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The power of story

Narratives become alive once we invite them into our hearts and minds

By Carolyn Pogue

Likely, many of us have been fans of the great storyteller, mythologist and lecturer, Joseph Campbell. He's best remembered for his work in comparative religion. In 1988, PBS television brought him into collective consciousness when Bill Moyers recorded a series of interviews with him. His large body of work, which includes The Hero’s Journey and The Power of Myth, are available in libraries and online. And I promise readers of this little blog that you'll love him if you don't know him already. Campbell respected stories and enjoyed telling them, weaving together mythologies from around the world in order to help us better understand our human longings, dreams, fears and possibilities.  

Recently, I read Chistopher Vogler’s book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Vogler, himself, is a great fan of Campbell’s work, and he, too, influences storytelling on the global stage: he's a story consultant for Hollywood, lecturer and film producer. And although his book is studied by writers, you need not be a writer to appreciate it. If you have seen The Lion King or The Thin Red Line, for example, you have been touched by his work.

I found Vogler’s chapter, "Stories are Alive," particularly intriguing. He begins with the proposition that “stories are alive and conscious, and respond to human emotions.” My mind went three places at once.

I thought of Trying Out, a youth musical I wrote with Yellowknifer Bill Gilday. In it, the leaders of major countries keep putting negative stories out into the air, polluting both air and citizens with negativity. I thought of my husband Bill Phipps’ book, Cause for Hope: Humanity at the Crossroads, in which he states that we live by our stories. The Old Story, he wrote, allows us to live with little regard to future generations. The New Story is one of respect for Earth, recovery and hope.

I believe that stories become alive once we invite them into our hearts and minds, and if they are told often enough (beloved bed time stories, for example) or blasted at us relentlessly from television, the Internet, radio or newspapers. They have the power to heal or encourage — or to immobilize and defeat us. For instance, stories of scarcity and fear are told endlessly in Parliament today.

Vogler writes: “. . . of all my beliefs about stories, one that has been particularly useful in the business of developing commercial stories for the movies is the idea that stories are somehow alive . . . They seem to be conscious and purposeful. Like living beings, stories have an agenda, something on their minds. They want something from you. They want to wake you up, to make you more conscious and more alive. They want to teach you a lesson . . . by showing a moral situation, a struggle and an outcome. They seek to change you in some small way . . .”

In this light, watching the news could become more entertaining and reading biblical stories could become more challenging. So I ask, What do those stories want from us?

Vogler included questions in his own book. One I liked was, “Read a myth, view a movie, read a book and analyze what universal wishes the story satisfies. What human wishes are expressed in your story?”

It’s always the season for narratives; Lent is full of our most powerful ones.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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