on stories

Stories live, especially when they are freed from the chains imposed on them by the written word. Even within those chains, there is freedom of movement. I have written two novels from the strange space of unknowing which grows around you when a story approaches and makes demands. I have had demands made of me by magical goldsmiths and pagan gods and black cats, and after a while you learn that there is nothing to do but open yourself up. There is nothing to do but be open.

–Paul Kingsnorth, Savage Gods

I will tell a story. I must tell a story. My greatgrandfather Timmy Cooney told stories. He walked and told stories. That’s what he did all his life. He couldn’t stop walking after the Hunger. He walked and walked. There are stories in the air as thick as birds around me, he would say. I will save those stories from starving, he would say. I have a great hunger for stories, he would say. He always walked west. That was his way. To the west was Tir na nOg, the Country of the Young, the Country of the Blessed, where no one ever grew old and no one ever was hungry. It was near to you when you heard bells, he would say. Some people said it was under a lake and some said a river but Timmy Cooney said it was under the great ocean to the west. Sometimes he saw it shimmering there. He would stand ar chostai, on the shore, and sing and tell stories. He said you could reach that country on the back of a white horse. You could live there for a hundred years and it would be the blink of an eye here. You could come back but woe to you if your foot touched the ground. You had to stay on the white horse. That horse would take you from one country to the other. It was a very good horse. There are more holy horses and holy countries than we will ever know, he would say. The way to find those countries is by telling stories. You can eat stories if you have to, he would say. A good story is a very good thing to eat. If you have a true story and some good water you will be all right, he would say. He would sit and listen to people for a long time without moving. He wanted to hear their true stories, he would say. If people die young their stories haven’t been told enough and there is no rest for them, he would say. Their stories are too hungry. I will save those stories from starving, he would say. Sometimes he would tell stories about stories. The stories of children are green, he would say, and the stories of women are blue, and the stories of men are red. You can walk right through a story on the road or in the woods and only hear one word from it, he would say. Or you can sit down inside a story and hear the whole story. Then the story is inside you. You can eat an infinite number of stories. No one can ever eat too many stories. When you have saved enough stories from starving then you will see Tir na nOg, the Country of the Blessed, where no one ever grows old and no one ever is hungry. Geabhaedh tu an sonas aer pighin, he would say, in that country you will find joys as common as pennies, as thick in the air as birds around you.

–the voice of Owen Cooney in Brian Doyle’s Mink River

Doyle has written some astounding lines about stories elsewhere, too, for example in The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World, but I do not have those in front of me now. There is still a world of Doyle to be explored, which is small consolation for the loss of the man and the stories he had yet to tell, but I will study what we have here and be grateful. I have a great hunger for stories.

Edit: After finishing this post, I came across this weird, delightful article about the stories Gabriel García Márquez carried around with him. I love collections and I love stories, and I love the weird and delightful, and I thought these belonged here.

4 Responses

  1. So nice to see someone singing Doyle’s praises. I’ve just finished Mink River and I’m in awe of this astounding storyteller. I’m sorry to hear there will be no further stories from him.

    • He was a great storyteller (among other things) and it’s a great loss. The consolation is that he wrote a good number of books – I have not read them all yet. There is a new collection forthcoming this fall, too.

  2. Thanks; wonderful choices, of course.

    And thanks also for the nice Marquez epilogue. Reading those remind me so much of another beloved Spanish-language author, Eduardo Galeano, who also collected stories he heard – attributed or not. In his case, he transformed many of them into evocative, one-page vignettes, prose poetry at its finest. For example, I enjoyed the recently published collection, “Hunter of Stories”.

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