Stories are powerful. We don’t simply tell stories, we inhabit them. Since language began, we’ve been storytelling animals. Every time and culture has dominant stories that shape us, whether they are stories from religion, ideology or the market-place. Sometimes these stories have such a grip that it’s hard to see beyond them, yet alternative stories can change the world. In the words of Walter Benjamin in The Storyteller:
The wisest thing … the fairy tales taught is to meet the mythical world with cunning and high spirits.
Amongst the dominant stories of our age are several that are leading us down blind alleys or into destruction. In her retelling of the Ragnarok myth A S Byatt portrays the gods as stupid, selfish and short-sighted. They deserve to die. They can see the end of the world coming, yet they do nothing about it.
It’s a powerful warning of ecological disaster, but it could also be a story of soured relationships with others or with the self. It’s a call to change and, like all good stories, wakes us up.
So how do stories change the world?
1. Story makes sense of the world and those we share it with
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