Last night I watched a Nat’l Geographic Special on Tolkien and some of the basis for his Ring Trilogy. It was very interesting it concluded that Tolkien’s own experiences in World Wars I and II, the growing mine industry’s invasion of his boyhood farm, a dying language in Finland, and Tolkien’s expertise with Beowulf played major roles in his stories. Tolkien on the other hand dismissed all of this and claimed to be simply writing a story. I thought about this, since I too am writing a story in the way of a novel. I also have heard say that all novels in some way are autobiographical – Conroy’s feelings for his father being an example.
I thought about this all last night and why stories carry such power. If it’s a good story we really want to know what’s coming next and how it ends. Even when we know the end. we read it or watch it again and again. Why do we read it or watch again? Perhaps it’s because essentially a good storyteller takes a series of events and turns them into a story, giving them form and direction, and making them become about the nature of life itself. A story teller helps us believe that life has meaning – that things just don’t happen by accident, and that there is purpose and order deep down inside and out. That they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere.
The power of stories is that each and every one of our lives is a story. This grips us and fascinates us because if there is meaning in Frodo’s or Sam’s life there is meaning in ours. We read, watch or listen to the story because the stories are about us, we identify with characters or events, and because of this we pay attention because it’s possible that the storyteller may give us a clue about what the meaning of our life is.