The world has always loved a good story.
Myths began as a way for a culture to spread information about culture and civilization: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Nordic, Celtic, Eastern. The myths drew people together with common ideas about what made the community unique. They were short fictional stories that gave the world evidence why people should consider a culture exceptional. And while a culture diminished, their cities left in ruins, the myths endured. The ideas endured and the next civilization took them and built upon them to make their own. To make them better.
Out of these myths grew legends. Legends were always a series of short stories that comprised a larger story, like Cuchulain and the Ulster Cycle of Celtic myth. These legends could have been real historical figures, but what matters is that the stories people shared about legends: Hercules, Cuchulain, Arthur, was they were what an ideal member of the society should be. They were hallmarks of the culture. Cursed by very human foibles, they not only exemplified of blessings of living the finest ideas in a society (Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table), but also showed the consequences of breaking with those ideas (Modred, Arthur’s illegitimate son by his half sister, was his traitor and murderer).
Legends (or even Tall Tales), more than myths, outlast civilizations because they are more than just the idea of a society, they are great stories. They are timeless tales that transcend technology and advance. They can be told and told again, translated and even updated to fit into modern civilizations. They endure. They entertain. And that’s why we love them.
There are stories that do even more than myths and legends. Parables, tell us stories designed to make us think. Like legends, they teach the finest ideas of society, but unlike legends, they invite the reader to step into the shoes of the character and imagine what it is like to be him. While a few of us might think that maybe we could have pulled the sword from the stone, like Arthur, more of us can relate to the Prodigal Son, his father, or even his brother. They are stories of relationships–of people to the world, people to other people and proove that even God loves a good story.
Modern stories are almost always an attempt to create a myth, legend or tell a parable. Writers fancy themselves bards and poets, and sometimes even Gods. I say this affectionately as one of the accused. Modern short story tellers hope to leave a little myth in your head, a little legend in your soul and give a part of themselves that will endure as long as the tale.
In the past, a farmer worked the field and retired to his house or the public house. A short story fit his life. He could eat dinner, drink his ale, and fill his head with a tale. The tales started to flow when the work ended. It was something to share with his friends and his family. It kept the community together as much as any tradition.
Short stories aren’t any less beloved now as they were in the past. Our affection for television shows proves we still love a short story. (Our favorite show probably even started with the theme: Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale… and you probably know the tune that goes with it). The appeal of movies based on novels, prove that we are more likely to consume a short story than the longer version of the tale. While we no longer have a day filled with toil on the farm, we are just as busy caring for our families and just as eager to be entertained at the end of the work day. We read blogs on our phone and tweet our lives in 140 characters. We are all telling our own story in small bites and pieces, just as surely as Cuchulain’s was told in the Ulster Cycle.
While we are reading friends blog posts, tweets and opinions, we still crave something more. We want a story. Sure, we know you got hit in the parking lot at Walmart, and we even saw the pictures on Facebook, but what we really want is a short story. We live that reality. We’ve ALL seen THAT woman at Walmart. What we want is fiction, or at least something that is hard to imagine, like Grandpa’s stories about WWII. We want a new myth or legend. We want modern parables… and we are even willing to be edified and enlightened while we are being entertained.
So tell me a story, but make it short. I’ve got work in the morning. :)