Ariadne the storyteller


Okay. Time to get lost.

My friend Han returned my copy of the film Inception some time ago, and she’d stuck a yellow sticky note on it with a thought bubble: “I still don’t get this???”

Aside from laughing at the comment, it got me thinking so I watched it again, and whoa - it’s a trippy film, but what struck me was, at it’s heart it says a lot about storytelling.

And that storytelling is a lot like constructing, journeying and getting lost in a labyrinth.

Ariadne in the film,  Inception

Ariadne in the film, Inception

A couple of other incidents lined up to make this observation seem even more plausible. I was at lunch with a friend and she’d read a manuscript of mine and made the comment that she’d got sucked into the story and it was similar to getting lost in a labyrinth. 

As for number three (and perhaps there are no coincidences here...), I found this gorgeous exhibition catalogue on contemporary tapestry and weaving The Fabric of Myth at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, United Kingdom [2008]. In the catalogue essay Ariadne is interpreted as a storyteller:

Ariadne, 5th century AD, woollen tapestry from Egypt 

Ariadne, 5th century AD, woollen tapestry from Egypt 

“In cloth-making or storytelling, one begins with a thread. One thread, one thought. The legendary figure of the storyteller begins with Ariadne, the jilted lover of Theseus who went on to marry the god Dionysus […] Ariadne’s thread represents a story’s narrative, for it is the storyteller who creates a labyrinth of thought, leading her listener into another world…”  

I love the myth of Ariadne and the labyrinth, so all these connections set my mind spinning. Christopher Nolan (director of Inception) has the character Ariadne as the builder of the dream/labyrinths [in the ancient myth it’s Daedelus], but also the one who leads Cobb down into his deepest subconscious, to face his demons. In the myth, Ariadne offered Theseus the thread to help him find his way into and out of the labyrinth, but ultimately, to face the Minotaur. There are wonderful parallels here.

The Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, likened the journey of individuation, of having to go deep within oneself to unravel one’s own psyche (soul) in order to transform, to become more conscious, as being akin to journeying into a labyrinth. Leonardo da Vinci constructed a model labyrinth, where at the centre, was a hexagonal room made of mirrors. At the centre, you have to confront yourself.

Similarly, to free himself in Inception, Cobb must go down (effectively into limbo, and again, Jung refers to the labyrinth as a symbol for the underworld), to face his wife/conscience [sorry - spoiler!], to accept his part in her death in order to transform and incorporate this experience consciously.

There are so many layers in this film, just like a great story.

But a narrative constructed as a labyrinth...the noun text comes from the Latin texere which means ‘to weave’. Ariadne had her thread, her clew, to weave through the paths of the labyrinth; to give a sense of connection and direction. In walking, or weaving through the labyrinth, we continually recreate the journey, so that we become co-creators of the labyrinth.

So, there’s all these elements: of text as weaving; of the writer as creating threads/clues for the reader to follow – to get lost in the story, its layers, complexity, another world, its wonder – but to provide a means for the reader to navigate and come through to the end of the story.

And maybe the reader will be transformed. Maybe they’ll have a new perspective or idea about something. Maybe they’ll feel different themselves, or about those around them. Or, maybe simply, they’ll have been entertained for a time, enjoying the escape from their own lives.

But the writer, storyteller as the creator of labyrinths.

It’s a beautiful idea.