by Shevi Arnold
Stories are magical.
If a story ever made you laugh or cry, you know that magic—the magic of stories–is real. It has the power to take to you to places you couldn’t explore in any other way. It can not only show you lives you couldn’t possibly live, but gives you a chance to live those lives. Want to be a young wizard? Open Harry Potter, and you can be Harry, Hermione or Ron, at least until you finish reading the books. And when you’re done, you can open them and relive that life again.
In my new novel, Toren the Teller’s Tale, Toren starts out as a young girl with a gift for telling stories. After she tells one at an autumnal fair in a failed effort to convince a storyteller to take her brother as an apprentice, she meets a wizard named Bender. He pays ten gold coins for Toren’s apprenticeship, and so her adventure begins.
Bender takes Toren as his apprentice because in their world storytellers possess the greatest magic of all. “We wizards and witches brandish magic, ”he tells her. “But we have become so obsessed with its symbols–the potions and the spells–that we have forgotten what the source of our highest power is. . . . I need you to learn all the magic there is to learn. To do that you must learn everything. Above all, you must learn from those who are closest to the source of this magic, those who hold the power of the telling.”
Bender has a friend take Toren to a teller’s gathering, so she can learn that magic. The storytellers and their apprentices tell their tales in the evenings, and during the days the elder masters lead discussions on their craft. In one discussion on truth in fiction, Toren says that stories are true because they speak to our hidden desires and fears. One of the elders, however, disagrees: ““I believe a story’s truth is even greater than that. One day you’ll see. You’ll think you are telling a story, but the truth of it will take over, and you’ll realize the thing you thought you created was always there–not in this place and time but somewhere in the infinite universe and as true as your own existence. We tellers are bridges from the past to the present, from the present to the future, from distant lands to here, and from here to everywhere.”
What greater magic could there be?
And I think there’s something particularly magical about stories that deal with stories or the art of storytelling, like the novels of Jasper Fforde, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins and John Barth; movies like The Princess Bride and Inception; and children’s books like Inkheart and The Never Ending Story. These stories reveal the magic of stories and storytellers. In a way, they’re more honest, because they don’t pretend to be anything but fiction. It’s like a magician revealing how he does his tricks, or a pocket watch with a clear back that reveals the inner workings of the cogs and springs. Instead of being awed by an illusion, we are amazed by the skill or craftsmanship.
Even though the term for it—metafiction—was only coined in the 1970s, stories about stories have existed long before Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451, or Stephen King’s Misery. There was Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales, and even such ancient stories as Homer’s Odyssey, and the original 1,001 Arabian Nights. It seems that audiences have been fascinated with the inner workings of stories almost as long ago as they’ve been fascinated by the stories themselves. I suspect that somewhere there might even be a cave painting of a cave man painting a cave painting.
Because of my love of Metafiction, I guess it should come as no surprise that my favorite movie is The Princess Bride. The internal story is a lot of fun. As grandpa says, “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles . . .” What’s not to love?
But it’s the external story about a grandpa sharing a story with his sick grandson that I love the most. It gives the internal story meaning and depth. When Westley tells Buttercup “As you wish” he really means “I love you”–but that’s an over-the-top fictional love. When grandpa tells his grandson “As you wish” at the end of the story, he brings that kind of fictional over-the-top love into the real world. Grandpa might be telling his grandson “As you wish,” but he’s also telling the viewer. The grandson asks to hear the story again, and so do we. And what is the storyteller’s answer to that request? “As you wish.”
To quote Toren at the beginning of her tale: ““Fantastic riches! Eternal life! The love of the most beautiful maid in the world! Come taste what I have to sell! I guarantee you’ll like what you see! I’m talking about the most tantalizing offer ever made in this market! Not ’onions, two for a copper!’ Not ’best baked bread in all the land!’ A man stood on this very spot not so long ago and shouted, ’Wealth beyond compare! Love! Life! What would you be willing to pay to make your dreams come true? And this was not any man. This was a wizard. He was dressed all in darkness like the night. He opened his coat, and on his tunic was a mirror, sparkling with the promises of wishes that had never been fulfilled. One man saw a woman he had loved who had married another. An old hag saw herself young and beautiful. A peasant saw himself rich and powerful beyond belief. And all this was offered by one who seemed to have the power to breathe life into their grandest fantasies!”
That is the magic that stories offer for at least as long as we’re reading, listening to, or viewing them. It’s the magic to make all our grandest fantasies true. What greater magic could there possibly be?
Shevi Arnold–who sometimes works under the name Shevi–writes funny stories, fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens. She is a writer, illustrator, and self-proclaimed Geek Goddesss.
You can follow Shevi’s blog at: shevi.blogspot.com