I’ve been fascinated by stories since I could understand words. My mom had to invent bedtime stories because I would get tired of typical fairy tales and always ask for new ones. For a long time, when I was a kid, my favorite story was about a robot named Djura that played with me and my brother, and our neighbors getting us out of trouble. I was utterly shocked that other kids never heard of it until my mom told me that she had invented Djura one night, and I loved the story so much that I asked her to repeat it the next night. And the next one. And the next one. Of course, she couldn’t always remember it, so she would ask me to help her, and I would tell the story of getting in all kinds of trouble, waiting for robot Djura to come and save us. I guess that was when I became a storyteller.
And aren’t we all? Ask anyone to tell you about the day they were born. What they tell you will not be the truth and facts, it will be a story. Here is mine…
I was born on January 10 in northern Serbia, a few days after Christmas. My parents had a name for me, whether I would be a girl or a boy. But it was a snowstorm that day, giant snowflakes were tirelessly dancing through the air. When the doctor finally held me in his arms, instead of saying, “It’s a girl!” he said, “You’ve got Snow white!” and that’s how I got my name. Snežana — Serbian for Snow White.
My brother also has an origin story. He was left at our doorstep when I was four and a half, probably by a Gipsy family passing through our town. And we raised this blonde, blue-eyed boy as he was our own. The truth is that I was in the maternity ward when my mom gave birth to him, and I was at home when my parents brought him, he was tiny and beautiful, but that’s not the story I tell.
Looking very closely, we can easily fragment our lives into chapters and tell most of our history by telling stories as if we were an ancient country or a myth. We turn facts into half-truths and if you ask someone how old they are — most of the time, they’ll give you a story and not a number.
Stories are important because they help us understand others and ourselves. And if we look at the traditional stories and fairy tales, they resisted time and have been passed through generations because of their importance. These stories spark the magic and offer moral lessons. They teach us to tell good from evil and help us develop our critical thinking by learning from characters’ mistakes. If you look at the Brothers Grimm’s original stories, they are raw and grim (pun intended) and never meant for kids. They reflected the reality and hardships of an ordinary human but provided a glimpse of magic and superstition, on one side being “fiery” and transmitting the caution of real danger, and on the other side empathizing and offering hope. Then, with time, they transformed, adjusting to the new realities and reflecting a bit of each storyteller behind them, they became watered-down versions of sometimes gruesome and violent real events. Today they are known as happy ending stories.
Take, for example, my favorite fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which is based on a sad true story (not recommended for the faint-hearted):
The fairy tale is based on the tragic life of Margarete von Waldeck, a 16th century Bavarian noblewoman. Margarete grew up in Bad Wildungen, where her brother used small children to work his copper mine. Severely deformed because of the physical labor mining required, they were despairingly referred to as dwarfs. The poison apple is also rooted in fact; an old man would offer tainted fruits to the workers, and other children he believed stole from him.
Margarete’s stepmother, despising her, sent the beauty, to the Brussels court to get rid of her. There Prince Philip II of Spain became her steamy lover. His father, the king of Spain, opposing the romance, dispatched Spanish agents to murder Margarete. They surreptitiously poisoned her.
Not so happy ending after all. You can see how many of today’s stories and even movies transformed from real events and true sad stories. But we humans, have a tendency to embellish things up, to give them a spark of magic and hope, to help us go through the hardships of our own lives.
Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. Neil Gaiman
Stories are powerful; we all tell them about ourselves, others, and hard truths, and sometimes we lie when we tell them. Not because we want to deceive but because we want to believe in a better version of it.
The human body is made of atoms — the exact number is 7, with 27 zeros behind it. And we all probably carry the same number of stories within. And atoms are in its core nothing more than a stardust.
So, bottom line, we are all just fine art sculptures knitted of the imperfect blend of stories and stardust. And that’s how this story ends. Magically.