We were talking about stories, my sister and I, while I was home for Christmas. We had watched the new Star Wars movie together, then enjoyed a lazy day watching five of the eight Harry Potter movies. We noted the planned series of films for the Star Wars story that includes three tangential stories, including the story of Han Solo before we meet him in Episode III. I don't want to know, my sister said; let the hints they give be enough.
My sister also does not like it when JK Rowling comes out with another piece of information about the characters in the Harry Potter novels, filling in this gap or another about someone's sexual preference, or their past, or their future. Let me fill the gap for myself she says, in not quite those words.
For myself, I'm not sure whether I like the idea of the Han Solo story being told or not, or whether I like JK Rowling to contradict my own filling out of a character as I read the story. On the one hand, I am curious. But I do enjoy the speculating, the imagining of possibilities, and letting the multiple possibilities exist side by side in my imagination. Once the movie makers or authors, the ones holding the authority for how this story actually does happen, tell us the story, the possibilities I had imagined are negated by the authoritative version that has been told.
On the other hand, I am curious. I would like to hear their version of the story, see how they fill the gaps. I love watching new productions of Shakespeare's plays on stage and screen, reading adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, listening to covers of my favourite songs. I don't always like what the new version does with the story, the characters, the melody. I do always appreciate the conversation, the alternative perspectives, the different ways of filling the gaps. Each telling of a story is, when done well, still the same story; and it is also a new story that speaks back to the original story and every telling of the story since its origins, casting new light to see something in a character not observed before, finding new meaning because of a change in setting.
So perhaps it is not whether a story is told, whether a gap is filled, by the teller of the story, but how we, the receiver of the story, respond to the filling of the gap by another.
Letting our curiosity guide us, our imaginations fill the gaps of any story that is told. That is what is meant to happen when stories are told, for the gaps are the story's invitation to enter the story and co-create it using our imagination. When we feel emotion in response to the story, when we pose and answer questions the story raises for us about character motivation, when we disagree with the character or narrator and claim our own point of view – we are creating our own version of the story along with the teller of the story. In this way, we not only enter the story, but invite the story to enter our mind, soul, being; we make this story our own. [John Foley discusses this in his article Man, Muse, and Story, in Oral Tradition (around pages 100-101)]
We will therefore want to protect our own version of the story, for we have found meaning in it by casting it this way.
But letting our curiosity guide us, we might also be able to hear and observe the versions of the story created by others. Their versions may change our own a little, or a lot; our version might change that of another. We are always free to leave another's filling of the gaps and keep to our own version of the story.
Ultimately, stories live and breathe and change with every telling – and so do we. Tell me your version of the story, but don't try telling me it's the only one.