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The Importance of Visionary Storytelling

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The Importance of Visionary Storytelling

Guest Post by

D.J. Butler

Once upon a time, we had shamans. These guys, you understand, have very little in common in most of the priests we still have hanging around today. Oh, there's a family relationship, of sorts... kind of like the relationship between a powerful, essential organ such as the heart and a vestigial hypothetically-once-organ also-ran like the appendix.

See, the shaman wasn't there to agitate for government spending, or to remind you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or to tell you to celebrate the winter solstice by watching television. The shaman rode his drum up among the stars to gather learning, to find healing when the community was sick, and to mark the path to immortality. The shaman told you what was important, he oriented you to the cosmos, and he answered the terrible questions that have always tormented humanity. Where do we come from? Where are we going? What should I be doing, as long as I'm here?

And the shaman communicated all these things in story, in drama, and in song.

As the shaman's spiritual stature shrank and he became a mere priest, others took up his role as storyteller. Sometimes the stories they told were frivolous, but inside even the most frivolous-seeming tale of romance or adventure lurks at least the hint of an answer to some of those terrible questions. What does it mean to be human? How do I become an adult? What is love, and to whom do I owe it?

Having seen our star-striding visionary shamans dwindle to platitude-mouthing seminarians, we are now seeing our storytellers dwindle to profit centers. That's right, I'm talking about Star Wars. Disney has sucked up Marvel and Star Wars both, so that what were once a ragged band of counterculture storyspinners and an auteur's visionary reimagining of the hero's journey are now firmly lodged in the belly of a profit-making monster.

I don't object to profit. I don't object to Disney, in fact: in its saccharinized way, it has kept some old and interesting fairy tales in public consciousness more successfully than anyone else, and that's a good thing.

But I object to the consolidation of more and more of our storytelling beneath a single banner. We need visionaries, we need people willing to walk rare paths and share their insight in story. Disney is a top-down solution to humanity's basic spiritual problem, subjecting all our stories to the vision of a single board of directors and executive team: WE WILL TELL ALL THE STORIES, NOM NOM NOM! That might even be a good thing, if Disney had all the right answers, but I'm skeptical that it does, and the history of top-down solutions is mostly pretty bleak.

So as publishing and moviemaking both consolidate into fewer big houses, it's not just important that newer technologies make indie filmmaking and publishing cheaper, it's essential. Starting with the very fact that we are here at all, life is a mystery. We must explore it, and it's reckless to trust that exploration to a single team, no matter how many blockbusters they've produced.

So, will I be seeing the new Star Wars? Meh, at some point. I still haven't seen Episode III, so I feel no urgency to see VII. The more I see the film pimped on social media and the Internet, the more alienated and oppressed I feel and the less interested I get. I've got a stack of indie books on my nightstand, stuff by Michaelbrent Collings and Quincy J. Allen and Aaron Michael Ritchie, so on December 18, I think I might just read one of those instead.

Looking for a good shaman, with something unusual to say.


Dave (D.J.) Butler is a lawyer and corporate trainer who writes adventure fiction for all audiences. Read more about his books at and follow him on Twitter at @davidjohnbutler. If you hurry you can also get a great deal on his books at