The Stories We Tell (Musing)

It’s striking me as interesting today that the stories we herald and treasure — the epics, the required readings, the stories we pass down and that have stood the test of time — almost always include a dramatic arc through conflict and resolution. Why do we love the Lord of the Rings quests so much? Why do we love the hero that surmounts staggering odds or takes on ridiculously challenging tasks to finally reach resolution?

Because in the real world, it doesn’t often look that way. Many people don’t face particularly looming challenges in their lives. They ride a relatively tame narrative all the way through, perhaps even a bit circuitous or tedious at times. The mountains in their way aren’t the treacherously tall variety. Other people are the villains in the stories of others — some are aware of this; others never realize. And for a staggeringly large number of other people, their stories start on that treacherously tall mountain and remain there until death. Or perhaps they get bucked off into a bed of lava at some point. Their circumstances start and remain hard. (Maybe Dickens felt led to call this to our attention more than other authors.)

And feeling very aware of all this hardship in the world today, it made me wonder why our favorite tales aren’t those that start nice and cozy, saunter through a few unexpected promotions and breezy parenting experiences, and end on a soft cloud carrying the protagonist from this life into the mystery of whatever comes next. Why don’t we like those stories?

I don’t have a profound or clever answer. Sure, it sounds a bit boring (and I’m sure there are in fact plotlines like these out there in the form of TV shows or cheap literature that you can happily consume whenever you’d like). But today it’s giving me a little bit more hope in humanity that, despite how the world is cruel and unfair and demonstrably difficult, we still want to join and root for someone who is pushing through the same, if not worse, mire than we are. Perhaps there’s a little bit more destiny woven into human nature than I sometimes give it credit for.


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