lessons from storyteller

This week on Lessons From My Bookshelf: Storyteller by Edward Myers! Growing up, this was one of my favorite books. I picked it up semi-randomly at the library and loved it so much that I used an Amazon giftcard to buy it for–I swear to God–one cent. I have no idea if it was a typo or what, but unless I’m just totally imagining this, I paid one cent for a hardcover copy of this book.

Maybe it’s an elaborate metaphor for the priceless nature of stories. *cue sparkly magic noise*

[HERE’S THE VIDEO VERSION!!! LIKE. COMMENT. SUBSCRIBE.]

 

In the sixth grade, I wrote a book report on Storyteller. (Dang, should’ve just copy-pasted that as my blog post! I’m sure it totally doesn’t sound like a twelve-year-old wrote it…) And because I’m, well, me, I actually emailed it to the author, Edward Myers. God bless the man, he wrote me back and told me it was good.

And then, we emailed back and forth a little about how to become a writer, emails that I still have to this day. I’ve actually never forgotten about it and consider his words to be an inspiration.

Mr. Myers, wherever you are, I tip my proverbial hat to you!

Myers has written twenty-two books for adults, young adults, and children. He’s actually well-known for his non-fiction bereavement guide, When Parents Die. Hey, someone had to write it. And according to his website, he currently works as a project consultant for writers, which is pretty cool! Maybe I should hit him up…

Storyteller is actually tonally similar to The Tale of Despereaux for two reasons: it’s fairytale-esque and takes place in a medieval-y fantasy world, and it’s a story within a story. With Despereaux, you’re literally being told a story, but it’s never really clear who the narrator is. In Storyteller, you’re actually listening to a story being told told by a grandfather to his grandson, kind of like in Princess Bride. The grandson will occasionally interject with a question, but it’s really distinguishable from the rest of the story.

So Storyteller is about a farm boy named Jack who has a talent for telling stories. He decides to set off and seek his fortune in the royal city, where he gets swept up into the king’s court and falls in love with the princess, Stelinda. Just when the king (who’s mentally checked out because his wife died) is starting to come around and be a king again, he dies mysteriously, and a court conspiracy makes his youngest son, a twelve-year-old possibly psychopathic brat named Yoss, the next king. He makes Jack and Stelinda go around the kingdom telling stories of his “greatness,” but Jack and the princess plot to undermine him with lies… with mixed results.

I think this is a great fairytale. It’s kind of meta, because it’s a story about a storyteller, but if you think about it, it’s not a perspective you see very often. And so it kind of has a way of commenting on the storytelling process in a way that other fairytales don’t.

First, for obvious reasons, a lot of the scenes revolve around the craft of storytelling: how they’re thought up, when they’re told, who they’re told to, etc. And one of the most interesting things is that like 90% of the time, the stories Jack tells are actually true. And the idea–Jack’s philosophy, I guess–is that the truth is the most powerful story you can tell. He also believes that stories should serve a purpose, which becomes a point of tension between him and this evil illusionist named Zephyrio, who believes that people are dumb and just want to be entertained and distracted from their problems. The illusionist ends up kind of right in some ways, but also wrong. It’s an interestingly complex message.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a good fairytale and has an interest in stories that are kind of meta. I think the theme is very strong throughout and it raises a lot of interesting questions about the nature of stories and art in general, really. There isn’t a lot of action, but that never bothered me–it has a lot of dialogue, which I love, and some pretty solid character development. Jack gets a real solid wake-up call by the end which keeps him from just seeming like a character who’s there to witness and record events. He’s actually the center of the conflict and his choices impact the story in really important ways. It’s kind of a “truth is stranger than fiction” thing. The teller becomes the tale. But don’t take my word for it–go read it!

 

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