The Tale or the Teller

It is the tale, not he who tells it.

Conversely…

It is not the tale, but he who tells it.

The first quote comes right after the table of contents in Stephen King’s Different Seasons, and I’ve been thinking about it (and its opposite) for some time. After what I said about ideas, and how the same idea can manifest in totally different ways for different writers, my first impression is that it’s all about the teller, not the tale. The author brings his own experience into that fantasy novel, and because of that, it’s different from any other fantasy novel ever published. The teller makes the tale what it is. The Cuckoo’s Calling, which J.K. Rowling published under a pseudonym, did not achieve much success until she was revealed to be its author. That’s when people started to read and critique the book. Some Stephen King books would probably never be read if they were written by other authors; the plot of Carrie in the hands of someone else may not have had enough power to get anywhere or launch any careers. And some people read whatever they can find by a particular author, whether they care for the premise of the story or not.

But if you are one of those authors who is fortunate enough to have his works live on long after he’s dead, then it slowly becomes more about the tale itself and not the teller. We don’t know much about the life of Aesop, but we sure do know his fables. Similarly, many aspects of the lives of the biblical writers are lost to us, but their stories have lived on and inspired millions. Also, we can vividly remember the plot and characters of a book we read as a teenager or child, but we can’t remember the author’s name at all. I would also say that fanfiction is more about the tale than about the teller; some people become so captivated by the world, the characters, and the plot of certain stories that they become the teller so they can expand on the tale. It is ultimately the story that has significance, not necessarily the cult of personality around the author.

If I were to publish something, I would definitely want it to be more about the story than about me. The story should have enough power and capture enough imaginations that it becomes able to take on its own life, so to speak. They always say that writing is a way for mortals to achieve immortality, but that’s a post for another day. 🙂

4 thoughts on “The Tale or the Teller

  1. Woah… deep thoughts, Maggie! 😛 I’d never thought about the relationship between the story and the author in quite these terms before, but it certainly poses a defining question. I’ve always worked myself into the mentality that I’m here to serve the stories, and to that extent I should be doing whatever is necessary to make them shine, whether it’s self-growth or research. So I guess I’m with you. It is the tale, not she who tells it. ❤

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    1. You tell the tale the best way you can because the idea came to you and no one else can tell the same story in the same way. The idea is yours for a reason. (At least, that’s what I tell myself.) 🙂

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  2. When I go back and re-read my first novel, I still like it, but my main qualm is that there are some sentences that call attention to themselves. I try to avoid that now.

    I think of it like a window. If a window is clean, your eyes focus on what’s outside, and you’re not even aware of the glass. If it’s smudged or dusty, your eyes focus on that, and what’s outside goes out of focus.

    When people read my stuff, I want them to focus on the story I’m telling, not the guy who happens to be telling it.

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