Sunday, March 1, 2009

Campfire Stories

Man has been recounting his exploits since time first began.  The drawings on the cave walls in France tell us of men hunting beasts much larger than a man—and the drawings prove that man lived to tell of the encounter and to bring home the bacon, so to speak.  Whether stories were first told in some form of language or simply mimed as if in charades matters little now.  Apparently mimed stories are still pretty effective because Tom and Jerry still appeals to a wide TV audience.

When men began to gather into groups larger than family units, they needed a way to name some of their common fears and hopes.  So they created a mythology that could explain the seasons, the floods and storms, and even death itself.  Their mythological gods were made in man’s image and after his character.  Thus little Cupid was fickle in his selection of who would fall in love with whom.  Mars, the god of war, would lend his help to those who showed him the most respect.  Diana helped one hunter and not another.  And the goddess of fertility brought a child to one woman and not another, or a crop to one village and not another.  So men were able to explain some of the events in their lives.  Mythology or story telling is a universal bond among men.  Only the names and characters change by accident of birthplace.  One hero rides a winged horse, and another rides a winged snake or dragon.

Mythology became religion to one degree or another, so that the charms of mythology became saintly relics in the hands of religion.  More than when men feared thunder, men learned to fear the power of religion because it bound up the lives of men from birth to death—and supposedly beyond.  No less ignorant than the cave man, medieval man knew little more than what was told to him by the storytellers of the church.

And then came Chaucer—the ultimate storyteller and jokester.  Chaucer put stories back into the hands of the common man who sat in front of his hearth and laughed at the silliness of hypocrites.  Chaucer’s ridicule of the church took away some of the fear that had bound men to their beliefs.

Today we have increasingly become separated from the natural world around us.  Oh, the Nature Channel still intrigues us and keeps our interest—especially a family story—even a family of meerkats.  But lately electronic storytelling gives us mechanically mythological cartoons or scintillating scientific intervention in life-threatening scenarios.  Storytelling around the campfires has drastically changed.  Maybe Madagascar is about as good as it gets.

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