Jonathan Gottschall


On his book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Cover Interview of April 15, 2012

In a nutshell

You might not realize it, but you are a creature of an imaginative realm called Storyland.  Storyland is your home and before you die you will spend decades there.  If you haven’t noticed this before, don’t feel bad: story is for a human as water is for a fish—all encompassing and not quite palpable.  While your body is always stuck at a particular point in space-time, your mind is always free to ramble in lands of make-believe.  And it does.

We read novels.  We go to movies.  We watch TV serials, and the faux non-fiction of reality shows and pro wrestling.  We groove to ultra-short fictions in popular songs.  We lose ourselves in video games that make us the rock-jawed heroes of action films (or fleshed-out characters in story-rich games like The World of Warcraft).

When we are not consuming stories made up by others, we are making up our own.  Our children play at story by instinct—inventing scenarios and acting them out in Neverland.  When our bodies sleep, our restless minds stay awake all night telling fevered stories.  And we don’t stop dreaming when the sun comes up.  We spend hours per day spontaneously generating daydreams in which all of our vain, dirty wishes—and all of our secret fears—come true.

Scientists and philosophers have long debated the human essence—the thing that sets us apart most fundamentally from the rest of creation.  Is it intelligence (Homo sapiens)?  Is it the sophistication of tool use (Homo habilis)?  Is it upright posture (Homo erectus)?  Is it playfulness (Homo ludens)?  Or could it be language or the complexity of our social behavior?  These factors are all important, but an equally important factor has been overlooked.  Big brains and upright posture set us apart—so does the way we live in Storyland.  I give you Homo fictus (fiction man), the great ape with the storytelling mind.