WRITTEN WORLD: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History

WRITTEN WORLD: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History

MARTIN PUCHNER    Book Number: 91414    Product format: Hardback

The subject of this enjoyable book is the story of story-making, starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first written masterpiece, discovered in 1842 in a roomful of tablets in cuneiform writing inside the ancient city of Nineveh. Following years of work, Assyriologists managed to decipher the script and the Epic of Gilgamesh emerged. For the first time, oral storytelling intersected with the new art of writing, hitherto only found in laundry lists and accounts. Gilgamesh, a favourite text of the library-building King Ashurbanipal, is a story of monster-hunting and friendship, themes that recurred in subsequent epics. Over a millennium later, the Hebrew writings we know as the Old Testament was a bundle of stories about how people in exile kept the flame of their identity alive, another important foundational myth. In Jerusalem this text gave rise to a struggle for possession between scribes and priests, a struggle mirrored in our contemporary rift between biblical fundamentalists and liberal interpreters. The Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and Jesus all left foundational texts for their followers, sometimes demonstrating a wide range of sources, for instance the influence of Greek thought on Christianity's emphasis on "Logos", the Word. The Thousand and One Nights, undated but from the first millennium CE, is an example, like the Homeric epics, of an oral tradition being collected and written down at a late stage in its development. The invention of the printing press around 1440 revolutionised the art of storytelling as writing could now be mass-produced and disseminated quickly. In 1776, Benjamin Franklin's Declaration of Independence in the USA quickly became an iconic narrative, while in the next century Goethe went on a quest for Homer's world and the founding Communists Marx and Engels created a new genre: the Manifesto. The book concludes with the magic world of Harry Potter and its eclectic fusion of storytelling traditions. 412pp, colour photos.
Published price: $32
Bibliophile price: £1.75

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ISBN 9780812998931
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