The great saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker was unaccountably fond of country music, much to the chagrin of his fellow jazz musicians.  They'd  be hanging out in an after-hours joint, and he'd listen to Hank Williams on the jukebox.  They'd ask him how he could stand listening to that stuff.  "The stories, man," he explained.  Or so the story goes.  There are many versions of this tale, but the point is always the same: a good story transcends even the telling of it.

Nobody knows when people first started telling each other stories, although it's safe to assume it was long before anyone wrote them down.  The earliest written narratives are about five thousand years old.   Our species has been around for perhaps 130,000 years with brains wired for language.  It's anyone's guess whether stories arose because we had the language to tell them or, as Reynolds Price has suggested, we developed language because we had stories to tell.  Nor is it clear whether it's language alone that makes us human or whether it's the stories we weave with those words.  What is clear is we don't tell stories just because we like to but because we need to.  As Joan Didion puts it, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

Periodically, a leading scientist will express bewilderment or dismay that people cling to ancient superstitions rather than embrace a modern scientific view.  The problem, of course, is that science has only the facts to offer, whereas most of us crave meaning.  Most fundamentally, we want to know where we came from, why we're here and what will become of us -- the full narrative arc.  Science has no answers for the latter two, and the scientific explanation of our origins is profoundly unsatisfying.   We just can't picture starting out as hot gases swirling in a void.  Try pitching that story line to a Hollywood producer and see if it lands you a movie deal. 

James Frazier and Joseph Campbell have documented how people keep telling themselves essentially the same stories over and over, from one culture to the next, across the globe.  The stories are so widely dispersed geographically that it is doubtful they were simply transmitted by word of mouth.  Carl Jung's theory is that certain archetypes are embedded in humanity's collective unconscious and express themselves in dreams, myths and cultural artifacts.   

Every culture has stories about where the world comes from and where people come from, but Reynolds Price points out that very few talk about where stories come from.  The first story-teller in the Bible would appear to be Adam, who had to give an account of himself when the Lord saw he had gone missing.  But the story of mankind's downfall unfolded within a larger narrative framework that began when the Lord said, "Let there be light."  The Lord created a whole world with his words, and then brought forth a protagonist who also had a way with words.  Thereafter, it was one of those situations where the characters ran away with the story.

Reynolds Price, A Palpable God
Genesis 1-3

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