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Social Science Folklore & Mythology


How Words Shape Our World

by (author) J. Edward Chamberlin

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
May 2023
Folklore & Mythology, Composition & Creative Writing, Storytelling
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2023
    List Price

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A brilliant and timely exploration of the power of stories and songs—from both the distant past and today’s news—counters despair and disillusionment with hope and possibility.

Stories are our first and last survival strategy. For tens of thousands of years, they have told humanity what we know and what we don’t know, what to wonder about and what to watch out for. We draw comfort from our great myths, and from the storytelling of our contemporaries (including members of our families). Storytelling holds us together. And sometimes it keeps us apart.

From the stories we tell children, to literary works, to pop music, stories take many forms and give shape and substance to things we believe, perpetuating ideals and identities and provoke controversy and conflict. They include explanations of the origin and purpose of things, of causes and effects and sequences of events, and of our relationships to the forces that surround us. They also shape the institutions we establish, the ways in which we constitute ourselves as communities, and the covenants we enter into with secular as well as spiritual powers. Stories that celebrate growth and development and “civilized” progress can be a hazard when we use them to destroy Indigenous homelands and heritages and the environment.

Stories can also provide a form of resistance to the overpowering realities of the everyday, empowering our imaginations to create a sense of possibility. It is within storytelling, and by understanding how stories work, that we can find a way to bring sympathy and judgment back into the centre of our conversations about what we can—and what we must—do. Stories and songs, ours and those of others, can help us. They can save us.

About the author

J. Edward Chamberlin was born in Vancouver, and educated at the universities of British Columbia, Oxford, and Toronto. He was Senior Research Associate with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and Poetry Editor of Saturday Night magazine, and has lectured widely on literary, historical and cultural issues. His books include Come Back To Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies (1993); If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground (2003), which was nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction; and the best-seller, Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations (2006). He lives with his wife, the Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison, in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.

J. Edward Chamberlin's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Ted Chamberlin will always be, first and foremost, a willing disciple to the craft of storytelling: as a listener, as a fan, and as a practitioner. Ted reminds us that stories mend and stories bring hope. This book is a great sharing of a life truly lived with the everyday wonder and celebration of The Great Mystery. I applaud you, Ted, from one storyteller to another. This was a joy to read. Mahsi cho.”

Richard Van Camp, author of <i>Gather: Richard Van Camp on Storytelling</i>

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