Being a student and practitioner of story, I guess I'm always subconsciously looking out for interesting stories that have some meaning or application in life. After reading Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, I have also developed a keen interest in Jungian archetype theory and its application to the crafting of stories.
These were probably the elements that caused me to pick up the copy of this wonderful little book I found at the local second-hand bookshop (Obz Book). From an inscription in the front of the book, I gathered that it had been given as a Christmas gift in 1995 to someone called Colleen by her niece, Sarah.
To quote the author: "Stories that instruct, renew, and heal provide a vital nourishment to the psyche that cannot be obtained in any other way." Clarissa Pinkola Estés is a psychoanalyst in the Jungian tradition, an award-winning poet, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves and other works, a human-rights activist, and a Cantadora, or keeper of the stories. In A Gift of Story, she draws on the storytelling traditions of her Spanish-Mexican and immigrant Hungarian origins to weave a wonderful tapestry of short tales, both biographical and allegorical, that all link up, often in surprising ways. She sets out to answer the question: "What is 'enough' of a gift?" Starting with the story of the dying Bal Shem Tov, and ending with an account of her aunt's experiences in wartime Hungary which runs through the rest of the book (to say any more would spoil some of the twists and surprises), the author's commentary brings home some valuable life-lessons without coming across as too transparently didactic.
My only 'regret,' if one can call it that, is that the book is so short. I felt a few more stories would have been welcome. But having said that, perhaps its compactness allows one to take in the breadth of the experience in one comfortable read.
At the end of the book, the author issues a call for action - a call to give the gift of story, and to facilitate this process of story-giving for others by helping them tell their life stories. After reading the book - and you'll see why if you read it too - I imagined this chain of gift-giving stretching from some unknown stranger, to an old Hungarian man, to an old woman, to her niece, to Sarah, to Colleen and finally to me.
Today I will continue the chain by inscribing it with a message, and giving it as a gift to someone I love. I shall do so with a request that when she has read it, she should pass it on. Perhaps some day my old second-hand copy will reach you. But in the meantime I recommend that you get a copy for yourself, and start giving the gift of story.