Matron saint of storytellers: Scheherazade

So let’s take our journey into and through the world(s) of story-telling.

In the great comments under this post, you guys convinced me that we have to go about it differently than we did in our search for the greatest thinker (where I staged a mock contest, in which Patanjali narrowly edged out Darwin, after the early ejection of Hegel.) When it comes to story-telling, there can’t be a winner. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t discover a whole lot of things about story-telling!

So let’s turn things upside down and start by declaring, not a winner, but a matron saint of story-tellers:


Scheherazade must have been rather gifted at story-telling because that is how she saved her life!

A Persian king was livid at women everywhere (and who isn’t?) because his wife had cheated on him. He had her executed and then went one step further, to collective punishment. Every night he had himself one virgin, whom he then executed the next morning. This was not sustainable because he ran out of virgins. The vizier, who was in charge of managing supply issues, got nervous because now it was the turn of his own daughter: Scheherazade.

Scheherazade did not seem very concerned. She joined the king for her, ahem, night and then …. told him a story. Only, she left him hanging in the morning. How did the story end? The king wanted to know. So he didn’t kill her.

The same thing happened the next night. And the next night. Indeed for a total of (wait for it) One Thousand and One Nights. By that point, the king (in some versions he and Scheherazade are now papa and mama) pardoned Scheherazade permanently. The story had won.

The inevitability of story

So Scheherazade is exactly the metaphor that suits me in this post. Which is: story is life. Story is human. Story is inevitable. We cannot help ourselves. All we do is to tell stories.

A while ago I quoted Isabel Allende saying: “what’s truer than truth? Answer: The Story.” In the same post, I also quoted Dan McAdams, a psychologist who believes observes that even our identities are stories.

So today, let me just anoint Scheherazade and plant that thought. For the rest of the series, let’s all figure out what stories are, and why some are good and others not.

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