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About Myths and Legends

Why were the stories told?

Wherever you travel in the world, you will find many people willing and happy to tell you stories. They will tell you tales about their homeland, their families, the landscape of their region, the history of their country and much more besides. If you take time to sit and listen to their stories, don't be surprised to turn around and find a large crowd gathered, all keen to hear the tale. For, if there are many people who love to tell stories, there are even more who love to listen to them. It's a part of every culture on the planet.

There are all sorts of reasons why people have told, and still tell, stories and why many of those stories have been passed down the generations.

  • To bring people together.
    Stories were often told to help people understand difficult ideas and help people in a community to think in the same way. The stories provided a common message or value and if the story was popular with people, it was almost as if the members of the community were giving it their vote. Things that people found scary, infuriating or desirable all found their way into the stories and they were passed on because people wanted to be sure that other people felt the same way about these things.

  • As a way of teaching people how to behave.
    Stories have long been used to help people understand how they should behave in their
    lives. You may even be able to think of some well-known stories like this; stories which not only explain how you should behave but also explain what will happen if you do not! In many of these stories, the pain or embarrassment which the characters suffer is often caused by their own stupidity or by greed, dishonesty, carelessness or, maybe, by their own pride and
    a desire to be the best.

  • To explain how the world works.
    In the 21st century, we understand much about how our world works and why things happen as they do. We know why the sun rises and sets each day, why it gets dark every night and why the moon appears in different places and is different sizes at different times, even why an eclipse happens. But, before scientists were able to explain the natural world, including disasters, people created many strange and wonderful stories to try to explain why such things happened.

  • Just for entertainment.
    Before the invention of TV and Radio, before there were computers and iPods, how did
    people entertain themselves and their friends?

    Dancing, singing and playing music has been popular for many centuries but, for even longer, people all over the world have entertained each other by telling stories.

  • To pass on knowledge.
    We learn much of what we need to know at school or by reading, nowadays. But it is only recently that large numbers of people have had this valuable opportunity and, until the 20th century, most people in our country were not able to read, so stories were a way of finding
    out information. They were often used by older members of a community to pass on the history, such as the outcome of battles and tales of courage, and important knowledge about the land they lived in and where danger might be lurking.

  • For fame, money or recognition.
    Good storytellers have long been able to make a living from their art and still do today. Long ago, minstrels and troubadours wanderered through medieval Europe, from town to town, entertaining the crowds wherever they went. However, storytellers had a tendency to tell the people what they wanted to hear. So they were quite happy to bend the truth to please their audience if, for example, they thought the audience would pay more for a different ending! The truth was sometimes the least important thing.

    Regardless of why they were told, many of the stories still remain popular today and, although we don't often swap stories around the fireside, the tradition of storytelling still continues in the form of urban legends. Many older stories also
    live on in current day carnivals or festivals,
    which have their roots in a very different past.

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