WASHINGTON, PA (April 4, 2012)—It’s a story about stories, a new book about human beings’ need to tell tales and immerse themselves in a world of fantasy and make-believe.
In The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, author Jonathan Gottschall, adjunct English professor at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J), argues that human beings never outgrow a need to tell stories, and that stories are a way of rehearsing life’s complex social problems.
“We spend more time in story telling that anywhere else. Gottschall said. “Dreams, literature, fantasy, music, television—these and other forms of storytelling really saturate our lives.”
The idea for the book, Gottschall explains, occurred to him while he was listening to a country music song while driving (Chuck Wicks’ “Stealing Cinderella”). The song, or story, is about a young man asking for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage. The father makes the young man wait in the living room, where he sees pictures of his girlfriend as a child (“she was playing Cinderella/she was riding her first bike”). And the young man realizes he is taking something precious from the father—he is stealing Cinderella. A father of two daughters himself, Gottschall broke down and cried.
“How bizarre it is that when we experience a story, whether in a book, a film, or a song, we allow ourselves to be invaded by the teller? This book uses insights from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to try to understand what happened to me on that bright fall day,” Gottschall writes in the preface to the book.
At the heart of the book, Gottschall tries to explain humanity’s attraction to the imaginative realm he calls Neverland. “Why are humans addicted to Neverland? How did we become the storytelling animal?”
Gottschall looks at dreams, religion and children’s pretend play as he examines different types of stories.
“People have an appetite for stories, for consuming them, for telling them. It’s part of what makes human beings special, part of what sets us apart.” he said.
Gottschall also investigates how stories are built around conflict and how in Neverland, human beings tend to be attracted to unpleasant things, to threats and problems.
“Only humans tell stories. Story sets us apart. For humans, story is like gravity: a field of force that surrounds us and influences all of our movements. But, like gravity, story is so omnipresent that we are hardly aware of how it shapes our lives. I wanted to know what science could tell us about humanity’s strange, ardent love affair with story,” he added.
The book is available and has already received a number of rave reviews, including one in O Magazine. For more information, listen to Gottschall discuss his book with the campus community or visit www.jonathangottschall.com.