Do stories have power? Where would Paul Revere be without one?
July 17, 2013
Do stories have power?
You bet they do.
Can stories change perception?
You bet they can.
Can stories alter history?
Are nonfiction stories really fiction?
Take Paul Revere for example.
He is a legend.
He is a hero.
He risked his life on a daring ride through the countryside, alerting the colonists throughout the hinterland to get up and get armed and prepare for the fight of their lives because, as it is noted in history, The British Are Coming.
I know it’s true.
I learned about Paul Revere in school.
It must be true.
I’ve read about it in history books.
And those learned scholars with doctorates who wrote the history books read about Revere’s ride in a long, epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Longfellow wasn’t a historian.
He just wanted to write a good story.
He needed to make a buck or two.
The facts be damned.
Now Paul Revere did make a ride on that fateful night during the American Revolution. But his only job was to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams over in Lexington.
The ride may have indeed been heroic.
But Paul Revere did not go yelling through the countryside and down the streets of little towns crowded and thick with British army patrols.
Paul Revere may have been brave.
He wasn’t crazy.
The horse hooves made a little noise.
Paul Revere kept his mouth shut until he reached Lexington and delivered his message in hushed tones.
What few realize or remember, Paul Revere was not the only rider to spread the word that night. William Dawes and Samuel Prescott rode hard to Concord.
It was vital for Concord to know the British were coming. The colonists had their weapons stored in the town. This was where they would make their first stand even if it was their last stand. The trigger of the Revolution was pulled at Lexington and Concord.
Because of Dawes and Prescott, a band of revolutionaries was armed and ready.
So the British were coming.
Well, let them come.
Paul Revere didn’t make it to Concord. He was caught by a British patrol, had his horse yanked out from beneath him, and was left to talk the long, lonely, walk back to Lexington.
In fact, very few had ever heard of the exploits of Paul Revere until Longfellow sat down to write his story in verse.
Dawes should have reaped the fame, he and Prescott. But, alas, they didn’t have Longfellow, and a single story changed the way everyone thinks about, studies, and remembers American history.
One story made the difference.
That’s the power of the written word.