Storytelling is one of the oldest methods of conveying information. However, why do we do it? I believe that modern storytelling has evolved from tool used for survival.

Fairy tales can be interpreted as evidence to support my belief. Every famous fairy tale is centred around a moral message- Little Red Riding Hood (LRRH) encourages caution when interacting with strangers and warns of the dangers of the forest; The Boy who Cried Wolf discourages deception and lying and Hanasaka Jiisan (The Envious Neighbour) teaches about the consequences of greed. We first encounter this stories as children and essentially they are stories that we can relate with that will ensure our survival. LRRH is considered a mediveal Germanic tale and at the time, what we know as Germany was heavily wooded. Parents would tell their children a tale similar to LRRH to instil a fear of the woods within in them and stop them getting lost…or eaten. In addition, a cautionary attitude to strangers have been encouraged since the days of human existence and is still taught today. Meanwhile, the Boy who Cried Wolf ensures the protect of a community by showing children the dire consequences of lying too many times and Hanasake Jiisan teaches us to be humble and not covet what our neighbour’s have as everyone is different and greed will not help you become better than you are. This also extends to the ‘playful’ stories used to chide misbehaving children- the Ojibwe tribe of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and some Canadian provinces have a story about an owl that carries away misbehaving children.

Yeah, you better behave kids.
Yeah, you better behave kids.

Storytelling also promotes social cohesion. Humans are, undeniably, a social species. Group storytelling is an entertaining, unifying way for information to be passed on and encourages a community to stand as one. The modern version of this could very be fandoms- groups of people who enjoy the same works of literature and stand in (relative) unity. Without social cohesion, a community would be vulnerable to external forces. Furthermore, loneliness can lead to a plethora of mental and physical health conditions which would be of further detriment to a community and so the mass inclusion of the community can be seen as one way to combat this.

But why storytelling? Wouldn’t it be more efficient simply to pass the messages of survival? Well, I believe that humanity doesn’t deal with direct information or hypotheticals very well. However, if that same information is manipulated into an exaggerated story to emphasize that core message or is paired with a relateable character (as commonly seen in fairy tales, with their younger protagonists). That way we carry the association with us and the next time we come across a stranger, we remember Red Riding Hood and that dastardly wolf and will apply the messages of that story to our current situation.

So that’s my theory about storytelling. What do you think?


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