The Power of Stories

The First Map of KY - John Filson, 1784

In Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s first volume of the graphic novel The Unwritten, the protagonist unearths his father’s map, which has been hidden away. The map is rather atypical – in addition to detailing geographical locations, the map has notes describing where stories were created. For example, the Villa Diodati, where Lord Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley, and John Polidori stayed in the summer of 1816, is marked on the map. Percy Shelley is well-known today as a major Romantic poet, and Lord Byron also contributed strongly to the Romantic literary movement. But in this particular location, Mary Shelley created her own literary magic by dreaming up Frankenstein. Polidori also thought of the idea for The Vampyre, which would influence the author Bram Stoker to create his own vampire, Dracula.

One of the themes running through The Unwritten is that stories have power, and they resonate beyond the bounds of the page. Strong literary creations affect the reader in strange and wonderful ways. The Unwritten posits that there is significant power generated in a geographical spot, by creating a strong character such as Frankenstein’s monster, a creature that has lived a long life through readers’ imaginations. What that power means, what exactly the significance is – that remains to be seen in the series.

History, of course, is a progression of stories that “actually” happened. In other words, people at that place and time wrote down their perception of facts, as well as their opinions. Historians comb through what essentially are records of moments – newspapers, photographs, census records, journals. Historical textbooks, analyses, and biographies are based on these records. And historians trust that all of these records, created by a diverse range of people from the past, are “true.”

As a former English major and lifelong fiction-reader, I believe that the great stories of fiction hold their own truths, in terms of human behavior and shifts in society. How H.G. Wells characterized time travel, or Arthur Conan Doyle shaped his famous detective, has resonated in countless readers’ imaginations. Stories such as this continue to endure by being read and discussed, not by sitting on a shelf. It is the continuing engagement of people’s minds that is the key.

The truth of history is also important – how do we interpret someone’s diary entry? Is a newspaper account at the same time period relevant? And so the historian pieces together the truth of our past. The Filson is definitely one of the most invaluable resources in the area for this kind of work. For the historian, nothing is more precious than an original document, in order to ascertain more clearly what really happened – the truth of the actual moment.

 (For more information on The Unwritten, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unwritten.)

Filson Historical

2 comments on “The Power of Stories

  1. SJ Poindexter

    Amy, your post is lovely….and now I totally want to check out “The Unwritten”! Thanks for sharing this, and your eloquent thoughts on story crafting through a sense of place and time.

    Reply
  2. Jennie Cole

    Wonderful post about the historians/author’s craft and the truth – something I have tried to continuously keep a pulse on during my own work in history and archives. This is a great contribution to the blog!

    Reply

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