying that he had been out walking his dog when he saw two men attacking a woman; he rushed in and they ran away. He had just finished one of my novels and was filled with thoughts of heroism. No shades of grey there. This is the real magic of fantasy fiction: it can feed souls and change lives.

Which is basically Pratchett’s point about people being shaped by stories. It’s also, incidentally, why there is quite rightly such a concern about the stories that the genderisation of children’s toys tell.

It’s also the quote that I’m frequently reminded of when thinking about theological approaches that focus on narrative, on the stories that the Bible tells, on the way that they shape believers’ thoughts and lives. In ways that “feed souls and change lives.” That’s the power of the true stories and myths that the Bible is filled with.

This perhaps also explains why Tolkien and Lewis, Christians like Gemmell, were in part inspired to write fantasy. They knew the power of stories to “feed souls and changes lives.” That’s why we need to choose what stories we allow our lives to be shaped by:

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Philippians 4:8


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