January 27, 2013, by Stephen Mumford
Storytelling is a wonderful thing. While it serves no practical purpose it is something that takes our disposable income, for novels, films, plays and comic books. And we all have stories of our own, from favourite anecdotes brought out at family gatherings to the more serious narrative we construct about our lives as a whole. Is storytelling a deep-seated human need? Very often it is the most important part of a culture to be preserved through the ages, as Nordic saga did, along with myths and legends of the classical age. I am hoping to get more insight into the importance of storytelling in civilisation from National Storytelling Week, being promoted by the Society for Storytelling.
Here is my own little contribution. A week ago I was walking in the snow with my 12-year old, Oliver, taking him to his friend’s for a sleepover. Walking is a great opportunity for talking and we ran through a variety of random subjects. Kids are great at letting their imaginations roam freely.
‘Dad, what if you woke up as a slug?’ came a question, seemingly from nowhere. But I’ve learnt from experience bringing up children that you just have to go with it. ‘Would you just immediately throw yourself into some salt to kill yourself?’
Now that is a difficult question. If I were somehow transformed into a slug, from being a human, I might indeed think it was not worth going on with life. But real slugs, I take it, have no conception of a better life and thus harbour no silly suicidal thoughts. So I didn’t know for sure the answer to his question but it was probably no.
‘But what if you dreamed you were a slug’, was his next question, ‘and knew of a better life as a philosophy professor?’ Sure, it wouldn’t make much sense to be such a former-philosopher slug, but nonsense often does seem to make perfect sense while you are still in the dream.
Now we were both getting interested in the scenario. What would a philosopher think about as a slug? Then I wanted to add a further twist to the story. ‘How do I know’, I queried, ‘that I am not now already a slug; but one that is dreaming he is professor of philosophy?’
And thus was born the story of Professor Slug. As we completed the journey, we added more and more detail to the story of this unusual professor. Gradually he became a well-respected researcher and teacher at a leading university: a slug delivering his lectures in miniature academic robes.
I dropped Ollie off at his friend’s house but when I collected him the next morning the first thing we wanted to talk about was Professor Slug and some of his amazing subsequent adventures. Another possibility was that he was indeed no more than dreaming of being a philosopher but used the knowledge he gained from his dreams to teach all the other slugs about philosophy.
Professor Slug occupied all our return journey and has now being added to the family pantheon of fictional characters. He enriched our lives for those fleeting moments, bringing us together in construction of a fun little story while walking in the snow. It is activities such as storytelling that make life worth living. And I have just enjoyed telling you this story: the story of the story of Professor Slug.