The Stories We Tell– Redux

Terry Pratchett reflects on the nature of stories in Witches Abroad:

People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around. Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power. Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time… Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper…
So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story. It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed. Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats.

Now, as much as Pratchett was a fantasy writer with his own cosmology for his made-up world, he has a point. There’s no need to take everything he says seriously to realize it. As I’ve said before about stories and their part in culture, the stories that we tell envision and reinforce our values and beliefs. The more that this happens, the more easy it becomes for it to happen. Like Pratchett says “Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside.” We all recognize this on a gut level, of course. It’s why we tell stories about heroes. Tragically, this is why suicide rates spike after a celebrity takes his or her own life.

There are so many implications to this. On an immediate level, it means we ought to tell stories about one another. I think this may be part of what is meant when Paul tells the Philippian church to “honor such men,” men like Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:29). When a brother or sister displays great love and service, it’s incredibly appropriate for us to tell the story, not only as a way of honoring that person to the glory of God, but as a way of culture-making for the glory of God.

More generally, this means we ought to patronize those works of art which tell distinctly Christian stories– movies, books, and works of visual art which set forth the gospel message and a world which cannot be other than the one which Scripture describes. This isn’t easy to do, and I’m not sure we’ve done it well (I’ve written about this here and here). Nevertheless, I believe it can be done well, and ought to be done well. By the grace of God, we can churn out Christian movies which make us love Jesus more and yearn for the restoration of all things.

By the grace of God, the stories we tell can change the world around us. In the world in which we live, with the stories currently being told, we need to remember Lewis’ words:

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.


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