Something that I’m pretty passionate about and have based part of my identity around is storytelling. I’ve always felt a connection to the stories I have been told, like the tradition of the story being passed down was special. Storytelling as an art form has been around probably since the dawn of man. Humans have been telling stories for one reason or another for generations. Whether it was for teaching or just entertaining around a fire, it played a huge role in mankind’s development through time. This great art form, this catalyst for the human race, seems to be in danger of fading into history. Could this be true?
Storytelling comes in many different forms. Many of these I’m sure you’ve heard of but didn’t know they had a specific name or how these mediums influenced storytelling. Storytelling is an ever-growing and changing form of communication, so it makes sense that it changed as we gained more technology. There are a lot of storytelling mediums, so I’m only going over a few.
The first and oldest form will come as no shock to many of you. It’s oral storytelling. The act of gathering around your friends and family to tell a story has been around forever. What else are you going to do when all the work is done, and you can’t watch TV or browse the internet? This is where the tradition of storytelling starts. People would pass down stories for generations, each time changing the story just a little. This means every time a story is told orally it can be unique.
Next is iconography, which is the telling of stories through pictures. Notable examples are cave drawings or hieroglyphs in Egypt. This style of storytelling can be found all the way up to the classical Greek period of history. This came in a variety of forms like paint and carvings.
These next two forms will be more recognizable. They are manuscripts and the printed word. They sound the same and they kind of are. The main difference is that manuscripts don’t have to be printed to tell the story. They can be etched in tablets or written by hand on paper or cloth. This form of storytelling can be found back to 200BC with the Greek Slave Aesop and his tales. These were all verbal stories with a lesson in them that he had recorded on stone or whatever form of writing surface they had at the time. Printed stories have to be… well printed. They can’t be handwritten, but the words have to be pressed onto the paper. The first book ever printed was The Diamond Sumatra with a woodblock printing technique. In the west, the ability to print books ushered in the Renascence period. It also influenced the fonts we use today and led to the creation of the world’s first publishing houses.
Last, there is audiovisual storytelling. This is storytelling through photographs and movies. In 1839 when photography was officially born, the use of pictures to tell stories enthralled the people of the age. People could see for themselves what was being described to them in writings. This played a big part in informing people about the American Civil War and how people felt about it. For the first time, the average person could see what war looked like. This is much like the introduction of video coverage of the Vietnam War. Movies are also a huge medium for storytelling. This technology allowed us to see the story come to life and we could feel a difference, if not a deeper kind of connection, to the stories being told.
Now that we got the types of storytelling out of the way, where do all these stories have a place in history? What was the point? To that question, I can say there are many. Storytelling was and still is the biggest source of entertainment for us as humans there is. When we were telling stories verbally, they were a means to pass time, but also a way to teach and honor ancestors. Many of the stories you grew up with like Pinocchio and Snow White have some kind of underlying lesson in them. Many local folklore stories were told just so kids wouldn’t get into trouble or be wandering around late at night.
So, what is storytelling’s place today? We still see stories everywhere. Books are still being written and consumed by billions of people around the world today. It is true that many of the old forms of storytelling have fallen out of fashion and have been replaced by television and movies, but those are still stories and a part of our culture. Another medium that has gained steam in the last twenty years is videogames. This may surprise some and be a no brainer for others. The videogame industry has made leaps and bounds in their storytelling ability, so much so that many games feel like you’re taking part in a movie. Everyone wants to be a part of their favorite stories and with videogames, you can.
Storytelling today is doing the same thing it has always done since its inception; teaching and entertaining. That fact alone is the best piece of evidence that storytelling is not dead. However, the mediums of storytelling are the ones disappearing and that’s normal with the growth of technology. When is the last time you drew a story on a wall or inscribed one into a stone tablet? Probably never, and if you have, congrats, you participated in one of the oldest forms of storytelling. I am a fan of the oral tradition of storytelling and I fear that it will be the next to become a dead art form. It has lost popularity in recent years and I think that is a shame. It is still around, but many people don’t want to take the time to sit around and tell or listen to a story.
Storytelling is still around in many forms, but the old traditional storytelling seems to be fading away. People seem to be too busy these days to sit and tell stories to their kids. What are some stories you know from your childhood? Let us know in the comments!