So, yesterday I was finally able to announce that I’ll be writing my first ever comic in the Swords of Sorrow series. And I am so excited. But I keep seeing this claim roll around that Frankenstein is the first entry into sci fi. And it’s good, don’t get me wrong, and ground breaking for white women in fiction. But I keep thinking about the writers who weren’t nobles, the women who told stories to the children they were employed to watch and to their own children. I keep thinking about the superstitions, the beliefs, the very real reasons to be afraid of the dark, and of the people who couldn’t afford candles, much less the time, ink, and paper needed to write stories by that flickering light. And how those stories were still passed down in oral traditions that persist to this day. Mary Shelley might have entered a story of the dead being brought back to life into the European lexicon, made Frankenstein & his monster more real to the wealthy. But raising the dead and the turning on you was an old old concept 200 years before her birth. The fairytales that we think of as Grimm’s were told around fires in Africa, China, and so many other places by traders, bards, and griots. Their bones are dust, but their words live on and still carry so much weight today.
We stand on the shoulders on those who came before us. And so many of the tales we tell come from stories whispered late at night by people who couldn’t or wouldn’t write them down. I am a writer. I can claim that now. But long before I had the ability to write down a single coherent word I was making up stories. And like so much of what I write today, those stories were heavily influenced by the ones I’d already heard, the books I snuck in and read, and the tales I wasn’t supposed to know. We cheapen the craft of storytelling when we try to limit it to the first time someone wrote down an idea instead of remembering that writing it down is the last step. The first step is making up the story in the first place, and even if the story teller never writes down a word some of the best stories every told will be heard by children at bed time, adults over drinks, and in foxholes with walls that hold all manner of secrets.
My grandfather told great stories. He never (as far as I know) wrote down a single one. My grandmother could spin a tale or two as well. And she read so much, gave me so many things to read. When I write fiction, I hear the way they told stories bleeding into my work. I won’t dishonor them or the people who came before them by pretending I’m the first storyteller in the family. I’m not even the first writer. I might be the first one to write comics, but I wouldn’t even be able to do that without them making stories so accessible to me. When we rush to name a first, we should remember that the first writer of a story doesn’t make them the first to tell a story.