I came up with a few reasons why stories are so important. Stories expand the mind, are an easy means of communication and even make one more emphatic. However, the primary reason why I concluded that stories must be important, without empirical research or even giving much details, is that I remembered that the man I regard as the greatest man of all time always told stories, just that he preferred to call his stories parables.
I prefer to read books about dragons, super powers and mythical worlds, instead of reading books that profess to teach me ten tips that guarantee a successful career. I am happy to get lost with C.S Lewis, following him like a mouse entranced by the Pied Piper of Hamelin, as he introduces me to a world that did not exist until he created it. I give no excuses for believing wholeheartedly in his created world. The created world is usually a world that defies human logic, and in this illogical world, I would follow his instructions in order to understand the new logic that makes his created world work logically.
I would get lost in the Iliad and the Odyssey (sorry to disappoint, I only read the children’s version) and in my mind, recreate how Odysseus’ dog died of joy after waiting so many years for his master’s return. I would imagine how if the world in Harry Potter was real, I would not flinch if the portrait of my grandmother hanging in the living room, instructed me to wash my hands after eating eba. I would also get lost in Igbo land as Achebe explains the pride and resourcefulness of his people. I would imagine his proverb about the lizard that dropped from an Iroko tree, and immediately began to nod as a gesture to praise himself for his heroic descent, since no one else chose to celebrate him. Can I forget my Chimamanda Adichie, who enticed me with the scent of her Purple Hibiscus and invigorated my mind with the beauty of an authentic story.
To cap it up, Paulo Coelho would carry me in the desert wind of his ideas about the making of gold and the following of dreams. The love, the desire, the boy, the sheep and the treasure. Effortlessly making allusions to the biblical Centurion servant, and reinventing Melchizedek on the journey to finding The Alchemist. I used to love reading stories and I would rather read a million stories than read one self help book. This is not to say that self help books or biographies are bad. I have read a few and I appreciate them, but what I am trying to understand is my bias for stories. My bias for the juice of the creative mind that builds castles in the air and plants magic beans that reach the sky.
Unfortunately I haven’t read much these days. I have forgotten how it feels to get lost in the dusty pages of a book. The feeling of continuously travelling through the pages, thirsting for the end like one thirsts for water in the dusty desert. Maybe I haven’t read a lot recently because I have been told that stories do not have much merit, particularly in this world when there are business principles to be understood and laws to be deciphered. I have forgotten what it means to read a book and just enjoy it, without being able to point to the reason why the book is just so good. I have assumed the tag of “Too Busy to Read,” and more importantly, “Too Busy to Read Stories”. I have swallowed the belief that more knowledge is to be gained from the real world, not from stories, and so I have learnt to read The Economist and Forbes, and I have forgotten how to get lost in the dusty pages of my first love.
I remember when I was a student at the University of Ibadan, I would go to Agbowo Shopping Complex after exams, and as an after-exams treat, I would buy more books! Not legal books, but those lovely second-hand books that have been fingered by lovers before me. I would buy all sorts of easy reading and settle into my single hostel bed to enjoy my treat. I outgrew romance novels rather early, but I never really outgrew historical romance. The duke is always a rake and the princess or heiress is usually an outspoken adventurous little minx who cannot wait to experience the real world. She either runs away from home or has her débutante ball, where she meets the duke who is enamoured by her sharp mouth, ample bosom and corseted waist. Of course they fall in love eventually. Such beautiful, predictable, easy reading.
Lately I have decided to read again, but I have been asking myself, what is the point of stories? Do they really teach me much? What have I learnt from imagining non-existent worlds, when I have not studied the world I am currently living in? Heck, I don’t yet understand the people in this world, so why am I happy to read about J.R.R Tolkien’s trolls (Oh, I forgot, we have those on the internet too).
Please share your thoughts on why/ whether you think stories are useful.