An Odysseus’ Journey

By Mercy Godwin. Mercy, from Warri, Nigeria, writes on the relationship between conflict and storytelling, and shares her personal experiences with the utmost importance of conflict to stories. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

The all-inclusive blend of life means that it has both good and bad. For a dramatic touch, some might add the ugly too. From Homer’s “Odyssey” telling the tale of a warrior returning home, to Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”, a story of an orphan boy thrust through life’s woes, it is clear that we have always celebrated chronicles of victory after hardship, or happy endings in general.

A normal evening in my maternal grandfather’s house when I was young ended with beautiful adventurous tales, whether it was of children growing up with struggles or heroes refusing to bend their wills. To his manly but calm voice, we would listen aptly like we were in a movie theatre or the audience of a Shakespearean play. We got chills and goose bumps from his stories; we went to sleep hearing life lessons from ancient wisdom.

One thing all his stories had in common were the conflicts, the tests, or struggles the characters had to endure. If one of the purpose of stories is to teach lessons, then what lessons would we learn if there were no trials or setbacks? Do smooth seas make great sailors? If stories mirror life and life has conflicts, then why shouldn’t they?

In one of her quotes Joyce Carol Oates stated, “When people say there is too much violence in my books, what they are saying is there is too much reality in life.”

As much as we crave the sweet symphony of a perfect world, a tale of it would bore its listeners to no end. How would it begin? What would be the peak? And what would the end say? Would such a story conclude with the well-known phrase “and they lived happily ever after” if the characters were never unhappy to begin with?

New as I am to the act of storytelling, I have never attempted to tell one that lacked some form of hardship or discomfort. I suppose it is because my aim is not to bore or alienate possible readers. If that was the case I would have failed as a writer even before I began. I would not be worthy of the title and if I claimed it nonetheless, I would be a poser.

Charlotte Mary Brame, with the pseudonym Bertha M. Clay in her book “A Woman’s Temptation”, was so bare and raw in her tale of unrequited love that I was left scarred. She told an almost savage story that after reading it, it took weeks for me to get over the feeling of loss and pain it evoked. She showed how something as pure as love could provoke envy and hate; our covetous nature as humans and how far we can go when denied what we desire, how we tend to lash out with venom.

Trust me when I say that years after, I am still not so bold as to read that book a second time even though it stares at me from my shelf. Its content cut me too deeply, and yet I was left hypnotized. I admired her skill to the very last letter, and I can only pray to be that good in storytelling. I would dare anyone to read that book and claim that any story without conflict is worth its name.

In Homer’s early century poem, he captured his tale of Odysseus’ ten years struggle to return home after the Trojan war, how the hero battled mystical creatures and faced the wrath of the gods only to return home and also have to fight for his throne. In the end Odysseus is victorious; like steel passed through a flame, tempered by adversity, so was he. The journey of the life we live is just like that: tumultuous. So, we picture it in stories or tales, chronicle our own unique episode for others to know, learn, and perhaps find some comfort in knowing that they are not alone in theirs.

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