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At a lovely storytelling event a few days ago I sat around the campfire and ended up having, as you do, a conversation with a lovely woman who posed the question " Are there stories that just cannot be told- or which should not be told?" This conversation rambled and meandered over a couple of days and  came to also include several others.

In a nutshell it was a question about the darkness and the stories that tell of our human capacity for evil: About those dark shame-filled secret tales that can define a life and stay hidden away in the bottom of what Robert Bly describes as that long bag of secrets that we trail around with us everywhere we go.

My answer, and most of the others' also, was that all stories can be told- and it is especially the dark ones that need to see the light of day. Others mentioned war crime trials and how telling those stories were often healing for entire societies. 

Perhaps it is also about considering the message we want people to take away: Many traditional tales are very dark- like the traditional tale of Blue Beard- the old rich man who was a serial killer and murdered his young wives in the cellar of his castle as he tired of them. It is a tale that has had many interpretations and emphases, but I see it predominantly as a tale of warning. Many other traditional tales are similarly dark including the story of Hansel and Gretel...

So perhaps it's a question that goes beyond the telling of the tale - to also include what the take home message would be? Is it a tale of warning, hope, courage, compassion, resilience, survival? 

The other aspect of this question is about who owns a story? Once it is told the listener is given a version of the story which, as it shaped by that listener's own reference points and moral framework, can never be the original story. It is already a derivative- just as all art silently absorbs the meaning the recipient or audience chooses to place on it. So I would argue that once a story is told and released into the world - then the universal non- identifiable aspects of that story belong out in the world.


Once upon a time, in a place not so very far or different from here, in a time much like this time we live in now, there was a....


To say that some stories are so shameful or dark that they cannot be released out of the therapists' office is to say that there are some aspects of our shared humanity that we cannot face. And I think those are exactly the tales that need to be told- hideous and horrid as they are....

But perhaps those stories  that first get told on the therapist's couch are too alive and not yet complete - and we all know how unfinished stories are hard to tell with their wobbly nebulous shapeshifting forms slinking back inside the long bag of dark secrets. But those tales too can be told, pulled out into the open, examined and explored- and thus loose a lot of their grip and slimy slinky power.

Most stories have different endings depending on who tells them and to whom and what the occasion is... Often the idea that some sort of justice is meted out is enough to render a story complete and finished. In real life however the justice and completion element may not be present- it may not have happened yet or it may not happen that way. 

In the news today for example is a story about a young girl who was raped in broad daylight when she was 13 years old.  She was courageous and the perpetrator was rapidly caught and arrested - but there has been a delay and many false starts in bringing the case to trial and now the perpetrator has a job 10 meters from the girl's house so he can see her everyday which is traumatizing for the girl and her entire family. It is a tale that is clearly not yet complete... But in these cases the telling of it as a story, situated in a time and place that is also outside of our normal everyday time and space,  can be very healing. A story always moves between the worlds and between fiction and reality - the story can be told and  completed even if the reality is different... 

Stories, and especially perhaps the really dark stories, need to be told at a time and in a place where they can land - and that means an age appropriate setting- but that is the art and craft of story telling.   Once released a story lives its own life beyond the teller...

Illustration by Sergio Garcia Sanchez from ‘Blancaflor: A Folktale From Latin America.’ PHOTO: TOON BOOKS

Illustration by Sergio Garcia Sanchez from ‘Blancaflor: A Folktale From Latin America.’ PHOTO: TOON BOOKS

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