Posted by: stelladuffy | June 5, 2014

the story about the story about Story

This morning on my way to work (Fun Palaces office day), I heard a piece on the Today programme saying that Richard Dawkins didn’t think fairytales were very good for us. More or less. Now, as the day has progressed, and depending which paper you read, some are very sure he was extremely misquoted, and others that he was only a bit misquoted, and there’s a load here in the Telegraph of what he is reported to have said (they have quote marks and everything), and anyway …
I love story. I love Story with a capital S. I think it’s who we are, how we tell ourselves, what we are, and much of what we do.
I think it’s the basis of being human.
I think Richard Dawkins is brilliant at what he does and a very good writer, and that sometimes he gets a bit shouty and being a bit shouty (I say this as a sometimes-shouter) can sometimes have an effect we might not like.
I’m a Buddhist and therefore an atheist and sometimes I think there are better ways to talk about the mythologies of the faithful than to shout at them about how stupid they are.

but I digress …

Having heard the radio piece, and while getting dressed for work, I started to write a little tweet about story being important and fairy stories being amazing and the backbone of most of our telling, and then something else happened and I, who am not a poet, got all Seuss-y, and it was all internal rhymes and stuff (and littered with typos from typing too fast and trying to get a lot into many tweets) and unfortunately the VERY FIRST TWEET also had a typo in it. I meant to say
“Dawkins was misquoted re fairytales, surely?”
But I wrote “Dawkins has misquoted re fairytales, surely?”
However, other than getting off on the wrong foot, I do still think that story is all, that fairytales are vital, that mythology is everything, and that WE DO NOT HAVE TO BELIEVE IN THE STORY (see? bit shouty) to appreciate its beauty or its value.
And it may well be that that was what Dawkins was trying to say too.

Anyway, here, tidied up and with typos and hurried misspellings fixed (but not edited and made any better, because you might as well see this part of a writer’s process as well, the flowing out, pouring out, I’ll-fix-it-later part), here’s the thing/story/poem/tale I gave to twitter this morning :

Dawkins was misquoted re #fairytales, surely? Happy for him to take on #religiontales, but the basis of Story?! It’ll be Buffy next.

Once upon a time, there was a Clever Man, who did all sorts of Clever Things.
He did them a bit shoutily, but he knew whereof he spoke.
He shouted about men nailed to crosses, and angels with pretty wings, and people ordering seas apart to walk through them.
He shouted about clothes people wore and the silly things they did in the name of one or twelve over-Lords.
And because he was very shouty, after a while, the people grew tired of listening.
Even a Very Clever Man can be dull if all he does is poke and prod and shout.
And the Very Clever Man realised that all the people had stopped listening, and the golden days of Being Heard were over.
And so he had a new Clever Idea. A Very Clever Idea indeed. He would strike down the tales we most love, attack at the root of Story.
And he took up his anti-Story axe, and he road a steaming horse to a place of many horses and great races, and he decreed :
There shall be No More Story. And his call was heard throughout the land, it was repeated incredulously by dozens and spread far and wide.
It spread so far, that it spread beyond this isle and over the seas and to the far far north and the deep deep south, to east and to west.
And then, from the skies came a rumbling, from the depths of the earth came a grumbling, from the mountains came a tumbling …
And out from their hiding they came – the ogres and trolls, the kewpie dolls, the Buffys and Faiths, the giants and wraiths,
They came in their dozens, their hundreds, their many, they came for the man, so Clever. Unfriendly they came with the Lorax, they came with The Sleep, Aslan and the White Witch came together it seemed, Cinderella, a dozen fellows, all dressed in princely garb, and the frogs, the dogs, the talking logs, Tub of Lard, they came to stand up, to sit down, to have a kip (Sleeping Beauty, obv).
They came to cry No! Enough of your lip.
We ARE NOT supernatural, we are not fake or wrong, we are Story, we tell truths, we have done all along. We share form and function, we share how to share. We are about understanding, we are all about care.
And when we’re dark, when there are tears, when what else we do, is explain sorrow and loss and death – we do that too – we give a place for understanding, oh silly Clever Man, we’re allegory.
We don’t say that we’re real, but we do see a need, for humans to shape their world, to hold the hard things, so they can go on with life, so they can continue with wings.
Not fairy wings, not fake wings, not wings or a wand, but the wings that are Story, the Wings that are Song.
We are Beowulf and the Green Man, we are Hera and Zeus, we are Dionysus in red shoes, we are a crowd yelling boos.
We are panto and Shakespeare, we are not what is wrong, we give the chance to dream and to hope more, reasons to carry on.
Because Story is old, it’s far older than faith.
Story is how we talk, it deserves its great place.
It is the heart of all we do, it’s science and truth.
And if it dresses up sometimes, how can that possibly harm you?
Oh silly Clever Man, turn your clever to the tasks that matter, the heart-break, the true places of dark.
Because let us warn you, Clever Man, there’s a fact about folk.
If you poke them too often, if you dare get their goat,
They will turn on your Clever Man, they will laugh you out of town, they will hold you upside down and make a smile of your frown.
Story is their guts, it’s your guts, it’s ours
Story is everything, from back then until now.
And Story won’t stop, it can’t stop, it goes on.
Story runs through us, as deep as the song that is human.
Story’s human. And you are too, Clever Man, so get down off your high horse, come join all the land.
We don’t kill for Snow White, we don’t maim in the name of Jack, we don’t prosetylise Glass Slippers, we don’t preach about lack.
What we do is enjoy, en-joy and give heart.
We are courage and passion and fashion and art.
So by all means, Clever Man, do your worst, shout your loud.
But don’t think that you do it for the mass, for the crowd.
Because the crowd knows Story, the people know it, deep inside.
It’s Story that holds us, it’s Story that cares, it’s Story gives us hope when we hide in our lair.
Story is human, it’s heart and it’s hope. It’s honest about loss and it’s honest about dopes.
Story is all, and frogs sometimes lie, they may changes into princes, or in transition might die, but they offer a promise, a possibility of more.
And that’s why we love story – which, Clever Man, is your flaw.
You don’t get why it matters, to tell story, to share.
You don’t get that it’s how we show that we care.
So climb back up the beanstalk, your ivory tower awaits, we’ll stay down here and party, dancing Story with the fates.
And they all lived…

So there you go. The not-edited and made-pretty/well-written, but the rushed out, feeling a thing, version.
In real life, I’d tidy it up before public consumption. I might even make sure BBC Radio 4 hadn’t got something wrong (BBC? no!), but I’d stand by what I say about story being the core of everything. Always.
And twitter, is, as those of us who live there a little bit know, not quite real life.

(Some of the press – but who can we believe??!! – say Prof Dawkins is planning to write about mythology. I hope he does the join from Dionysus to Jesus to Snow White – it’s perfect both to explain story structure and why it appeals so much to the faithful. I explained it live, unrehearsed, unexpected – to me! – with audience members to help at The Story earlier this year. Great gig.)


Responses

  1. […] Just as well, I don’t think Dawkins would have liked being permanently cast as the Grinch who stole Story: see Stella Duffy’s marvelous, impromptu, fable-inspired riposte yesterday to the ‘clever man…. […]

  2. […] "Once upon a time…" You really must read this wonderful tale by Stella Duffy, on the value of fables and fairy tales. Read of the week. […]


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