‘I’m telling you stories, trust me’
This is a recurring sentence in my favourite book: The Passion, written by Jeanette Winterson. It’s a surreal tale, full of magic, metaphors, and parables. The story tells us about Henri, Napoleon’s cook. And about Villanelle a Venetian gondolier’s daughter. The book is set in a world where the miraculous and the mundane coincide, in a dreamlike story. Nothing is real, yet everything is true.
The sentence: ‘I’m telling you stories, trust me’, made me aware of the importance of narratives. And also about the value of the tales in my own mind. Without stories we are lost, we can’t map out our history, we have no concept about our lives, we neither shape ourselves nor our reality. In one sentence Winterson sums it up for me: a story can be totally made up and carry incredible truth at the same time. Sometimes fantasy and nonsense are the best aides to find verity in reality.
Duck, Death, and the Tulip
Today I thought back to that sentence as I flipped through my new book: Duck, Death, and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch. It is about Duck who one day realizes that Death is following her. ‘Good, said Death, you finally noticed me.’ At first, Duck is afraid of Death, but they gradually become friends, and eventually, Duck dies in Death’s arms.
Death is an endearing character in this book. He wears a cute little chequered dress, his head is a somehow friendly, little skull. He doesn’t know what happens to us when die, either. After Duck has died, Death stays with her for a while and strokes a few rumpled feathers back in place. He then carries Duck to the river, where she floats away while Death watches her until she is lost to sight.
A big theme and a deep truth, so cleverly wrapped up in a beautiful children’s book. Death is always around. We usually don’t notice him. Death seems scary, but when someone is suffering, Death can also become a friend. We all die but nobody knows what it’s like. All that we can rely on are our stories.
We need stories to understand life
Stories are necessary to understand and cope with life and death. Sometimes we need to retreat from everyday reality in order to better understand our lives. It’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years since the start of humanity. We tell stories. Therefore we need books and art and songs and poetry and films to preserve our tales. And most importantly, we need great storytellers like Winterson and Erlbruch.
Ps: Wolf Erlbruch made the illustrations to ‘The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business’. Obviously, you can learn very deep life lessons from that story, too 😉 .