Introduction: Stories we are heirs to by Merryl Wyn Davies

Let me tell you a story…
To begin at the beginning. I’ll tell you how it was… In the beginning there was talking. ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘It’s like this boys … and girls…’ ‘What happens when you have a baby?’ ‘Well girls … boys you can cover your ears – it’s like this…’ Not just babies were born but also narrative. When there were only words the story began. Everything that came after is the continuing saga, the elaborate tracery of intertwining stories. Narrative rules, because by habit, convention, tradition, acculturation, conditioning, programming – whatever term, analogy or reference  seems most apposite – all information makes most sense in narrative form. We know what we know when we know how it makes a narrative: coherent, episodic, eclectic, or otherwise.
Human communication began with speech, the development of words to describe things and ideas. All society and culture began and was communicated  orally. These words were spun into narratives: parables, fables, myths or legends or just plain speaking that contained the compendium of available knowledge and were designed to do far more than divert and entertain. Whether the narratives came in poetic formula, metred no matter how complexly, to be sung or chanted or whispered or just in plain speech ordered by ancient rote, they taught what needed to be known as well as fuelling the imagination. Narratives were word pictures that served as world pictures, to borrow British philosopher Mary Midgley’s felicitous phrase. By descriptive words the world was known, as was the place of each thing within it and its proper nature. Such was the age of orality; nor has that age entirely passed from being, as old narratives never die: they keep on regenerating varied guises. Consider Sophocles’ antigone, which, as Boyd Tonkin shows, has been around since 442 BC and ‘has travelled the world’ ever since, ‘and still does’; most recently, reappearing in British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire as ‘a story of jihadi violence, state repression and torn loyalties’. Old stories keep on exerting their power as familiar basic intrinsic patterns of thought, conventions of usage, longstanding adages, conceptual principles and creedal precepts. Believe or don’t believe, dissent and criticise, you will do so within a tradition, a convention, a history of concepts and ideas in which old stories wield an influence. We are bound and beholden to the word/world pictures from which we originate, to which we belong.
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