Let Me Tell You a Story
"Do you wanna know how I got these scars?"
Alice and Bob are having a conversation. Alice wants to make a point, but to tell Bob straightforwardly wouldn't have the impact she wants to make. So she decides to tell him a story. The story at first seems somewhat random and unrelated to the matter at hand. However, once the story is finished, it becomes clear that there is a moral behind it. If Bob still seems confused about the story's relevance, Alice may spell it out for him. Or she may just leave him guessing.
The most common term for these stories is the parable, a tale used to illustrate some message. The term often refers to religious parables meant to express spiritual concepts. Of course, it's not limited to that.
Old people are very prone to do this, often in the form of a Rambling Old Man Monologue
. They have a lot of stories to tell.
The musical version of this is Morality Ballad
. See also ...And That Little Girl Was Me
Let me tell you a story
was also the catch-phrase of British singer and comedian Max Bygraves, and in his unmistakable Cockney-Jewish accent, was both much loved and much parodied. It usually heralded a comic story or song.
- In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is trying to figure out The Joker's motivations. Alfred tells him this story:
A long time ago, I was in Burma, my friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never found anyone who traded with him. One day I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away. Bruce:
Then why steal them? Alfred:
Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
- The Joker offers parables as death notices, alluding to morals but amounting to executions as punishments for garnering his attention.
- Training Day:
- Alonzo's friend Roger decides to tell rookie officer Jake a joke. He tells him about a snail that gets thrown off some guy's porch into the backyard and nearly dies. However, it recovers and after awhile it gains enough strength to crawl again. After about a year, the snail makes it way back on to the porch. The man comes out, looks at and says, "What the ***'s your problem!?" Jake laughs until he sees Roger and Alonzo's serious expressions and realize that it isn't a joke at all. Roger tells him that when he figures the joke out, he'll figure the streets out.
- Also, there is a deleted scene where Alonzo tells Jake of one of his early work experiences involving a black man who was paid by another man named "Spooky" to beat up a doberman he was raising. Alonzo came across the man with his fellow officer, who was completely accepting of it and explained to Alonzo that Spooky was teaching the dog to hate black people.
Alonzo: I'm saying that to say this. Soon as you think you've seen everything out on these streets, these streets will teach you something twisted.
- Silent Bob's Title Drop speech in Chasing Amy about his relationship with a girl named Amy qualifies as this.
- The 1993 The Three Musketeers film: "Love? Let me tell you about love."
- In Conspiracy, Dr. Kritzinger relates a story to Reinhard Heydrich as a warning to what he is trying to accomplish at the conference (the extermination of the Jewish people), which Heydrich later relates in turn to Müller and Eichmann at the end. It concerns a boyhood friend of Kritzinger, who hated his abusive father fiercely but was devoted to his loving mother. When his mother died some years later, the man tried to cry as her casket was lowered into the grave, but wasn’t able to. When his father died at a much older age, the man couldn't control his tears. The moral of the story is that being consumed by hatred for something will mean that once that thing is gone, the hater's life will be nothing but a hollow shell anymore.
- In Targets, Orlock gives a nice recitation of the story "An Appointment In Samarra."
- Lincoln tells numerous stories throughout the movie. When Edwin Stanton realizes that Lincoln is going to start another one, he storms out.
- Serpico. When Serpico expresses his anger that he's regarded with suspicion because he's the only detective in their division who isn't corrupt, his girlfriend tells him a story of a Wicked Witch who poisoned a well and drove everyone mad, except for the king who hadn't drunk from the well. So the townspeople decide to kill the king because he is 'insane', until the king too drinks for the well and goes crazy too. "And the next day there was much rejoicing as the king had regained his sanity."
Serpico: I think you're trying to tell me something.
- Bacon in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels tell the guys the story of Smithy Robinson, a old geezer beaten to death with a "15-inch black rubber cock" as a warning tale of what happens to the people that don't pay Hatchet Harry what they own him.
- In the Italian mystery novel The Terra Cotta Dog: The police officer protagonist is invited to meet with Tano the Greek, a feared gangster (and gayngster) who turns out to be something of a Noble Demon. To explain why he wants to turn himself in, Tano tells this story about a guy who bet someone that he could make a cat eat some very spicy mustard- the method involves Ass Shove-ing it, causing the cat to start licking the mustard because of the pain. The point of the story is that Tano is being threatened by a younger generation of gangsters and so turning himself in (and getting a Luxury Prison Suite) is the better option- like with the mustard,turning himself in is a bad option that becomes a good one when a worse option comes along.
- In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Mariner is doomed to wander the earth for eternity recounting his story.
- The whole novel Frankenstein is Victor Frankenstein telling his life story to Robert Walton in an attempt to disuade him of exploring the North Pole; he tries to illustrate how there are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know and the blind pursuit of knowledge will bring him only suffering, as it happened to Frankenstein himself.
- In the Mage Storms trilogy, Shin'a'in magus An'desha tells a story about himself to get a fellow Shin'a'in to reconsider his antagonism to the focus character, Karal.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire:
- In A Clash of Kings Ygritte tells Jon the legend of Bael the Bard. It foreshadows where Bran and Rickon hide from the Ironborns and is very reminiscent of Lyanna Stark's arc, though Jon is oblivious to both.
- In A Storm of Swords Meera and Jojen tell Bran about The Mystery Knight at Harrenhall and they're very surprised that Bran has never heard this story at Winterfell. Probably because of a certain She-Wolf of Winterfell and a Dragon Prince...
Religion and Mythology
- Happens a lot in Boardwalk Empire.
- Margaret tells this to Lucy after Lucy brags that all she has to do is spread her legs to keep Nucky interested:
Margaret: When I was a girl in Ireland, a raggedy man would come around every spring with a little Bantam rooster. He'd trained it to peck out "The Mountains of Mourne" on a toy piano hung off his chest.
Margaret: Well… the first year he came, we all of us, the girls in that place, we thought it magical. The second year, we laughed behind our hands at the odd man and his tatters, and the third year we didn't even go, because "The Mountains of Mourne" was all that little rooster could ever do.
Lucy: So what's the point?
- This happens two-and-a-half times in the episode "A Man, A Plan...", all concerning Harry Daugherty's consideration whether to kill Jess Smith to keep him from talking. First Daugherty tells the story of a mean dog he knew as a child who became friendly around Jess, illustrating how Jess is ultimately decent and likeable. Gaston Means reverses the meaning of this story by saying he had a dog like that, but "we had to put him down". Later Daugherty provides Jess a false allegory, reminiscing about rebuilding after a tornado hit their town as children, and tricking Jess into thinking he's had enough of the turbulent world of politics and wants them to retire. Turns out he hadn't had enough and he sends Means to kill Jess later that episode.
- A favorite tool of Sophia's in The Golden Girls. Sometimes subverted when her story ends up having absolutely no connection to the matter at hand.
- In the Quantum Leap episode "Jimmy", Sam leaps into a mentally retarded man in the 1960s. Eventually he freaks out in frustration, since he's being treated like an idiot all day. Casanova Wannabe Al interrupts him mid-rant: "There was this girl named Trudy..." Sam snaps at him that this is no time for another irrelevant, sleazy sex story — but this time, the girl in question was Al's younger sister, who was also mentally retarded.
- Said word for word at the beginning of a season two episode of Burn Notice.
- Subverted on Grey's Anatomy:
Dr. Hahn: Absolutely, no! Have you read his file? His pulmonary pressure is through the roof!
Dr. Webber: He's aware of the risk.
Dr. Hahn: Oh! Well in that case, fine! I don't know what I was so worried about. I may go down in history as the surgeon who killed Walter Tabley, but hey, at least they're writing about me!
Dr. Webber: Erica, sit down. Let me tell you a story. 38 years ago, when I was -
Dr. Hahn: I'm sorry, is this gonna be a story about how you were a struggling black med student who wanted to be a surgeon, and no one would give you a chance, and Walter Tabley gave you that chance, he mentored you, and without him, you wouldn't be in this hospital today?
Dr. Webber: Yes.
Dr. Hahn: I'm still not gonna operate on him.
- Due South: Fraser does this Once per Episode, relating tales about wolves or the Inuit people to serve as parables for various people in Chicago. By midway through the first season, this is getting lampshaded just as often as it is employed.
- Fargo has loads of characters doing this, often to the bemusement of the person they're talking to, as the story/riddle/anecdote could be interpreted in several different ways or may not seem remotely relevant to the situation at hand. The final example is when Lester Nygaard tells the policewoman who's been suspicious of him from the start that he's not a monster, and she responds by telling him about a man with a pair of gloves who got onto a train, and as it was pulling away realised that one of his gloves had fallen onto the platform, so he threw the other glove out after it so that whoever found it could have both. In a probable Lampshade Hanging, Lester (and possibly the audience,) have no idea what to make of it. She never clarifies, but the likely interpretation is that once you're accidentally in something halfway, you feel you have nothing to lose and might as well go the full distance.
- On Star Trek: Voyager, when Chakotay decides to tell Janeway how he feels about her, he tells her an "ancient legend" from his tribe about an angry warrior unable to find peace until he swears loyalty to a woman warrior. Janeway catches on pretty quick.
Janeway: Is that really an ancient legend?
Chakotay: No. But that made it easier to say.
- The Bible:
- The parables of Jesus are among the most famous examples. Jesus would often tell stories to convey his messages.
- In 2 Samuel 12, King David has just had one of his soldiers killed to cover up the fact that he (David) had impregnated the man's wife. The prophet Nathan shows up and calls him to repent by giving an account of a rich man who stole the only lamb of his poor neighbor to feed a houseguest, despite having many sheep of his own. He asks what should be done to this man. David, incensed, declared that the man should be put to death and asked who he was. Nathan replies, "You are the man."
- Older Than Dirt: In Egyptian Mythology, the god Set murdered his brother Osiris, stole his throne, sent Osiris' wife Isis fleeing for her life, and gouged out her son Horus' eye while trying to kill him. One day an old woman comes to him asking the god for help, telling him that her evil brother has killed her husband, usurped his position, and maimed and driven away her son. Set agrees that a great injustice has been done to her, and asks for the name of the criminal. Thus he condemns himself, for the old woman was Isis in disguise. (He learns nothing from this.)
- In the Starlight And Shadows novel Daughter of the Drow, a warrior amuses a drow mage (who saved him from carnivores and tried to claim as a slave) with a folk tale about how "old favors are soon forgotten". Then managed to get away and added the phrase to his "farewell" as he ran off.
- SF Debris makes note of Chakotay's habit of doing this, exaggerating it to the point that he can't do anything without saying it reminds him of one of his people's stories. It's enough to drive Chuck's parody version of Janeway to madness when they're stuck on a planet together.
- Spongebob Squarepants: Mr. Krabs' story to SpongeBob about spending a dollar on a soda to persuade SpongeBob to let his seahorse go.
- The Simpsons
- In "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie" Homer has forbidden Bart from seeing the movie and tries to tell him a similar story from his childhood.
Homer: You know, when I was a boy, I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. The doctor thought I might have brain damage.
Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?
Homer: I like stories.
- Parodied in the episode "The Heartbroke Kid", when Bart is sent to a fat camp and Tab Spangler, the camp owner, catches him pigging out:
Tab: Son, I'm gonna tell you a story about a young man who came here and failed. Well, that is the story. I shouldn't call a sentence a story. Anyway, it's you!