In Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, the protectors of the underworld (horrific screaming harpies) did not let your soul pass unless you told them true stories.
Rather than feeding on pain and terror, the harpies decided the energy of true stories, derived from the joy of living fully, could fulfill their hunger just as well. People who took advantage of their flesh and blood existence would find their souls re-entering the universe, “alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world.”
Who knew that story-telling would prepare me for working with 5th graders? Week to week, as the project leader of the Young Authors Alliance, I tried to entice the kids to write about topics ranging from ‘tell me about yourself’ to ‘what would you do in a zombie apocalypse’. Despite my best efforts, very little writing occurred in our hourly sessions. Instead, they preferred to talk. They insisted on telling me their stories, both true and fantastical. At first, I was bit frustrated: I wanted to make sure their writing was up to snuff for the real world. However, upon further reflection on Pullman’s words, I realize that these kids are going to be alright. They tell stories with every fiber of their being: their words radiate with joy, curiosity, misadventure. I trust the strength of their stories will carry them through this world and the next.