Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Power of the Story

Late last August, I borrowed a copy of the new mini-series/telefilm The Witches of Oz, which is a different spin on L. Frank Baum's well-known fantasy novel, from my local library.  I'd only seen one review of the film, and it was largely negative and quite critical; still, I often find that I like the much-maligned movies.  Leap Year, a rom-com starring Amy Adams and largely set in Ireland, was quite despised by the critics, but it actually ranks as one of my favorite films.  I started watching The Witches of Oz one Saturday afternoon, and took a break after about forty-five minutes or so, which is what I usually do with movies, especially three-hour flicks like that one.  After getting home from Sunday church services the next evening, I sat down and planned to watch a little bit of it...and ended up seeing the entire remainder, even staying up past midnight to do so, which is something I rarely do for any reason.  Usually, at midnight, I'm either asleep or I desperately want to be, so for a movie to keep me glued to my seat that late, it must be really good.
However, by normal standards, The Witches of Oz wasn't that good.  The special effects were quite hokey, and the acting failed at times.  Sure, the objectionable content stayed within "PG" boundaries, but I grew up in the 90's, when bad special effects just weren't acceptable for anything not called Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.  So, then, why did The Witches of Oz have that effect on me? Two words: The story.  Despite the cheesiness and sub-par acting, the three-hour flick spun a gripping yarn that kept me wondering what would happen next, and made me want to sit there to find out.
You know what, though? In some ways, that's been the case for me for quite a while.  I've always been a sucker for a good story, and usually want to see it through to the end no matter what.  In third grade, our teacher read us a book over the course of several days called The Grand Escape, about two talking cats who leave their home in search of adventure.  As a feline lover, I enjoyed the story, but, after the teacher began another novel, I couldn't remember how the story ended.  Years later--that is, after finishing college--I randomly thought of it and started searching my local library for it, only to find it by complete accident while volunteering there.  I started from the beginning, and, when I got to the end, I thought, I definitely don't remember that!
Other stories have had similar effects.  Sarah's Choice, a pro-life film starring Rebecca St. James, nearly moved me to tears.  Good Burger made me want a nice, juicy cheeseburger after watching it.  A telefilm version of Alice in Wonderland made me want to read the original Lewis Carroll novel and its sequel.  Ramona and Beezus made me want to stand up and cheer.  The "Meet the Seavers" episode of Growing Pains, which is the ultimate self-parody, made me laugh out loud and stuck with me for many years after only one viewing.  Mork and Mindy helped me understand the way the world really works, which I can be just as clueless about as that Orkan was.  In fact, just look at this blog; how many posts have I made that didn't tell or retell some sort of story? Whether real or fictional, a story can inform or entertain people in a way that an explanation just can't.  Even Jesus knew that; why do you think he used parables to illustrate His concepts? You can even find similar analogies in the Old Testament; in Judges 9:7-19, Jotham uses a fable of sorts to tell the people why they didn't want Abimelech as their leader, and Nathan the prophet uses a hypothetical situation to show King David his wrongdoing in 2 Samuel 12:1-4.  The old English teachers' maxim is, "Show, don't tell," and there's no better way to show something than via a story.
In closing, I will say this: There's an old joke that says, "Why is the library the tallest building in the city? It has the most stories."  Between books, movies, television shows, video/computer games, comic books/strips, online writings, and even some songs/albums, stories are everywhere these days.  I know that I won't be able to experience every single one of them, and, frankly, I shouldn't; Ephesians 5:4 (NLT) says, "Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you."  Still, there are plenty of tales that do not fall into that category, and I seek them out.  For me, there's just nothing like a good story; if done right, it can keep me up past midnight or make me wonder for over a decade, and there's not much else that can do either.
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