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The Heart of the Stories We Share

Friday From The Archives: “Big Fish: The Myth and the Man” by Barbara Bennett from NCLR Online 2019

Authors glean inspiration for their stories from all kinds of places. In Daniel Wallace‘s brand new book, the memoir This Isn’t Going To End Well, his inspiration is his late brother-in-law. In this piece from 2019, Barbara Bennett takes us down a different road, seeing where mythology and storytelling served as inspiration for Wallace’s first novel, Big Fish.

Translating a book into a film and then into a musical means finding the heart of the story, then letting that inform what elements can be used straight versus being changed. Bennett elucidates the heart of Big Fish this way, “For this is really what the novel – and generally the film – is all about: a boy mythologizing his father, a father who has contributed to the myths by telling tall tales about his life when he is away from home.” Details can be augmented for the changes in medium, but the heart remains the same.

The same could be said for relating to parents or children. Wallace writes what each of us try to do in our own lives with our own parents, if we’re lucky. Bennett says, “For William, turning his father into a myth assists him in understanding this man who has been unknowable his whole life. Where does he go when he leaves us? What does he do when he’s away? Is he a man worth admiring? The stories Edward tells when he gets home – which William internalizes – explain the answers to all these questions and more.”

After all, it is only stories we leave behind in our lives. Bennett points out that “At first glance – other than the setting and the obvious accents in the film – Big Fish seems to be only tangentially Southern, but at heart, it embodies true Southern culture, for it is about the oral tradition of storytelling.” Wallace’s work not only in Big Fish and his other novels, but his essays and creative nonfiction pieces all fit into that legacy.

Read the essay in the 2019 Online issue. You can order Wallace’s books via