This is a question that I’m constantly drawn back to. In fact, I’m currently putting together a research proposal looking at exactly that – why the same old mythical figures and monsters continue to fascinate us down the ages and changing cultures. What is it in our imaginations that is so comprehensively hooked by the fantastical?
I can’t answer that for the species (at least, not until I’ve done the years of research). For myself, though, it’s always been a place that I could go which promised brighter, better things. Challenges that I could equate with my own humdrum difficulties, and heroes I could learn from to conquer them. More than that, though, it showed worlds where anything was possible.
I’m lucky. I don’t have a serious physical disability, or a broken home, or any of the really tragic common problems. I was ill throughout my teens and for some time after, but it didn’t stop me from doing anything beyond feeling self-conscious, outside the social norm. Like many creative people with over-active imaginations, I fight a war of attrition with depression but it isn’t crippling. I function. For the majority of the time, I even function happily. Mostly because of stories.
There’s a reason I’m sharing this. It’s come to my attention more and more that people just encountering these sorts of problems for themselves don’t realise how many others are in the same boat. So, to all of you just succumbing to the tentacles of depression or anxiety, or dealing with a malfunction in your bodies, please remember this. You aren’t alone. I know it feels like it but you aren’t. And, if nothing else, stories can help you believe that.
I’m going to leave you with a final piece of self-indulgence. There was a competition last year to tell a real-life story in six verses, with each verse in a different format that stood alone, but where the whole gave a greater meaning. This is my rather crooked attempt to explain why I tell stories.
1. HE TAUGHT ME TO FEAR
The breakfast crumbs make patterns on the wood.
The doctor’s here to tell me I am ill.
A house call in this day and age. Not good.
I watch the toast crumb patterns on the wood.
2. YOU TAUGHT ME TO DREAM
We sit by the fire,
Talking dungeons and dragons.
You make me believe.
3. THEY TAUGHT ME TO STAND
The soldier falls in battle, wounded sore,
Eyes closed against the final stroke. None lands.
The lord is there defending, kills the foe,
And then the hurt is checked by gentle hands.
“‘Tis nothing but a scratch. Come, up you get,
And forward march. We shall prevail yet.”
4. SHE TAUGHT ME TO DANCE
Golden skinned from a sunny life on the road
Young head on old shoulders, as open minded as a field
Permanently curious without restraint or fear
Smile that never dimmed, heart that never closed
You loved her. Everybody did.
5. WORDS TAUGHT ME TO FLY
Follow the dark-blue ink road down the rabbit hole;
Sit in the corner and send out your waking soul.
Hans Christian Anderson, Tolkien and Dunsany –
Building the worlds that will always be part of me.
Building the worlds that will let me be free.
6. I TAUGHT ME TO LIVE
am made whole