Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Storyteller as a Noble Calling

with 3 comments

To entertain someone is to transport them to a different world. This is no small feat.

In my previous post, I talked about my belief that genre fiction can also be literary, and emotionally and intellectually deep.

But the honest truth is a lot of what we read isn’t deep. And that’s ok.

It’s pure entertainment, and that’s still valuable for a number of reasons:

1. It’s fun. And as much as we adults like to pretend we don’t have time for fun, we still need it. Resting your mind, distracting it from the stresses of everyday life is important. There’s no shortage of studies on stress and what it does to our bodies and minds, and entertainment helps us reduce that stress.

2. Entertainment often does teach us something. The episodes of Saved by the Bell we watched as kids might not be considered high cinema, but a lot of the episodes are actually little morality plays. In thirty minutes, the viewers are all reminded of our social mores, how we’re to interact with one another, and not to cheat on your algebra exam.

If you don’t like the Saved by the Bell example, think about any mythology – tales told in homes and at gatherings to while away a cold night. But you’ll find a lot of myths impart wisdom or a lesson like the story of King Midas or Daedalus and Icarus.

There’s even the theory that storytelling serves an evolutionary function.

3. It gives us insight into another world. Regardless of whether we’re learning social mores and morals, it still transports us. Any good story takes us away from our day, our prejudices, our worries, and settles us in the world of our neighbor.

No matter whether it’s a fantasy novel or a sit-com, the world is still different from our own. The narrator and the writer’s vision is separate from ours, and that glimpse through their eyes broadens our understanding of life beyond ourselves.

Entertaining others is a noble pursuit

Throughout history, storytellers have entertained tribes huddled in caves, royal halls filled with nobles, and boy scouts around campfires. Poets and bards were revered as expert artisans and held high esteem among their people. Not because they used big words, but because they could weave a story that enthralled their listeners. Because they offered a tiny respite from a day of labor or a life of war and famine.

Like life itself, telling a good, entertaining story is hard. So regardless of a work’s emotional depth or lasting literary merit, anyone who can write a story and lift me out of my world has my respect.

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Written by Nathanael Green

June 19, 2009 at 6:35 am

3 Responses

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  1. Right on, brother.

    Brian O'Rourke

    June 19, 2009 at 10:44 am

  2. Nate, I liked the comment on that storytelling as evolution article that said:

    Or just take massive amounts of mushrooms, sit in a field, and just go “Show me!”.

    Not that I’m recommending that, I just found it amusing.

    I just noticed a new edition of Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader, which is enjoyable, and chimes in very much with what you’re saying. Basically, Pennac agrees that reading for pleasure is seen as suspect, and wants to lift the taboo.

    Seana

    June 20, 2009 at 3:45 am

    • Seana, like I needed another excuse to buy books about writing and language! The Rights of the Reader sounds like something else I’ll have to find, too.

      Nathanael Green

      June 23, 2009 at 6:46 pm


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