What are stories for?

What are stories for?

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

I gave a talk last week on the Hero's Journey. It covered the history from its conception through some of the subsequent versions finishing with Christopher Vogler's. Of coures there have been other iterations and forms but it was an attempt to keep things simple. We went through Vogler's 12 stages with examples and had a go ourselves to create our own.

Here it is: 


I think it's pretty good for an on the fly group attempt in half an hour.

As part of the talk, I referred to Joseph Campbell's description of what storeis are for:

  1. To create wonder
  2. Explain how things work e.g. seasons
  3. Enforce social order
  4. A guide for the different stages of life

After the talk, I wondered what relevance these have today. I'd referred to the mega bucks that films make. Add that to all the other ways stories are consumed and it must be staggering. So I think #1 is now by far out in front. If you take the other ways it's used, such as to recruit people to a cause, it's pervasiveness travels even further. 

Can we say #s 2-4 are relevant? In terms of 2, when telling a young child something, stories do seem to work bettern than logic. I suppose 3 is particularly obvious in religious texts and there's a long history of the state using religion as a method of encouraging public behaviour. But is it so much now, particularly when most governments are secular and people who say they are religious keeps falling? And 4, I think this is a nice connection but it doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. Yes, people do have flaws that often prevent them from reaching a goal, but often those two things are not linked. Do people address their flaws, seeking mentors, allies to overcome a single antagonist? Sometimes, but more often not. 

So I'd suggest that the purpose of stories has definitely gravitated to purely a form of entertainment along with a methodology for influencing or informing. That it probably builds on an original purpose of keeping us alive, suggests its potent power even when used for a different purpose.