Tag Archives: power of story

Magic Listening Machines, or: Why I Love Fairy Tales

Today on Enchanted Conversations by Yours Truly:
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Magic Listening Machines or WHY I LOVE FAIRY TALES

I did not hear my first fairy tales at the knee of my grandmother. Nor did someone read them to me as bedtime stories out of a venerable fat hardcover copy of Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales. No—I got my introduction to the Land of Faerie through the record player. That’s right, children: Once upon a time, in a world far away from that of today, stories were told by a magic machine. Flat black discs with thin grooves engraved on them were placed upon a platter, a magic wand was laid on top, an enchanted lever was pressed, and suddenly the strains of music and the voice of a storyteller filled the room—though of the musicians and the tale teller there was no sight to be seen.

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Oh, we did of course have paper books of the stories, as well. I still have on my bookshelf our first copies of Andersen, Hauff, and the Arabian Nights, all of which I enjoyed reading. But some of my favorites were, and still are, the Grimms’ tales I got from those vinyl records: “Snow White and Rose Red,” “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats,” “Puss in Boots”…

The other day, I was listening to audio versions of fairy tales again. By now, the magic machine I use is so small that it fits in my back pocket, and it can do all sorts of other magical things (such as making phone calls)…

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Filed under Enchanted Conversations, fairy tales, Story

The Power of Story Part II, or, RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

IMG_20150312_204516For the second time in as many weeks, the nerd world is having to say goodbye to one of its Greats: Sir Terry Pratchett passed away today from Alzheimer’s disease. Leonard Nimoy had reached a good old age; Terry Pratchett was still comparatively young – only 66.

But his passing, too, was not unexpected; the disease had been claiming him bit by bit for nearly eight years now. Alzheimer’s has a way of doing that. I think for the bereaved, the mourning has often been done long ahead of the time they actually die, because the person you love has already gone. That’s what happened with a relative of ours – she spent the last ten years of her life slowly disappearing. The real grief was the point of realising that she was no longer who she had been, years ahead of the time of her actual death.

With Terry Pratchett, as a reader and fan I found that that point of grief (which is, of course, no comparison to the grief his family feels – but still is a reality) occurred last summer when I read his last book, Raising Steam. It was sad. To me, Raising Steam feels like a book that was ghost-written by someone who is trying to write like Pratchett, but isn’t making it – almost like a fanfic of his work. The voices of the characters are wrong, the world seems off, the plot is – I’m sorry, I have to say it – lame. In fact, I found it hard to believe this was really Pratchett writing – I kept checking online to see if there wasn’t some indication that this was the work of a ghost writer. It wasn’t.

And the only reason I felt that way is because I’ve read every single other Discworld book of his, and most of his other novels as well, from The Carpet People onwards, and I’m so familiar with the way he wrote before the disease took it away. Pratchett was brilliant, sparklingly, amazingly brilliant. He could go from laugh-out-loud funny to smack-you-between-the-eyebrows profound in the same sentence – or even better yet, footnote. His footnotes are an art form in itself. I propose that we coin a new phrase in his honour: how about “pratchetting a footnote”? Hilariously witty non sequiturs which manage to pack a little bit of sharp truth into a paragraph squished at the bottom of a page. And more often than not, the footnotes have footnotes, themselves. Nobody wrote footnotes, sub-footnotes, and sub-footnotelets like Pratchett.

However, what he excelled in above all was character creation. On Twitter this morning, someone said they are not just mourning the loss of Terry Pratchett, but of his characters. My reaction to that was surprise. Pratchett’s passing is sad – but his characters, to my thinking, gloriously live on. He created Sam Vimes, Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Tiffany Aching, Lord Vetinari, Rincewind, the Librarian, DEATH (how could I forget Death?), the Wee Free Men (Och! Crivens!)… so many, many others – and because he created them, they will always exist. The Power of Story does not wane with the passing of its creator. Whenever I choose, I can pull one of Pratchett’s books off the shelf, immerse myself in the world he created, and associate with the people who sprang from his imagination. Whenever it suits me.

And that reminds me of one of his oh-so-quotable lines from the opening scene of the book that is one of my favourites of his, Wyrd Sisters. The setting: a violent thunderstorm on “dark, rain-lashed hills”.

“In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel’s eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’
There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.'”

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The Power of Story, or, RIP Leonard Nimoy

vulcan saluteIn case you hadn’t heard, Leonard Nimoy died this morning. The Internet is going to be buzzing with remembrance over the next few days; everyone and their pooch will be posting pictures of him, throwing each other the Vulcan salute, and discussing their favourite Star Trek episodes ad nauseam. The whole of Silicon Valley, I’m sure, will go into mourning.

But why? An 83-year-old Jew from Boston passes away peacefully in his LA home after a long and prosperous life – so who cares?

We do. Millions of us do. Because Leonard Nimoy was not just a person beloved by his friends and family, and a man highly gifted in his chosen profession. Leonard Nimoy was Spock. And as Spock, he brought something to our lives that was unique.

In fact, Leonard Nimoy’s passing, just like the tragic death of Robin Williams last year, illustrates with brilliant clarity just how powerful the impact of Story is on our lives. Nimoy became Spock; he became Story. His embodiment of this character, his telling us of who this – entirely fictional! – person was, allowed us to enter into Spock’s being, let us become, for a short time, another. He, like Robin Williams did in his many roles, gave us a powerful gateway into the realm of Story.

We need Story; we live in Story. And that is why so many of us are touched by the passing of a man who lived thousands of miles away from us; whom we have never spoken to; who, in real life, did not have pointy ears and go around classifying everything as “logical” or “not logical”. It almost feels heretical to say that – Spock is not real, he does not exist. But, actually, he does. He existed in what Nimoy created, and took root in our imagination. And as such, the death of Leonard Nimoy does not put an end to Spock’s existence. The power of Story simply carries on. There was no Spock before Nimoy became him (and created the all-memorable Vulcan salute – there is a very interesting video clip here, where he explains its origins). But now, there always will be Spock.

And we can continue to draw inspiration from his story, from the portrayal of the man who lives in logic but yet has to come to grips with the emotion seething inside him; a story that draws us out of ourselves and lets us grow with him. Leonard Nimoy brought us the empowerment of seeing Spock live – of being Spock.

Life, the Universe, and the Power of Story. Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy – you lived long and prospered.

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Enough!

Enough already. Enough with the Facebook posts, the rants, the forwards; enough with the anti-anti-vaxxer posts, anti-Fifty-Shades, anti-Muslim, anti-everything. Enough with the hating.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily for any of the ideologies those posts are against. I’ve had my kids vaccinated; I haven’t read Fifty Shades; I’m not Muslim; and I don’t intend to change any of those practices.

But I’m so very, very tired to hear the harping, the incessant banging, clanging, beating of the drums, the tapping of the hammer that keeps driving home the message that YOU are right, and [insert opposing position on issue du jour] is wrong, evil, and to be resisted with every fibre of our beings.

Telling me of your opinion once is fine – please, I really do want to hear what my friends have to say. But not over, and over, and over. Because, you see: all that energy you’re using to be AGAINST, that is energy that is no longer available to be FOR. It’s negative energy, energy that takes away. And it’s sucking the life out of me.

Darkness, someone once said, isn’t an active force – it’s simply the absence of light. Contrary to what Star Wars would have you believe, The Dark isn’t a power in its own right – bring one single candle into a dark room, and you no longer have darkness. Light is the overpowering force. I don’t have to push back against the dark bits underneath my couch, build barriers to keep the darkness from flowing out into the room and overwhelming the light that is coming in the big picture window. I don’t have to relentlessly draw attention to the fact that there is darkness under the furniture, hold my book beneath the sofa to demonstrate just how dim and impossible to read it is under there. All I have to do is draw back the curtains.

Candle cropI let off a plea for the antidote yesterday, on Facebook. I asked my friends – rather with a tongue-in-cheek attitude at that moment, not expecting to be taken seriously – to post some cute pictures of their kids, or pets, or what-have-you, because I was just so very fed up with all the controversy. And within minutes, I had responses. Picture after picture of smiling children, furry critters, funny captions – it was wonderful. Because trivial as those images might seem, they testify to what really matters. They put the attention back on the light.

And that, people, is what it’s about. Don’t bewail the darkness, light a candle. Or throw the electric light switch, as it were; draw back the curtains; step outside into the sunshine.

If you’re concerned about unvaccinated children, show me how you are keeping yours strong and healthy. If you are worried about extremist Muslims, show me that your religion does not inspire you to similar self-righteous hating – and let me see the potency of your faith in engendering life-giving love. If you despise Fifty Shades, show me what powerful romantic love is really about – or even better yet, write a heart-gripping novel that lets me experience it for myself when I identify with your heroine, and leaves me feeling empowered and inspired, ready to take on the world – because that is what love can do.

Don’t show me everything that’s bad – let me see what is good. I’m tired of being asked to stare into black holes. Show me the light, instead.

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