American poet Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made of stories.”
Telling stories has always been an important part of human life. Very early stories include epic tales of heroes. One of the earliest known stories is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which tells of a person who was part god and part man. Epic stories like this often relate the deeds of a famous person whose life offered a positive example to follow. Other stories, such as myths, sought to explain natural occurrences such as day and night, changing seasons, and weather. Stories such as fables used animals as characters to teach children principles of good behavior.
Throughout history, storytelling is one way that different cultures remember the past and teach important lessons. A story is a way of organizing and sharing an experience. We learn about things through stories because they can include anything—people, objects, places, events, memories, fantasies—that can be imagined. Stories help us explore and understand our place in the world. Stories are a powerful way of linking us together in communities and families. Different ways of telling a story shape distinct cultures and begin to establish who is part of the group and who is not. Stories can have a profound effect on the way we think.
The Hoopoe uses stories to explore and reveal reasons the birds resist going on the journey. The Hoopoe tells the story of the king and the beggar, the king and the slave, and the princess and the slave. The other birds ask the Hoopoe why she speaks in riddles and answers in stories. The Hoopoe does not answer this directly, instead using stories to uncover fear and demonstrate the effect of not going on the journey. Those afraid to leave are like the parrot, who retreats to his shell. They are like the peacock, who leaves the group before even beginning the journey.
The Hoopoe tells stories to teach the birds that they must overcome their fears, leave their safe places, and start on the journey to the Simorgh. With the Simorgh, they will find their destiny. The stories demonstrate the reality of the impact of decisions and consequences of actions.
Although not a typical beginning-middle-end story that you might expect, The Conference of the Birds is very much about the power of storytelling. The stories in the play give us the opportunity to engage with the story in a very real way, to see the world and ourselves in different and new ways.