Quote on Story-telling by Dorothy L. Sayers (and Reflections)

It is easy enough for superior persons to scorn the story-teller’s art and patronise his unsophisticated audience. Story-telling (so they say, and I will not deny it) is a knack often possessed by very vulgar and illiterate writers; the eagerness to know ‘what happened next’ is (no doubt) a mark of the eternal child in us. … The good story-teller is born, not made, and this is perhaps the reason why his art is despised by the learned, for learning can neither bestow it nor account for it.

-Dorothy L. Sayers, in ‘The Eighth Bolgia’ as quoted in “Cred Without Chaos– Exploring Theology in the WRitings of Dorothy L. Sayers” by Laura K. Simmons (page 45).

I recall a class I took in college called “Modernist Literature.” I took the class back in the mid-1980s, so I don’t know how the term Modernist is used now, but back then the term seemed to mean a rejection of the normal rules of narrative— the art of story-telling. I recall reading an article written by an author in the Modernist movement who was doing a bit of soul-searching on paper. She seemed to be struggling with the fact that she has spent so long writing in a manner that rejects the rules of story-telling, she may have lost the ability to tell a regular story.

It is entirely possible, however, that she never had that ability. Telling stories that are engaging is difficult. This can be even more difficult when it comes religious writings where one is, hopefully, trying to be both creative/challenging and orthodox (or at least not clearly heterodox). I wonder at times whether preachers use the parables of Jesus not only because they are honoring the canonicity of Scripture, but also because of fear in creating stories to help people today understand the ineffable.

I have heard people speak with derision of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs (stories from Pellucidar, Mars, and Africa— all heavily fictionalized). I recall reading his stories where the first 20 or 30 pages were a bit slow and confusing— disparate story threads meandering around. Then suddenly they come together and I, as the reader, am pulled in. I have to know what happens. This is an art. I am not completely sure that Sayers is correct it is born, not made, but maybe it is. I certainly am not a storyteller. I try… but I don’t really have that gift.

Our faith needs storytellers— in various media forms. I watched “The Most Reluctant Convert”— This was a biopic on the life, or at least conversion experience, of C.S. Lewis. I enjoyed the movie well enough. It reminded me a LITLE bit of “Many Beautiful Things” on the life of the missionary Lilias Trotter. Both avoided a strict narrative structure. I am not sure if that helped or hut. With the film on Trotter, her water colors helped. With Lewis, I kind of think that the producers of the movie wanted too much to be didactic. Perhaps the movie “Luther” (on the life of Martin Luther) or even “Shadowlands” would have been a better choice.

Still, far too often, Christian media has shied away from the art of storytelling. I watched a movie recently— “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.” It is a very rough movie with some subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) religious themes. I would not call it a Christian movie. Still, I feel like the movie, with its strong storying could easily be reimagined as a faith journey.

I have put an article I wrote on storytelling on this site (it already exists elsewhere, and it is in the 2022 edition of “Bukal Life Journal.”) The Link is Below.

Theological Reflection through Storying in the Orality and Clinical Pastoral Training Movements