Sunday, July 27, 2008

Storyteller as Stage Manager

A tale is a narrative of events, often fictional, that works its way to closure in the form of a goal or reward or truth being achieved. Beyond its intent to entertain the reader/hearer, the tale means to inform or, as in a cautionary tale, to warn the hearer/listener of consequences. Consequences can relate to everything from waking up tomorrow with a hangover (if you drink much more of that) to suffering the consequences of a sore back (if you persist in lifting heavy things in that manner); consequences can also project useful information on the collective screen (if you stand behind those bushes when the ninth moon of the year rises over there, you are likely to see a herd of bison over there) as well as additional useful information (which you should be able to pick off with a spear or a well-placed arrow to the neck).

Some of the more enduring tales in the history of our species are cautionary in nature, alerting us to possible scenarios to emerge from circumstances that are as yet unfamiliar to us. One of the joys of the generic concept of the cautionary tale is the potential such a narrative has for warning us against being too careful, of reminding us about the possibilities of taking the right chances or even the wrong chances at the right moment.

History, which is said with some cynicism to be an account of events written by the winners of battles and arguments, is in its way a cautionary tale demonstrating what went wrong, what went right, and how things might have been better or worse if the other side had prevailed. History cautions us to be judicious, to be always alert for new traces of consequences because events, however random, have so many differing after effects.

A folk tale is history without footnotes or attributions, a history of a particular group or generation, constructed to enfold traits, myths, and legends of a particular culture. The unspoken-but-understood prologue of a folk tale is "This is our version of how the world began, and who our spirit guides were, and who the men and women who were our great leaders and creators were."

A fairy tale is a history with supernatural beings, enchantments, cures, symbols, and powers, possibly even talking animals, individuals who can shift their corporeal shapes from one species to another. Magic often plays a role in the fairy tale. When the magic becomes accessible to large numbers of practitioners, it begins to acquire a similarity to science, which is to say it begins to question the mysterious in ways calculated to make the mysterious become clear.

A fantastic tale is one involving an invented terrain, domain, landscape, and ensemble of characters, which means we have come full circle to a history created by one of us, more than likely by all of us. Even if you and I relate the history of the same events, the point of view opens the door for what we call the alternate universe tale, which could very well be called the quantum physics tale in recognition of the nature of the composition of energy, which may be simultaneously wave or particle, possibly intermediate, possibly uncertain.

Not all tales are cautionary or warning tales, but it is arguable that all tales are alternating universe tales such as, say, The Ring. Even such intricately quotidian tales as the novels of Henry James are alternate universe because they are the universe he has created, certainly with an eye to inviting you to travel in it, certainly with a similarity to the landscapes of recognizable location and society, but nevertheless, they are worlds in which he is the stage manager.

The alternate universe story seems to have been shelved with science fiction, fantasy, folk tale, and the like, as though the shelving had been outsourced to India or some country with a sightly different take on the universe than our own. Although it is true that one of the most famous portals in our own culture was through a rabbit hole, and has become one we as adults tend to ignore, the fact is there before us: He or she who sits to construct drama, tales, shortform, or novels also sits to construct a universe in which time, custom, speech, desires, goals, and cultural knowledge are redefined, perhaps for the better (see for instance the Utopia),or worse (see for instance 1984). Each of us who writes ,whether by intention or not, creates a universe that parallels the one we use as a reference point whenever we begin to address the history of our fantasy. He or, more likely, them who created The Iliad, and as well our friend Virgil who created the Aeneid give us alternating universe accounts of the one event some of their characters have in common the Trojan War.

It may be a truth universally recognized in Jane Austen's parallel universe, that a young man in possession of a fortune must be in search of a wife, but it may just as well be a truth that her vision is satiric from the get go, which is another story altogether.

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