There are three major eras in the tradition of storytelling:

The Oral Tradition

The Written Tradition

The Modern Tradition


Photo courtesy of K. Akagami.

James Foster Robinson

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The Oral Tradition

Chinese Storyteller

The history of storytelling begins long before written language. By all accounts, the art of storytelling begins with the oral tradition. The Celtic bards, revered wise men who were charged with keeping their people's history, are some of the more recognizable historical figures in early storytelling. Shamans, village elders, and wisemen have existed in every culture. These individuals kept the history, beliefs, culture, and tribal legends alive, and deliverd news from village to village when the only form of record keeping was through the memorization of stories. Those entrusted with the tales of their people were the wisest and were often sought as council for major tribal decisions.

Anthropologists beleive that the fist manifestation of storytelling came from the need for human interaction and entertainment. James Foster Robinson speculates that hunters from primative cultures would come home with harrowing tales of deadly encounters and narrow escapes, or families would pass the time or calm the fears of children with soothing fire-side stories.

As written language came into being, the mass populous remained ignorant and largely uneducated. While stories could be catalogued and recorded, few could read or write them. During this time, storytellers were still responsible for passing on the history, culture, and values of a society to the uneducated masses.