Strange and terrible stories

Around the age of two and a half my twins discovered stories. At the same time I discovered the power stories had over them. It started with Goldilocks. The naughty little girl, the bear family, the repetition, the danger – I could not retell it often enough for them, always with the same cadence and gestures. They were hooked and stories like these got me over plenty of sticky moments, especially while travelling, when they were restless or bored.

By the age of four the girls were regularly demanding made-up stories. These they preferred to books, because they could be made to order and they lasted longer! The request was always the same. It should be about a little girl or animal, or both. One twin would demand that something “strange” and “terrible” had to happen, while her sister would modify this with “but not too terrible”.

So began a series of strange and terrible stories, usually involving the diminutive protagonist getting into some kind of danger herself, or rescuing an animal from danger. I got tired of this formula long before the children did. One story I told them about a Neanderthal family made a big impression. What really got them was that the people had not developed language yet and communicated by grunts, tone and sign language. Language truly is the greatest gift of our species.

This craving for stories stays with us for life. We meet friends and family to swap stories; we read books, watch films, follow television series. The news media are also part of the great storytelling tradition. These sources are all feeding the same need, which goes far beyond entertainment. We seek out stories to make sense of the world, to understand ourselves and others, to explore our worst fears and greatest hopes. Long live strange and terrible stories!

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