Those who have read Stephen King’s stories “The Breathing Method” and “The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands” would know there is a strange “club” in Manhattan – in a brownstone building at “249 East 35th Street”, to be precise. Those who come here are “old duffers, mostly, but some of them are good company”. They keep a pretty good cellar. Every now and then someone also shares a good story.
In this club a “brawny stone arch” curved over the fireplace. A legend engraved on the keystone of that arch reads: “IT IS THE TALE, NOT HE WHO TELLS IT.” I often quote this legend in my writing, for I agree with it wholeheartedly. A good story can be told in many ways, each leaving a wonderful memory with those who listen, watch, read or feel it. A good story gives you goose bumps and causes a tingle in your heart.
However, in recent months I have learned another lesson – it is not only the tale, but also who tells it and using what voice. Take, for example, the Oscar-winning movie Les Miserables. What amazes me is how a story like that, created all those years ago by someone from a different culture, can find a great variety of forms of expression.
Even more intriguing – at least to me -- is the fact that once a story is told in a particular way, it is often compared to its many siblings in other literary and art forms and judged accordingly. These many versions of the same story are indeed brothers and sisters – they share the same family face but display unique individual characters. Together they combine to convey one family tradition that lasts forever, and it is this tradition that touches the hearts of millions of people who have come to know it.
So why do people still judge and argue that one sibling is better looking than the other? I think stereotypes, in their most unbiased manners, are a way for people to presume things when they first encounter them. Once they have entered an unfamiliar territory, voluntarily or otherwise, the only way for people to survive is to rely on their previous experiences, thus presumptions are formed. It is only when people refuse to modify their presumptions that these become stereotypes.
And this is why another Oscar-winning movie, Life of Pi, is refreshing, for it challenges the stereotypical ways in which stories can be told, both literarily and visually. A story is told within a story, which in turn exists within another story, and so on and so forth, presenting a great variety of opportunities for people to appreciate the many types of beauty and truth hidden in them. More importantly, those who are told of the stories are invited to participate in the act of storytelling, thus transforming acceptance into faith. Reality is shaped as a dream.
So perhaps the role of the storyteller is to tell their tales in such a voice that enables it to be heard from other people’s mouths, like a sound that elicits echoes. And in this case perhaps the stereotypes can help, for without an enclosed environment an echo cannot be born. The trick is whether the act of storytelling can then help break down such enclosure and set free the echoes – and even encourage them to grow into voices that sing like angels. This, may I say, is why we need stories.