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February 21, 2021

Jack and the Beanstalk and why stories matter

I come from a very conservative, religious family that doesn’t believe in evolution. According to the Word of God, people were created out of the dust of the earth when God blew the breath of life into them. Well that was Adam, Eve was created later as help meet from one of his ribs. It’s similar to the story of Frankenstein who invented a creature and gave life to it but then later regretted it big time.

Anyways God did get mad at his creation and tried to flood them out except for a few chosen ones who saved the entire planetary genome, must have been millions of species. Anyways, my family doesn’t believe in evolution because of the Good Book and assumably because they don’t like being related to Apes. That is so understandable. Apes are crude and dumb and they’re not like us at all. We can think and plan and invent things.

But the facts of the case, as described by the science of Archaeology and Paleontology, is that our species, Homo sapiens, appeared about 300,000 years ago. Before that there were other hominids (meaning in the genus Homo) with smaller brains and more primitive features. And of course before them are the fossils of people like Lucy, who was sort of human, walked upright but had the arms of a tree dweller. And before Lucy the tree dwellers and before those creatures something else and something else and something else.

There is no evidence for spontaneous on the spot creation. It just doesn’t happen in our normal world. It’s not repeatable so no one has been able to prove it, just the Word of God. Anyways, I think it’s fascinating – the deep ancient history of human beings. If we weren’t created in a puff of smoke by God in the Garden of Eden then what was it? What is our story? How did we even learn to tell stories? Apes don’t do that.

I don’t really know, but I think the bedtime stories, that parents still tell their children the world over, reflect those earliest stories. They’re built on their bones. Those fairy tales are older than dirt or atleast as old as the trees.

Jack, the simple country boy, foolishly trades the family cow for a handful of magic beans. Or atleast his family thinks he’s a fool when he comes home without the cow. His mom throws the seeds out the window and by the next day a giant beanstalk has grown up into the clouds, which he ofcourse climbs to see where it goes. He was simple and foolish but very curious. The beanstalk leads to the kingdom of a giant who’s sitting on a stash of very valuable items. He’s not friendly and when he senses Jack’s presence he sings, “Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of an English man. Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

Jack scrambles to get out of the way and grabs some treasure as he escapes down the beanstalk. He then chops it down so the giant, who’s trying to follow him, falls and dies. Jack is a hero for recovering the family treasure, the golden harp and the goose that lays the golden eggs, and for killing the giant as well.

This fairy tale may have originated 6,000 years ago – the original form of it, the kernal, the essence. The theme of the sprightly, bold and ingenious boy stealing the hidden treasure and returning home appears throughout the ages in different folk stories from different cultures. Like Promethesus who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans so they could stay warm and cook food. That’s a really old myth.

See what I mean? These stories are windows into our past. They reveal what was important to us. A boy stealing the secret treasure? And getting away with it? And becoming a hero? What an epic, archetypical, amazing adventure.

The story of the witch’s hut in the spooky forest, and Hansel and Gretel lost, trying to find their way home; everybody’s heard this story and yet it’s still capable of giving us a shiver. The spooky forest is home to many marvels, we know that somehow.

Our deep ancient past has messages for us. Those messages actually are implicit in every movie and book and TV show that we allow ourselves to be entertained by. Simpson’s episodes, King of the Hill – they celebrate the ‘human’, the one who makes mistakes and doesn’t get it, the one who finally learns the hard way. Reruns of Mash – the same. Lassie, I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, all those fifties TV shows – same.

The stories are always the same at their core: they tell us something about ourselves that we need to remember. They remind us of our strength and of our courage, they remind us to laugh at ourselves. They remind us of our aspirations. They are based on, or in some way related to, the ancient stories that we made up long ago.

Because that’s who we are. That’s us. We’re smart, we’re not dumb. Maybe we weren’t monkeys, maybe they were our cousins.

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