Of Storytellers and Mastodon Bones

Caroline Bonarde Ucci via Wiki Commons

I’ve always admired Russell Crowe as an actor. (I don’t do celebrity gossip, don’t care if he’s a jerk, I’m talking talent here.)

When he received a 2002 Screen Actor’s Guild Award, he had this to say:
“You know, I’m a storyteller. We are storytellers. And ours is an ancient tradition, contemporized by the cinema and the capturing of light. And we should all be very proud of our place in society. On any given night, millions of people across the world buy a ticket for adventures that only we as storytellers can provide. We release burdens, we galvanize emotions, we make people laugh, we make people talk over breakfast. This is a great job and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story. God bless narrative. God bless originality.”

I’m with him. He’s speaking, obviously, of films, but it applies to books just as much. Perhaps, in some ways, even more. Or at least, differently. Because we tell the story in a way that requires the participation of the reader. They must activate their own mind and imagination to process the words we present into the story being told. You can’t read and do anything else, except maybe—and dangerously–eat. (Well, I can read and knit, but that’s another story.) At least, not with any amount of concentration.

There’s an old tale about the origin of storytelling. When primitive men returned from the mastodon hunt, and gathered around the fire, someone would tell the tale of the hunt. In great, exciting, bloody detail, he would relate exactly what happened. Was he the first storyteller? No. The first storyteller was the guy who stood up next and told the tale of the one that got away and the hunt that might have been. The one who first used his imagination to build events that didn’t really happen, but seemed as if they could have. The one who created, in his listener’s minds, broader horizons, more amazing creatures, and more heroic hunters.

There’s been some resistance, indicated by lack of success or expansion of the idea, to enhanced e-books. And a lot of speculation about why. My theory is that it’s because they are two different processes. If you want a visual experience, you watch TV or a movie. If you want to read a story, you want to read a story. You want to visualize those characters in your mind in your own way, not that of a casting agency. (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? Seriously??) You want to picture the surroundings in your own way, perhaps furnishing it with things that are in your own experience, imagining that that painting of a landscape on the wall of a character’s home is very like the one on your own wall. The connections in reading occur on many levels, perhaps simply because we are one human being telling a story to another. We may not have a lot in common, but the connection is made for that simple reason—we are all human beings, and we share the joy and the pain that that brings.

Do you find this true? Are you sometimes in the mood only to watch, and sometimes find only reading will do? And if you’re a Lee Child/Jack Reacher fan, who would YOU have cast? (I have my choice, and I promise he would have been a much better fit!)

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6 thoughts on “Of Storytellers and Mastodon Bones

  1. Trish Jensen says:

    I can “read” and drive at the same time! Only my reading is admittedly listening to audio books. I can “read while cleaning, doing laundry and dishes. All I need are the headphones and a pocket to place my iPod. 🙂

    That’s where audio kicks butt over books or movies.

    Trish, who cannot stand Russell Crowe as a human being, but hey, that message brought him up a couple of notches in the brain dept.

    Except, you know, he didn’t write a word of those beautiful stories. He memorized the scripts and did a good job acting them out. Quibbles here and there, I know. 🙂

    • Hi, Trish,

      If I really want to read a book, I can’t do audio. For me, it’s a completely different process, and one I have little luck with. I can listen to other informational things, and I’ve done the Harry Potters because Jim Dale was so amazing, but that I only managed because I’ve already read the books. Yet I can knit and read at the same time, no problem, and I’m a chronic multi-tasker, so I don’t get it. Just the way my brain is wired.

      As I said, I know little about Crowe as a person, other than he has (or had, I did hear he’d mellowed a bit–good woman and all) anger problems, but I admire his work, which is all I was talking about, hence the disclaimer. And personally, I took his “God bless narrative” as a tribute to us all.

  2. Sharyn says:

    No, I certainly can’t picture Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher…but I couldn’t picture Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, either, and he aced it. I’ll give Cruise the benefit of the doubt until I see the movie. 😉

    • Hi, Sharyn, thanks for stopping by. I think my big (pun, sadly, intended) problem with it is that size is such a huge (no way to avoid it here, sorry) part of who Reacher is. It’s so woven into his psyche in the books, he’s so very aware of it and how he intimidates people just by breathing. But as you say, we’ll see. Cruise wouldn’t be the first guy who can play bigger than he is. 😉

  3. Diane Flindt says:

    Liam Neeson for Reacher – big, shaggy, shambling, and so much more capable than he looks. And he’s mastered the hard stare.

    • Oh, I like that idea. Liam would make an excellent Reacher! That might even be a match for my choice, Jim Caviezel in his Person of Interest mode. Too bad they didn’t ask us, huh? Thanks for stopping by, Diane.

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