Did you ever wonder how some of those first epic tales were born? Do you ever ask how some of those ancient stories that have retold countless times and still remain inspirational elements of modern sagas came to be?
Classics like Gilgamesh, Beowulf, The Iliad and The Odyssey to name a few of the very first stories that have stayed with us for many centuries.
I often think back to those old tales and how they came to be, and if you don’t, I get it. Some of the classics are told in a different style, not every scene includes the action of a modern hero’s tale. However, if you do wonder about such things, we are kindred spirits.
I love stories.
All kinds of stories. After so many readings of each story, I then find myself trying to be the author, the creator, the storyteller and imagine the mindset of those incredible imaginations.
I think it means I love telling stories as much as reading or hearing them.
I recall my very first epic.
It was told in the oral tradition, like many of my Celtic ancestors, and I relayed the tale my cousins in my grandparents’ backyard during one fateful summer. I was probably seven years old at the time, and I started my career as on-demand storyteller.
Two of my cousins and my then four-year old brother occupied what looked like a normal backyard on a particularly hot summer day. But it was far more than a normal yard. It was a land of adventure.
And that particular day, it was ancient homeland to the happy green grasshoppers. A once happy land that had become a war zone.
I didn’t know it was a war zone myself until one of my cousins asked me about a number of wonderfully gross grasshopper exoskeletons that were stuck to branches of some evergreen bushes that spanned the entire back fence.
The inquisitor this day was my cousin Lisa. She, who is just barely over two months older than me, but boy, did she have a way of reminding me who was the oldest kid. I don’t know how it is for kids these days, but in my era, age was like military rank. Whoever was the oldest generally got to be in charge. Other powers included the ability to break a tie in key little kid votes, how pieces of pizza were to be dispersed and general boss of younger humans in the absence of adults. It was simple math, the oldest among us was also deemed the wisest.
Darn those two months.
Anyway, her question to me was, “How did those ghostly looking grasshopper remains get stuck onto those branches?
“Grasshopper Wars,” I cooly replied.
“Grasshopper Wars?” she questioned.
Of course, those were not exoskeletons to your less than humble storyteller. Those were all that was left of dead grasshopper soldiers in a gruesome ongoing conflict.
“Oh, yes. It has been especially brutal this summer. Do you see all of the happier, smaller green grasshoppers around? “There used to be twice as many of them last week.”
“Wow. What happened?”
“The big, brown mean grasshoppers nearly wiped them out. And without our help, the green grasshoppers may not survive the day,” I explained.
At this point, my cousin Cristy looked for some kind of verification from my brother Jeff. And, my brother had pretty much heard most of my stories in his four years of existence. Some of them liked, some not so much.
He looked at me in a way that let me know, he wasn’t buying into it. But it was summer, my story seemed like it was off to a good start — and I watched him decide by the change in his facial expression, that he was ready for more. So, he nodded his head in the affirmative.
My first Hollywood pitch had just been approved.
And the set – or I mean the backyard cooperated in a way far better than I thought possible. There were indeed many more grasshoppers the week before. The summer had witnessed a plague of the insects after a very wet spring. My grandparents had sprayed the yard and there were a number of fallen grasshoppers in and around the yard.
From the war of course.
We were able to investigate different parts of the battleground to discover more ghostly looking exoskeletons, grasshopper bodies and some big, brown mean grasshoppers, caught in the act of invasion. We jumped into the combat zone ourselves and captured brown grasshoppers and threw them into the neighbor’s yard, which happened to be the ancient tribal lands of those brown grasshoppers.
With a few brave humans on their side, we managed to liberate much of the captured green grasshopper territory. The victories added up, but not without a cost.
We mourned the loss of some of the fallen greens. Those poor grasshoppers that did not die of any kind of pesticide, but we killed in the line of duty. We gave them a proper burial and the day went quickly as I described the history of this epic struggle at various corners of the yard.
The day grew hot, and all the warriors became weary. Someone foraged for lemonade inside the barracks. We soldiered on.
A lone cricket was found, and we could not determine which side it was on. The wisest among us decided we should chase it off. Just in case. If the cricket weighed in with the brown grasshoppers, it could be a factor.
Spiders were easy. They were the nemesis of both humankind and grasshopper kind, and as such, spiders were dispatched on sight.
We were young, but we were no fools.
My brother added several gruesome details all on his own and the story took off on a life of its own. Somewhere near dinner time, a nod and wink to my brother was intercepted by the wisest among us.
“Hey, I saw that. Is this story really real?” Lisa demanded.
“Yes,” I offered meekly, my brother nodded in the affirmative on cue.
Cousin Cristy’s faith was shaken and she appealed to a higher authority for her confirmation, well beyond her sister, breaking the chain of command. That’s when our grandmother shut it all down, “Grasshopper wars? Don’t be ridiculous!”
Genius is born on the back of being ridiculously daring. Or so I hoped. My tale was investigated further by the elders. What was the storyteller trying to accomplish?
Entertainment, of course.
“I was just explaining how a grasshopper exoskeleton got on a branch,” I said with defiant pride.
A really fun guess was the actual explanation. And it was a very possible answer for a seven-year old. We busted out the World Book Encyclopedias that evening to learn more of exoskeletons. Sadly, no notes regarding the ill feelings of green versus brown grasshoppers were listed.
Looking back, I now feel like the great anonymous bard before me who saw the remains of a dinosaur and dreamed of dragons. And then dreamed of the hero Beowulf brave enough to slay such a monster.
Some epics get all the love, others earn scrutiny, but our Grasshopper Wars remains an original from the summer of 1972. Heroes we were, and so many green grasshoppers were truly saved, although they showed no real appreciation.
Skeptics be damned, it felt real and true at the time of the telling.
Truth it was for five glorious hours, and I was a Beowulf of sorts. A mini-Gilgamesh for a day. And oh, like Odysseus, how bittersweet the homecoming.
And now it’s all just a story.
The first of many to come.