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I love the Graham Norton Show. I’m not sure why — I’m not a fan of talk shows — but I’ll leave that mystery to the philosophers. I’m any case, Facebook keeps throwing the show’s videos at me. This one from 2018 had an interesting message.
TL;DR: At the time of filming, Stephen Fry had released a book called, Heroes. In discussing it, he mentioned his favorite Greek god, Hestia.
And the hearth, when you think about it is all of our ancestors, whatever our ethnicity . . . all our ancestors gathered around flames at night to stay warm and protect themselves from animals, and they told stories about things over which they had no control. . . . Everything you can’t understand and control you give a name – a god – and so these gods developed personalities around the fire. And now I think we can safely say we’ve lost the hearth. You know, we don’t eat around tables anymore, someone’s got a PlayStation in that room, and they get a delivery of pizza into it, and someone else has got another . . . they’re streaming things in another room. No one gathers around and shares stories anymore. We’ve lost our focus; we’ve lost our hearth.
Fry’s point is correct though incomplete; he failed to mention that these stories eventually became a form of entertainment because it wasn’t relevant to his point. In any event, we’ve lost the art of shared storytelling. Movies, TV shows, and novels are one-sided storytelling. The hearth gives us all the opportunity to take our turn telling our stories, or directly contribute to the stories of others through questions or commentary. Perhaps the fact that a novel inspires a reader to write their own novel provides some give-and-take, but that’s hardly an intimate experience, and it’s reserved for those with the drive, resources, skill set, and perhaps luck to publish a novel.
But then there’s we, the TTRPG nerds. We haven’t lost this at all, have we? What is a table-top, role-playing game session at someone’s dining room table if not “the hearth”? Unless you have a totalitarian DM that insists it’s “their game,” everyone at the table is telling the story.
We’re one of the last cultural bastions of intimate community activity. Kind of ironic that the social misfits are what’s keeping this part of our social identity alive, huh? Make sure you don’t blow that opportunity or shirk that responsibility. Personally, I think it’s tautological to say that doing so requires we focus more on the characters and story than on the mechanics, but whatever keeps *you* at the table is good enough. Food for thought.
Fry’s book, Heroes, will have to go on my reading list.
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Follow Stephen Fry @stephenfry