Why Do We Love Stories?

The Importance of Storytelling

Author/Editor: Jennifer J. Lacelle
July 14, 2021

One of the more famous authors of fables is Aesop, who’s earliest record of writing is in the 4th Century BCE. Although, there is some speculation that he retold stories already created and he simply became the famous one.

It’s thought that his fables were meant to be statements about social and political criticisms, rather than children’s stories — which they quickly became. Consider the tortoise and the hare, it created the saying, ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ You can consider the fable a lesson on patience and that arrogance is a downfall.  

As time progressed, the Medieval era developed more of their own stories to tell. In the 17th Century, Jean de La Fontaine wrote much about human nature, eventually evolving into satire about the church, bureaucrats, and the elite.

Fast forward to the last century and you’ll see that authors have continued to regale us with legends, prose, short stories, tales and novels with strong themes about fighting for justice, human folly, freedom and liberation, or statements about society, morals and ethics.

Nine out of ten of the following books became so popular that they have been adapted for television or movies since their publication.

  1. Published 1949, George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four
  2. Published 1952, Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man
  3. Published 1954, J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
  4. Published 1982, Alice Walker: The Color Purple
  5. Published 1985, Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
  6. Published 1994, Lois Lowry: The Giver
  7. Published 2004, Markus Zusak: The Book Thief
  8. Published 2011, Veronica Roth: Divergent
  9. Published 2011, Kathryn Stockett: The Help
  10. Published 2012, Leigh Bardugo: Shadow and Bone

Why Do We Love Fiction?

What makes these stories so popular, and why is it so easy to remember them? The storytelling structure of start, middle and conclusion is actually easier to recall than standard, dry paragraphs pertaining to facts.

As for popularity, there are a number of reasons these books have continued to garner interest.

One: Relatability 

It’s easier to feel like you’re a part of that world when characters are relatable, or you see parts of yourself in the characters.

Many of these novels have every day, ordinary characters that are placed in situations they didn’t expect. Take, for example, Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings. He grew up hearing stories about his uncle’s adventures, but never actually left the Shire until he was forced to go on his own journey.

He’s relatable because at some point, everyone takes their own journey into the unknown.

Two: Emotions

Unlike most non-fiction, novels are meant to evoke emotion and mental imagery. This alone helps preserve memory retention, especially since people remember more about how they feel than actual words.

The Color Purple is the emotional, physical and mental struggle one woman faces throughout her life. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride that’s written, and designed, to make the reader feel, and that’s exactly what it did. Because it’s about abuse, which many people endure in real life, it’s going to deliver a stronger level of emotion.

When looking at The Book Thief, there’s a massive sense of grief, fear and pain woven into the story. Given that it’s about the Holocaust and the main character is a child, it’s bound to evoke a great deal of emotion. More terror erupts when they begin hiding a Jewish boy. Anyone who knows world history is aware that those found helping Jews could be put to death by Nazi Germany.

The combination of factual history and fictional storytelling weaves an intricate tale that is designed to make you emotional, which you will remember.

Three: Justice

People have an innate drive for freedom and justice. Most people cheer for the hero to win at the end; the bad guy must be stopped and good must prevail!

In almost every book in that list, there’s a battle raging between right and wrong; good and evil; or control for power over corruption.

Shadow and Bone is an excellent representation of the battle between good and evil. A young woman represents the good in humanity by having the power of the sun while literal darkness splits and destroys the country. It’s the ultimate fight between the metamorphic terms light and dark for good and evil.

Freedom and justice are things that society highly values, which is why watching characters fight against oppressors and corruption is so satisfying. Divergent, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Giver are prime examples of the need to overcome corruption and power.

All of these showcase characters who are repressed by the government, or governing officials, who are doing more harm than good to their citizens.

Four: Society

Invisible Man and The Help discuss the way society was designed and the social norms of their time. These are stories about black protagonists who want, and deserve, more than they’ve received from society.

To provide a little history on the matter, the British Empire abolished slavery in 1834, though many areas of Canada had already made the move in 1793 (Anti-slavery Act). In the United States of America, slavery wasn’t abolished until 1865. Despite that, it would be another century before segregation was removed in the US (1964). That means it’s only been 57 years (as of 2021) that black people were permitted to use the same water fountains, libraries, schools, etc. as white people.

This means both of these stories, despite being released 59 years apart, have a solid foundation on the societal norms that are still widely remembered by people who endured those specific eras. This makes the books relatable, and important reflections of society, as the characters fight for their rights and freedoms as human beings.

Stories are important because it forces the audience to think, to remember, to embrace the truth, to inspire change and to create waves. That is why people enjoy stories and that is why literature is so important. In the end, these simple factors influence the reasons why we love the books we read.

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