On stories by firelight

Yesterday I wrote about how I thought that in A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin portrayed her view that books, and words, are not as strong as experiencing real life. However, reading The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, I think that the author of this book sees life differently. The Silver Sword tells the story of three siblings at the end of World War Two, who are traipsing through Europe trying to find their parents. He writes of the refugee life, walking down endless roads, and stopping at night in the middle of nowhere, huddling by fires to keep warm.

Round the fireside, he tells, ‘It was the hour of the singer and the story-teller. While they all shared what little food they had, a young man sang and his wife accompanied him on the guitar. He song of the storks that every spring fly back from Egypt to Poland’s countryside, and of the villagers that welcome them by placing cart-wheels on the treetops and the chimney stacks for the storks to build their nests on. A printer from Cracow told the tale of Krakus who killed the dragon, and of Krakus’s daughter who refused to marry a German prince. Others, laughing and making light of their experiences, told of miraculous escapes from the Nazis.’

To me, this does not seem like stories and words pale compared to the real world. Stories form a connection between people, between communities. Stories may not be real, but they make life more bearable. Perhaps some of those refugees are using stories and songs to remove them from reality, maybe some of them are using stories to ease reality, or to understand reality a bit better. Either way, by telling stories, singing songs, sharing, these people are able to form their own little community, their own little world. Stories, in this case, do not distance us from the world; it draws us closer to the people in it. And this, Ursula Le Guin, seems worthwhile.

While I don’t have people telling me stories or singing me songs by firelight, and, probably, not many people nowadays do, I can still feel that special spark of being apart of something, of hearing or seeing a special story, sometimes. Like in the cinema, when you are surrounded by strangers, but you hear everyone gasp or laugh around you at the same time. You feel somewhat like kindred spirits with these people. Or in the theatre, when you applaud a great play. During that applause, it doesn’t matter that you don’t know anyone around you. Somehow, you understand each other. You are a community. Stories build communities.



  1. So true, wonderfully written 🙂

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