Tell Me a Story

Once upon a time, there were no stories.Story Time 2

Umm, what?

That’s right. It’s a ridiculous statement to make, because I can’t remember such a time.

If there ever was a true beginning of the world, then that was not it—no stories? No life!

No Bambi fleeing a burning forest.

No Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a wicked witch’s spindle.

No foot race with golden apples and—terror of terrors—a lovely young woman with a priceless wedding gift, and whose misuse of it is legendary.

It started so simply: “Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle,” “Hickory, dickory, dock!” “Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn,” “Little Bo Peep, lost her sheep…”

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail… and Peter.

And then Wynken, Blynken… and Nod. Just three dudes sailing off in a wooden shoe, “on a river of crystal light…” I could see it! I could imagine their crazy flight!

Story Time 1My maternal grandparents’ next-door neighbor, Ben Amie, had a daughter who used to read to me. I’ve since forgotten her name, but I’ll always recall her generosity (pictured above and at left, reading “Chicken Little” to me).

I loved being told a story, getting lost in the characters, and dreaming about distant places and other times.

Pawing through a copy of Grosset and Dunlap’s The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature brings back a lot of memories. The copy I have isn’t my original childhood book, but it is from that time.

So, I wonder, with all the poems, limericks, rhymes, and fairy tales, what was the first story I ever remember being told?

A few things come to mind.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “A Thought” reminds me, somewhat ironically, of the story of “Little Black Sambo,” who, after being taunted by and losing his fine clothes to a mean tiger, later recovers everything as the angry tigers chase each other around a tree so fast they turn into melted butter. I recall being surprised by such an odd transformation. Stevenson imagines a less traumatic world:

It is very nice to think
The world is full of meat and drink
With little children saying grace
In every Christian kind of place.

At my paternal grandfather’s Indiana farm, playing alone in the shimmering water of a creek, building dams with stones and hunting for twigs, Tennyson’s “Song of the Brook” easily could’ve been speaking just to me:

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

It got serious with Jack and the Beanstalk, wondering if young Jack would elude the terrible giant: “Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!”

Then it came fast and furious with the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen (a scene in the Danny Kaye film, about “The Ugly Duckling,” moved me to tears), and … Disney. Disney took it further.Story Time 3

The first, for me, was probably Sleeping Beauty. I loved the idea of everything frozen in time, just as it was—and then restored with only a kiss. But the wicked witch terrified me like nothing I’d seen before. The princess pricking her finger on the spinning wheel? My reaction was visceral. It shook me to my core.

On Feb. 22, 1965, a televised broadcast of “Cinderella,” starring Lesley Ann Warren, remains burned into my brain. Again, witches or evil step-sisters, there was something I needed to learn about how evil worked in the world, and about how good was forever at odds with it. Sometimes the stakes were so high that the story galvanized me, like the forest fire scene in Bambi.

Later, live-action movies came to the forefront, like The Swiss Family Robinson, or Dick van Dyke and Nancy Kwan in Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. I recall seeing Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines at a downtown Indianapolis theater, probably when it was released in the summer of 1965.

Guido_Reni_AtalantaBut the true beginning, I think, was the Greek and Roman myths I learned about through cartoons like Hercules, and this. I’ve tried to find an earlier cartoon of the myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes and the race with the Golden Apples, but couldn’t track it down on the Web.

Something about that story floored me, made me want to cheer for both Atalanta and Hippomenes. Maybe he would win her, but also she might overtake him, despite the golden apple ploy, and win the race.

I wasn’t sure. I needed to know.

And therein lies the beating heart of every great story: How will the story end?

Lastly, Pandora. She receives a gift on her wedding day, a beautiful ornate box she’s told not to open. In it the gods had placed all the evils of the world.Pandora

But I’d forgotten they had also placed something else, one thing that could not be removed: hope.

After Pandora peeks into the box, unleashing sorrow and evil into the world, it was the only thing that remained.

Like all the stories I’ve ever been told.

~ by completelyinthedark on September 5, 2014.

One Response to “Tell Me a Story”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Going through some soul-searching on my own stories and what matters as a new year begins. All-new post next Friday, so here’s an appetizer until then.


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