May 17, 2018

Curious Season 7 – Storytelling

In the third talk of this Curious season, we’re looking into storytelling as a means of populating culture. Stories, fables, and fairy tales are as much a part of the human condition as eating and breathing, effectively distinguishing us from our simian cousins and helping us make sense of the complex world around us. Jonathan Gottschall, in his book The Storytelling Animal, argued that human beings are natural storytellers – that they turn things that aren’t actually stories back into stories, simply because they understand and enjoy the narrative structure. Most major world religions are founded on stories, while world history, instead of always being an impartial record, is often shaped and plotted at the discretion of the victor.

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Image Source: Spectator

While we all tend to spend a fair amount of our time telling one another stories, some of us are undoubtedly better at spinning yarns than others! There are many reasons for this, but one of the most significant is the ability of some individuals to create a world that remains relevant and relatable beyond their own epoch. This blog takes a look at some of the storytellers of yesteryear who’s work has stood the test of time and continues to bubble away in the melting pot of popular culture.

JRR Tolkien is best known for his trilogy the Lord of the Rings, alongside other books such as the Hobbit and the Silmarillion in which he chronicles the heroes of the fictional land of Middle-Earth. He created Middle-Earth as a setting for stories he made up to tell to his children at bedtime, and documented its workings in painstaking detail, even going as far as to create its own language! The lore of Middle-Earth has influenced a slew of fantasy writers since its inception and clearly some advertising creatives too… see Air NewZealand and the Golem inspired Pringles effort below!

 

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However, Tolkien was not the first fantasy author to build a substantial fictional world that would ultimately reverberate around ours. The Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, drawing heavily from German folklore, wrote many of our best-known and best-loved fairytales. These stories are some of the first that people hear as they grow up, and serve to teach us important lessons, whether about being good and decent in the face of adversity (Cinderella) or being wary of generous strangers  (Hansel and Gretel). Disney have taken these stories and transformed them, sometimes multiple times, giving the moral of the story a fresh twist for each new generation. Advertisers haven’t been too far behind either, with Debenhams giving the Cinderella story a reboot for their 2017 Christmas spot.

 

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Image Source: The Mirror

 

While Tolkien and the Brothers Grimm both created mythical worlds through countless tales – some authors only need a single novel in which to create an alternate reality. One prominent example of this is George Orwell, who in his infamous book 1984 created the world of Airstrip One operating under the rule of the all-knowing, all-powerful Big Brother. The book has entered popular culture to the extent that Room 101, the Thought Police and the adjective Orwellian are all enough to conjure up images of a terrifying dystopia. One of the most famous ads of all time, Apple’s 1984 Superbowl commercial, played directly on Orwell’s tropes, and created a compelling narrative for a challenger brand looking to shatter the status quo of IBM’s dominance.

 

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Image Source: Business Insider

 

Keen to learn more about storytelling and its role in populating culture? Join us next Thursday (May 24th) when we’ll be hearing from the good folk at Good Relations, the Guardian, Preloaded and Brave Bison. Until then, stay Curious!

 

 

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