We Live for Stories

Editors

Amanda Platz

Stories are the things we live for. They enhance the ordinary drabness that our lives would otherwise become.  They shape lives and change people for better or for worse. They can bring hope to people who have none. They provide relatable figures for people who have none, and friends to the friendless. Stories bring hope to those who don’t have any.  In Life, Animated, Ron Suskind describes how stories did all those things for his son, Owen, a boy with autism. Throughout his life, Owen connected to Disney movies, finding solace in the stories they told, the characters they created, and the joy they brought to him. What he found in Disney movies shows the power of stories.

In Life, Animated readers can easily see how Disney’s stories exerted a very strong influence on Owen.  Ron Suskind tells the story of his son Walt’s ninth birthday. Walt, every birthday, would cry at some point during the day. Ron and his wife could never quite figure out why. But on Walt’s ninth birthday, Owen walked over to them and spoke a complex sentence for the first time ever; “Walter doesn’t want to grow up… like Mowgli or Peter Pan.”  (page 53). Owen, a six-year-old boy with autism who hasn’t spoken a fully complex sentence at all up until that point, astounds his parents with not only a complex sentence but also a very insightful observation about his brother. How? Using stories. He references Disney movies like The Jungle Book and Peter Pan to explain how his brother is feeling. Clearly, stories have had a significant effect on Owen’s life up until this point at the very least.

Stories help us interpret the world around us. Just like Owen’s astute observation of his brother, we can make observations about the world and interpret our observations using stories. This is one of the many reasons why stories are so powerful! I can better comprehend experiences I could never have on my own, just by hearing other’s stories. By reading Life, Animated¸ I have a slightly better understanding of what it is like to have a child with autism. Even though I have never experienced having a child with autism, through Ron Suskind’s eyes I can understand how he felt raising a child with autism, and I can see the difficulties he faced. From other stories I can glean important information about people around me. Reading my closest friends’ favorite books gives me valuable insight into who they are as people, what they like, and what they value.

Readers often find solace in stories. Like Owen Suskind found solace in the Disney stories he loved, viewing the characters almost as if they were family. He found in those characters people he could relate to. I have often found solace in characters’ stories. Often when reading books I find myself relating to and finding solace in the characters in the novel. Sometimes they become as much like family as my own family. C.S. Lewis’s the Chronicles of Narnia have been a constant source of comfort and solace in my life. I have returned time and time again to the magnificent stories penned by the great author. The world of Narnia was a second home to me and an escape from the difficulties of my life through middle and high school. I returned to the land of Narnia constantly, returning to the magic of the world time and time again. Aslan, the Pevensie children, Caspian, Reepicheep, and Eustace Scrubb were my family. I related to Lucy’s enthusiasm and passion and whimsy. I looked up to Peter’s strength and Edmund’s wisdom. I loved Aslan and longed to meet him. Of course, Aslan was the best of them all, and it was him that I longed to meet more than any others. I found solace in Chronicles of Narnia, much like Owen found solace in Disney movies. Owen looked to the sidekicks in the story, and related to them above all the others. One day, Ron Suskind found a book of sketches done by Owen. The sketches were all of Disney sidekicks. He says that “The expressions are all so vivid, mostly fearful… Are the faces of these characters a reflection of hidden, repressed feelings?… Time passes, pages turn. And then I see writing. Next to the last page of the sketchbook, there’s something. It’s his usual scrawl, the letters barely legible: “I Am The Protekter of Sidekicks… No Sidekick Gets Left Behind.” Owen found solace in the stories he loved, related to the characters, and viewed himself even as family, protectors of those whom he related to and loved. The stories brought him comfort in a confusing world.

              Stories provide characters to relate to. Like Owen relates to the characters in Disney, you and I can find our own characters to relate to. Owen related to the sidekicks in Disney movies. In a family play rendition of the movie James and the Giant Peach, Owen casts himself as the Earthworm. His family tried to cast him as the hero of the story, but he cast himself as the sidekickiest of sidekicks. He addresses his family for the first time and says “The Earthworm…is scared sometimes and confused. And he’s jerlous…Jelerous… He’s jealous of the Grasshopper and the Centipede and characters who can do things he can’t. And that’s why I’m the Earthworm.” Owen sees himself in the Earthworm from James and the Giant Peach. He knows that he isn’t capable of doing everything others are able to do, and he’s jealous of the fact that he isn’t capable of doing everything others can. But because he sees himself in the earthworm he finds himself able to better express himself. In this scene, he is able to give insight into how he sees himself. He can show people bits of himself that he otherwise would not have been able to reveal had it not been for stories. Relatable characters allowed Owen to demonstrate who he is, as it allows us to understand who we are. When we see characters we relate to, they often enable us to understand ourselves and better explain who we are to others. The ability to relate to fictional characters enables us to understand people we don’t understand and be better equipped to empathize better with other people.

Stories are powerful. They help us relate to the world, understand people, and even understand ourselves. Stories helped Owen, a boy with autism, cope with a large and scary world that he couldn’t understand. The characters of Disney’s great animated classics became his friends. The world in which he lived and the lens through which he saw everything was colored with stories. Stories have helped Owen through life. This is the power of stories. They bring joy and hope to people when they struggle to find it elsewhere. Stories are one of the greatest things in life, because they do something wonderful: they make life worth living.