The Story Teller

Long ago when men and women lived in caves and roamed the forests in search of food, it was the practice for the hunters to gather about the camp fires at night and tell stories of their encounters with the wild animals or of seeing better hunting grounds on the other side of the mountain. The most unusual stories were memorized and handed down to the next generation’s designated story teller who commanded a high tribal position. Thus these historical stories were preserved and eventually became legends. A thousand years ago the traveling troubadours were handsomely rewarded for entertaining the courts of kings by singing these ancient legends. Today, book publishers richly reward story tellers for their unusual stories. Thus, from primitive times down to the present, the story teller is rewarded with either honors or money.

Library shelves are jammed with books all written by persons with stories to tell, but very few books ever make it to the best sellers list. Fewer still are treasured and passed down to future generations. To tell a good story one must present an attention grabbing beginning followed by an exciting middle which is finished off with a satisfying ending. Listed below are a few of my favorite stories and the person who, I believe, followed the simple rules of good story telling.

The Book of Genesis is the first book in the Holy Bible whose author or authors are unknown. It is a collection of religious legends and includes the stories of the founding of the Hebrew Nation. Genesis begins with the words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” It ends sadly with: “So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”

Gone With The Wind was written by Margaret Mitchell in 1935. It is a rather sad story of a southern family’s struggle during and after the American Civil War. The story begins: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm….” The ending in quite famous and is often quoted. “Tomorrow, I’ll think of someway to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Gulliver’s Travels (in four parts) was written in 1726 by the great English satirist, Jonathan Swift. He tells of a sea captain being marooned on uncharted islands and of the strange inhabitants the captain meets. It begins with: “My father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the third of five sons.” The book ends with the author’s challenge: “…and therefore I here entreat those who have any tincture of the absurd vice, that they will not presume to appear in my sight.”

Ben Hur – A Tale of the Christ was written by General Lew Wallace in 1880 and was America’s first historical fiction novel. This great story, of a man who meets Jesus, begins with “The Jebel es Zubleh is a mountain fifty miles and more in length, and so narrow that it tracery on the map give it a likeness of a caterpillar crawling from south to north.” The story ends with wealthy Ben Hur deciding to travel to Rome to help the persecuted Christians who are suffering under Nero. His wife says, “So wilt thou best serve the Christ. Oh my husband, let me not hinder but go with thee and help.”

Blue Highways is a collection of stories by William Least Heat Moon who journeyed across America in 1982, following only the blue lines on the road map. The stories he tells are of the wonderful people he meets along the way. “BEWARE of thoughts that come in the night.” This is the opening sentence and after 426 pages of travel stories ends his journey in Missouri. “The pump attendant, looking at my license plate after he had filled the tank asked, where you coming from, Show Me?’’