Noted fantasy, science fiction, and screenplay author Neil Gaimen has said countless times in interviews that the importance of storytelling to humanity is of upmost interest to him, as a storyteller himself, and believes this importance is what drives us as a whole to create stories to further add to the collective mythos of our time.
Gaimen cites a story told to him by his cousin Helen, who at the time was in her nineties, and had been a captive of the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. Reading was punishable by death in concentration camps, and being found with a contraband book was an executable offense. Never-the-less, cousin Helen had obtained a copy of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ which she would spend four hours a night trying to memorize so that she could recite it the following day to the other women forced into sewing duties at the camp. This story kept morale up, and kept these women alive until the Third Reich fell, and they were set free to live their lives once more. Upon hearing this tale, Gaimen says he has never felt more humbled to be a storyteller and provide people with words that make up the tales that may keep them alive in the direst of circumstances. So, just what makes storytelling of such vast importance to humanity as a species and why is it so powerful?
Stories have always served as a link to the overarching human condition and allow us to connect with ideas and truths on a variety of levels, from the self to the universal. Stories serve to put their characters into situations that allow us to live vicariously and develop our outlooks and morals based on the thoughts, actions, and ideas, of our favorite authors and narratives. Furthermore, research has shown our very base thought processes are subtly tied together through a continuing story. We inherently give meaning to our lives and actions, and those of others, through a story. Thus, it can be argued that storytelling, stories, and our links to them are the very literal basis for everything we do, from how we explain simple, to complex, actions, and develop decisions, to how we communicate, understand our own motivations in life, and how we understand our place in life and the world, and those of others.
Often times, storytellers define the very process of being human, and allow us to connect with ourselves, our emotions, our mortality, and that of everyone around us, in ways that we had never considered before. Our brains are wired to understand stories not unlike how we view instructions or diagrams, meaning we process the narratives of stories as real events, which can elicit an emotional response, a sense of presence, and a change in mood. Stories very literally allow us to experience our own humanity in a way that only humans are wired. With this perspective in focus, it should be easy to understand just why storytelling is so compelling, and important to us, and why it would drive those who risked their lives only to hear a narrative of which they could take part.