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The Everlasting Power of Storytelling

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.

The stories we love best do live in us forever.”

― J.K. Rowling

Bedtime Story by Chris Dunn [Illustration]

The ritual was simple. We brushed our teeth, got into our pajamas and ran to our beds. Then, we went in total silence waiting for our grandmother, Ila. Her chair and cushions were ready. All the books were piled up on the side table in lecture order. Only the reading light illuminated the room.

She entered the room and sat in her chair, grabbing the first book on the pile. She gave us a glance over her lenses.

"So, what is going to be tonight?" She asked with a smile.

"Peter Pan!" We all shouted at once.

Grandma opened the book. Her soft voice filled up the room and, in a blink of our eyes, we were all flying to the Neverland.

My cousins, my sisters and I were privileged to have our grandmother telling us stories every night we spent with her. No matter how late it was, she always finished our day with a story. Bedtime has always been to me the adventure time when imagination takes over and I set myself free to go wherever I want.

That simple routine shaped my whole life. It gave me the best memories of my childhood and inspired my path: at the end of each story, it was always a lesson.

The possibility to learn something new is unlimited. By fighting evil creatures or by looking for a hidden treasure with friends, storytelling allows us to experience different situations -- some dangerous or terrifying ones -- without leaving the comfort and safety of our room. It also helps us to explore and understand the world in a subtle manner, with visual images and a language that aims to our subconscious self.

Storytelling is not only a powerful tool to develop the imagination but a mirror of our society and its costumes. The content of each story and the way it is narrated will vary depending on the time they were created -- the historical context -- their purpose or lesson and the cultural package that surrounds them. It is common to hear different versions of the same tales, and it is even possible that we might find a different ending or resolution to be more appealing to their target audience.

Myth, legends, fairy tales, fables and many other forms of narration have been part of history since our first steps as human beings. Telling stories has been used as a form of art and expression but has also had an important role as a communication tool that creates unity within individuals and makes them share something in common that answers their fundamental questions: who are we? Where are we coming from?

Once Upon a Time

Storytelling has been around since humans needed to express themselves and communicate. It is universal to the human experience. The cave drawings in Lascaux and Chavaux, France, are some of the evidence of its earliest use. The images, dated around 30,000 years ago, represent scenes of animals, humans and other objects, and have been interpreted as visual stories.

Photography of Lascaux animal painting by Prof. Saxx [Photography]

It is believed that the creation of the language gave birth to the oral tradition of storytelling. Communication is essential for survival. Adding gestures and different sounds give life and specific meaning to the message that would be shared. Thus, storytelling became a fundamental part of the delivery of: messages to educate about dangers; give explanations to nature’s phenomenon; make situations relatable to unite individuals; and also, to entertain.

“Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in storytelling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes.”
– Plato, The Republic

Storytelling holds the weight of the past and has served as an inspiration to discover, conquer and create. It has been said that Alexander the Great was taught from his early years about Greek heroes, igniting his desire to create an empire, taking as inspiration the lore of Achilles and the songs of Homer’s Iliad, one of the first history narrations that ever existed.

Also, different aboriginal cultures use storytelling as a bonding tool, to pass the knowledge of their ancestors and their traditions. Mayans used oral tradition to narrate the sacred myth of creation and the chronicle of the Kʼicheʼ people, long before the arrival of Spanish conquerors to Mexico. Those stories were later transcribed into text, known as The Popol Vuh. This legacy has helped historians to know and understand the world system and beliefs of Mayans many centuries after the fall of the empire.

‘Creation’ (1931), a watercolor by Diego Rivera illustrating a scene from the ‘Popol Vuh.’ [Photograph]

In the book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Campbell, 2008) the mythologist Joseph Campbell theorized about the repetition of only one narrative through several myths, becoming a fundamental element to our own story. He identifies this element of repetition as “the hero's journey:" where a journey has to be completed, passing difficulties, overcoming the crisis, experiencing growth, and returning to the starting point changed forever.

We can find that formula in many of our favorite stories. The development of new technologies has made storytelling accessible in books, movies, podcasts, and other modern sources of entertainment. Even news and reports have adopted the storytelling style to make their information more appealing to their audience.

Storytelling has changed, for sure, but only in its shape. Its essence has been kept and it will continue to be used to connect our past and present with the future generations.

The End

The power of storytelling has inspired important personalities of our history to follow the steps of their heroes and help to shape our world as we know it today. It has motivated common people, like me, to travel the world looking for adventures and I am sure that also has inspired many to follow their ambitions and dreams to make them come true.

Storytelling helps us to make sense of the events that we experience in the world around us, it gives us a sense of order and control. It serves as a key element to understand ourselves better and thus, become more empathetic to others.

Telling stories allows us to share facts and process information in a way that facilitates access to our memories. Sharing our experiences with others makes us part of the same moment. We are made of stories, and we will continue to spread them as long as we exist.

Now, night has come. Is bedtime for me. I brush my teeth; my pajamas are on. I made myself comfortable in my bed and only my reading light is illuminating the room. I remember my cousins, my sisters, and I, more than 30 years ago, laying next to each other in our beds, waiting in excitement for the tales to begin. This time, although, I am on my own. I take the book next to me, and it brings back the same emotions, the innocent expectation.

I imagine my little self cuddling next to me. I look at her and ask at loud: What is it going to be tonight? She smiles. In a blink of our eyes we are flying, one more time, to the Neverland.

Peter Pan [Illustration]


Image Sources

  • Dunn, C. (n.d.). “Bedtime Story” Finished. Http://Chrisdunnillustration.Blogspot.Com/Search?Q=Bedtime.

  • Stuart, D. (2019, February 1). ‘The Popol Vuh’ Review: A New World Epic. WSJ.

  • Saxx, P. (n.d.). Photography of Lascaux animal painting [Photography].

  • Peter Pan. (n.d.). [Illustration].



Such a beautiful writing, keep it up! 😉
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Paula Arenas

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