The forest of story tellers

Some creative musings about story across generations and within families. 


There is an enchanted land of story tellers. It is a place where fiction and truth dance together and in the movement can be mistaken for each other. The storytellers are a family who have been cursed, but no one can remember why.

This is a complex thing.

With children and parents there are multiple people to have opinions of the others and themselves and probably vast variants of stories that overlap and compete and fight for air.

They are mysterious stories, with ghostly similarities, the same castles and trees and other landscapes, with time scales for the most part although often significantly altered, and most confoundingly, the characters changed, people playing different parts.

One story you will hear and no sooner has the tear rolled down your cheek at the fate of Cinderella then the next teller will start up and pull you through the same tale, this time, Cinderella’s face is an ugly stepsister kicking her swollen warted foot into the side of the lithe, golden skinned, dirt smeared sister, who in the last story was the stable hand, whilst outdoors the stepmother appears with wand and pumpkin coach. It is unsettling, this shifting of images.

The traveller may get stuck in this land and believe that just one more story might explain things, that perhaps a number of stories will correspond, a type of democratic truth will evolve, and then, once having clarified the true story, with the true roles, the traveller may go.

Part of the curse (but nobody warns of this) involves the traveller, who may be dragged into this magical place and become a storyteller too. A new version, his version, he shouts at the forest, at the others, but no one can hear, they grow angry and tear at each other with fists and claws, enraged by the falsehoods spouted by those around them. The stories grow over time, this telling of the stories, so that the stories start to describe the telling of stories, start to include the tearing of claws at the hearing of stories. The stories loop around and capture now and engulf it back into the story, ammunition in this fighting with words, armour too for the heart to protect against each other’s armouries. The travellers own telling of stories, is woven into the stories too.

It doesn’t help that the tellers are listening to each other’s stories and changing their own, constantly. Some things change by accident, a slip of the tongue, a gap that needs filling with detail. Some things are changed to make the storyteller appear more moderate, a tiny hairline crack in the character of themselves as heroes, a clumsy show of compassion for another character, a benevolent insight into the motivations of the villains, but themselves emerging victorious as ever.

Some of the story tellers developed a special style in the midst of all this noise – somewhat like minimalist mime they clam up, write their stories in the lines in their faces, the set of their mouths. Some slip into the audience and frown, leave with arms folded when they hear the tale unfold as the teller tells it. This is a kind of storytelling in its own right. The observer knows what the story isn’t but must guess at what it is.

For the passing traveller, the stories shimmer, not quite solid or substantial, always liable to change in a new light or as a new teller enters the forest.


What stories are told in your families? Do they contribute to a sense of possibility, groundedness and optimism? Do they help bring the family together? Are they divisive? Do they cast certain people as heroes and others as victims and monsters? Is anyone missing or voiceless in the telling of the story?

Do roles change? Does the story liberate and share learning? Does it loop and change? Does the hero have freewill in this story or are their choices predestined? Do you find the story helpful? Do you believe it?

Is there a new story that would be more helpful for you now? 

If you are interested in exploring dynamics in your own family and how they have shaped your own responses to the world you might be interested in family systems constellation work. If you are interested in gaining a greater sense of what is possible with your own unfolding real life story, you might find narrative therapy useful.



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