We know that people the world over enjoy films and books for entertainment and leisure, but have you ever considered the depth to which we use and need storytelling in our lives?
Historically, stories provided an important way for early cultures to understand their world and interpret their unfolding lives. The Greeks founded a tradition of myths that were created to understand their world and transmit their values and beliefs to successive generations. The aboriginal tribes of Australia wrapped their stories in songs which tell of the journeys undertaken by their ancestors but also contain maps of their land in verbal form. Equally, the folk tales of northern Europe, as collected by the Grimm Brothers, served the same purpose, teaching wisdom and offering hope and guidance in a brutal world.
Many, if not all, cultures share this trait, the use of stories to explain their genesis and ancestral stories that perpetuate the very values and beliefs that have provided the cultural identity and strength of the tribe or group.
it seems storytelling is pretty fundamental to being human.
Despite our seeming modernity and sophistication, I would argue that we are no different and that stories, literature, cinema and games are still being used to transmit cultural values that are important to us in helping us understand and cope with our world – in exactly the same way the Greeks used their myths, 2000 years ago.
Chief amongst these stories, reoccurring time after time in culture after culture, is the story of the hero and the journey or quest.
The hero of the story is forced to undertake a perilous journey to gain possession of an important item. He suffers setback and near failure, before overcoming his worst fear to capture the prize, returning home changed and elevated by his toils.
Perseus, Beowulf, Finn McCool, Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen – take your choice, the list of heroes is endless and stretches across all cultures and back in time to our very beginnings. Much academic work has been undertaken to understand the universal psychological significance of these characters, but within this, the central significance of the journey undertaken should not be overlooked.
The transformative process of moving through an unfamiliar landscape, facing and overcoming obstacles, making progress towards an eventual end goal is absolutely central to all these stories and it is this journey which allows the hero myth to speak so powerfully to us all. We recognise the journey of our own lives and the clear and obvious progress the hero makes towards their final achievement gives us all a psychological boost.
These stories speak to us because we are all humans on our own journey.
So, fancy a walk in the hills? – it’ll make you feel truly epic.