The BookWorm's Library


A Brief History of the Telling of Stories

Storytelling is the oldest of all the methods of telling a story. It is usually defined as "orally sharing a story to an audience, usually face to face." (Larkin 1) Most surviving epics of lost cultures began as oral stories that were eventually written down and managed to last to modern times. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest surviving epic known today. Evidence exists that the poems that make up the epic were already written down in the first centuries of the second millennium B.C. The most complete edition comes from a seventh century library of Assurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrian Empire. (Sanders 8) Other examples of written storytelling are The Iliad, Beowulf, Greek myths, and Native American myths.

As the great epics were written down, the physical elements of the container of the story became more important to the telling of stories. Scrolls were the first paper-based product used to contain stories. Scribes found that they could put more than one epic on a scroll, leading to a poor sense of closure by modern standards.

The codex, a handwritten book protected and enclosed within covers, replaced the scroll. And the physical book--as we recognize it--was created. "The writer was encouraged to think of his or her codex as a unit of meaning . . . a writer or reader can close his or her text off from all others. (Botler 85) This is limited to the written forms of telling stories. Oral storytellers realized that others were telling the same stories that they were, and freely embellished the stories they told. Writers began a trend to create something original, that had never existed before.

In 1455, the printing press was invented by Gutenberg and the Bible was the first book printed. Because they were cheaper, books quickly replaced codexes. Writing became synonymous with creating a book, and the process that began with codexes continued. A physical book had to be complete within itself; it had to stand alone from other books. A book could be part of a series of books using the same cast of characters, but only character development could be carried from one book to the next. These were the standards for fiction writing for years.

The first electronic digital computer was running by 1942 and the computer age had irrefutably begun. In 1947, the first computers to use RAM were built. RAM is essential to the development of personal computers. Personal computers gained popularity after 1977 when Apple and Commodore introduced inexpensive models for the average consumer. The way was created for the Internet, as the personal computer became a necessary part of any home of the 1980s. (Bigelow CD-ROM) (Woodhull CD-ROM)

The Internet began with the U.S. Defense Department's ARPAnet project in 1969. Military planners wanted a computer network that could still function even if part of it was destroyed. The network would automatically reroute communications if part of the network was compromised. In the late 1980s, the National Science Foundation built its own network based on this technology. Universities built networks and linked to the larger ones. The Internet quickly developed into a virtual community for anyone with the onslaught of easy-to-understand commercial browsers, like America On-Line, Netscape, and Microsoft Explorer. ("Internet" CD-ROM)

Tellers of stories have always been part of the marginal crowd looking for new ways to gain an audience. So it is really no surprise that they turned to the Internet as a tool for communication. The form of writing on the Internet is hypertext, pages of text linked to other pages. A link is part of the larger text that has been programmed to take the reader to a new text when it is activated. The reader has control over what he or she reads or in what order it is read in. This form of writing was embraced by tellers of stories, and renamed hyperfiction. Hyperfiction is still in its formative stage, growing and changing as people learn to accept this new form.