Humans are story-tellers. Our stories may be true, or they may be false; literal or symbolic. They are an integral part of being human.
- Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography (Belknap Press, 2014): “What vindicates Schmidt’s willful stopping of his ears to the irrelevant chatter of academic scholarship is that he himself reads so intelligently and writes so pungently.”
- Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018): “Pullman has an oversize portion of . . . infectious energy . . . to judge by ‘Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling,’ . . . Taken in long swigs, ‘Daemon Voices’ can be overwhelming, a torrent of enthusiasm for science, art, music and literature.”
- Martin Puchner, The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People (Random House, 2017): “We are what we read. ‘The Written World’ makes this grand assertion on the basis of a set of theses. Storytelling is as human as breathing. When fabulation intersected with writing, stories were empowered to propagate themselves in society and around the world as civilization-forming ‘foundational texts.’”
- Abigail Williams, The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home (Yale University Press, 2017): “Williams . . . is to be congratulated on a book, like Puchner’s, that makes us think, while reading, about what reading is.”
Joseph Campbell brilliantly illustrated the power of narratives in his study of religious myths. Whether the stories were real or not, the storytelling was.
- The Power of Myth (Turtleback, 1991). (Here is a link to the entire series on video.)
- A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake: Unlocking Joyce’s Masterwork (1944).
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).
- The Masks of God, Volume 1: Primitive Mythology (Viking, 1959).
- The Masks of God, Volume 2: Oriental Mythology (Viking, 1962).
- The Masks of God, Volume 3: Occidental Mythology (Viking, 1964).
- The Masks of God, Volume 4: Creative Mythology (Viking, 1968).
- Myths to Live By (Viking, 1972).
- Transformations of Myth Through Time (HarperCollins, 1990).
- Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth (New World Library, 2015).
- The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (New World Press, 2003).
- Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation (New World Library, 2004).
- Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor (New World Library, 2013).
- The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance (New World Library, 2017).
“Pointillism history” (Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy): compelling true-story-telling
- Rick Atkinson, Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (Henry Holt & Company, 2002).
- Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Henry Holt & Company, 2007).
- Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (Henry Holt & Company, 2013).
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
We are storytellers, who use music to tell our story, and create our stories internally. All of our music tells some part of our story. Even composers such as Edward Elgar, who strongly disdained “programme music”, drew inspiration for their compositions from their experiences and observations. That should be apparent in every musical work referenced in this book. This section will focus on works in which the composed made the narrative aspect of the composition explicit.
- Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (Don Quixote at the Duchess'): This ballet is a comic version of the Cervantes’ Don Quixote story.
- Roberto Gerhard, Don Quixote (1941, rev. 1949) (approx. 42’), ballet
- Ludwig Minkus, Don Quixote (1869), ballet.
- Richard Strauss, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks), Op. 28, TrV 171 (1895), “chronicles in music the misadventures and pranks of (a) peasant folk hero”.
- Alfred Schnittke composed a wealth of film music, represented on the Capriccio label, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, and Volume 5.
- Kamran Ince, Symphony No. 5, "Galatasaray" (2005). This is an oratorio, or choral symphony, about a Turkish soccer team. Despite the seeming oddity of the real-life themes, the work is brilliant and haunting.
- Gabriela Lena Frank, Quijotadas for String Quartet (2007): “Widely considered the birth of the modern novel, this tale satirizes post-Colonial Spain by relating the story of a middle-aged lesser nobleman who undertakes absurd adventures . . .” [the composer]
- Joseph Holbrooke, Piano Concerto No. 1, "The Song of Gwyn ap Nudd", Op. 52 (1908, rev. 1923), a romantic fairy tale: “What it lacks in distinction it makes up for in vivid narrative and corny gestures. It just needs a film to go with it.” The story is about a god with a nasty attitude.
- Horneman, theatre music
- Constant Lambert’s ballet Tiresias (1951) presents a curious story about a hero who is a man in the first and third acts, and a woman in the second. Here is the suite.
- Lambert’s ballet Pomona (1927) tells of a goddess of fruits.
- Foulds, Three Mantras, Op. 61b (1921-1930): drawn from the Sanskrit idea of the incarnation of a god
- Adolphe Biarent, Contes D'Orient (Tales of the Orient) (1909)
- Arthur Berger, Prelude, Aria and Waltz (1982): this sounds like film music.
- Jørgen Bentzon, Racconti (1935-1949): “Bentzon took the word racconto from Italian, where it means a tale or account, and it is precisely an almost conversational, narrative element that is typical of these six chamber music works.”
- Antonín Dvořák, The Water Goblin, Op. 107, B195 (1896), based on this Czech poem
- Dvořák, The Noonday Witch, Op. 108, B198 (1896), based on this poem, also by Erben
- Hugo Alfvén, film music: En Bygdesaga (A Country Tale), Op. 53; Synnøve Solbakken, Op. 50; Berga-Kungen (The Mountain King), Op. 37
- William Walton, film music: Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario (1944); Hamlet: A Shakespeare Scenario (1947-48); Richard III: A Shakespeare Scenario (1955)
- Rued Langgaard, Symphony No. 9, “Fra Dronning Dagmars by” (From Queen Dagmar’s City), BVN 283 (1942) – based on a tune from a popular ballad
- Langgaard, Symphony No. 11, “Ixion”, BVN 303 (1944-1945) – based on a story of a Greek mythological figure
- Karol Szymanowski, Mythes (Myths), M29, 30 (1915): “Szymanowski borrowed the titles of the cycle's three miniatures from Greek mythology. The mood of the fantastic visions - of the nymph Arethusa, turned into a stream, fleeing from Alpheus; of Narcissus, in love with his reflection in the pool, turned into a flower; of the dancing dryads and Pan playing his pipes - is achieved not only with a sophisticated and at times extraordinarily complicated harmony . . .”
- Don Gillis soundtracks, for film and television series
- Tan Dun, Film Music Sonata (approx. 16-17 minutes), segments of the four movements sound remarkably like mainstream American film music.
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold, film music: The Sea Hawk; The Prince and the Pauper; Elizabeth and Essex; The Adventures of Robin Hood
- Amazing stories
- Richard Baratta, “Music in Film: The Reel Deal”: a jazz album that tells the story of telling the story
- Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestrra and narrators, “Fiddles, Forests and Fowl Fables”, five new musical narratives for children
- Sabertooth Swing, “Delta Bound”: the introductory track explains the idea.
- ThirdEye Ensemble, “Storylines Crossing” (2018) (67’): “The pieces are inspired by a wide variety of subjects, including: the Vietnam War; the infamous Attica Prison riots; the development of a groovy bass line; and the antics of catnip-fueled cats.”
- Douglas Crockwell, The Storyteller
- Vittorio Reggianini, The Storyteller
- Vittorio Reggianini, A Captive Audience
- Scott Gustafson, The Storyteller
- Franz Defregger, Storytelling
One time Tom sent a boy to run about town with a blazing stick, which he called a slogan (which was the sign for the Gang to get together), and then he said he had got secret news by his spies that next day a whole parcel of Spanish merchants and rich A-rabs was going to camp in Cave Hollow with two hundred elephants, and six hundred camels, and over a thousand "sumter" mules, all loaded down with di'monds, and they didn't have only a guard of four hundred soldiers, and so we would lay in ambuscade, as he called it, and kill the lot and scoop the things. He said we must slick up our swords and guns, and get ready. He never could go after even a turnip-cart but he must have the swords and guns all scoured up for it, though they was only lath and broomsticks, and you might scour at them till you rotted, and then they warn't worth a mouthful of ashes more than what they was before. I didn't believe we could lick such a crowd of Spaniards and A-rabs, but I wanted to see the camels and elephants, so I was on hand next day, Saturday, in the ambuscade; and when we got the word we rushed out of the woods and down the hill. But there warn't no Spaniards and A-rabs, and there warn't no camels nor no elephants. It warn't anything but a Sunday-school picnic, and only a primer-class at that. We busted it up, and chased the children up the hollow; but we never got anything but some doughnuts and jam, though Ben Rogers got a rag doll, and Jo Harper got a hymn-book and a tract; and then the teacher charged in, and made us drop everything and cut. I didn't see no di'monds, and I told Tom Sawyer so. He said there was loads of them there, anyway; and he said there was A-rabs there, too, and elephants and things. I said, why couldn't we see them, then? He said if I warn't so ignorant, but had read a book called Don Quixote, I would know without asking. He said it was all done by enchantment. He said there was hundreds of soldiers there, and elephants and treasure, and so on, but we had enemies which he called magicians; and they had turned the whole thing into an infant Sunday-school, just out of spite. I said, all right; then the thing for us to do was to go for the magicians. Tom Sawyer said I was a numskull. [Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1906), Chapter III, “We Ambuscade the A-rabs”.]
- Patrick Flanery, I Am No One: A Novel (Tim Duggan Books, 2016): “ . . . we find a writer standing on the border between the immediate and the allegorical, the personal and the political, the thriller and the novel of ideas, glancing in several directions at once. It raises the enticing question of where Flanery’s bold imagination will choose to transport us to next.”
- Rudy Namdar, The Ruined House: A Novel (Harper, 2017): “ . . . a masterpiece of modern religious literature, exactly as deep, disturbing and unresolved as is necessary to remind us, habituated as we are to the shallows of contemporary Jewish life, what still lurks beneath — primitive, raw and exacting.”
- Lydia Millet, A Children’s Bible: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020): in this novel about our foundational myths, the title is “a clever self-undercutting that suggests an all-encompassing theory of everything while also promising simplicity, reduced scale, even a certain bowdlerizing.”
From the dark side: whoever controls the past controls the future.
- Gina Apostol, Insurrecto: A Novel (Soho Press, 2018): “The novel’s structure reflects how history comes at us in scattered shards, the way voices are amplified or silenced, story lines invented or forgotten.”
Film and Stage
- The Grand Budapest Hotel, telling a story largely through visual images
- The Stories We Tell, about a woman who drew the attention of everyone around her