I was a parent teacher the other morning at my daughters’ preschool and witnessed a kind of amazing moment. C&I and their new-best-friend A., who is 5 years old, and three boys (mostly younger) went in the corner of the yard and sat on this little structure and explained to me, “this is where we go to tell sad stories.” A. said she would tell about “how puppies die.” Her first story was about one sentence long – the puppy went out in the street and it got hit by a car. The boy F. was pretending to be a puppy and he put his hands up in a sad-paw gesture and whined, and C. and I. and A. all said consolingly, “don’t worry, puppy, we wouldn’t let YOU go in the street.” The next story was a little more complex: a puppy got into the playground and a big heavy slide fell on him and crushed him. And, it had a sharp point and it cut right through his back. Once again, F. whined and the three girls said “oh, don’t worry puppy, we would never let YOU go into the playground.” The mood was sort of excited and upbeat, maybe like telling ghost stories around the campfire? A student teacher said “oh they did that for about two hours the other day.”
Later I asked C & I about why they liked “sad stories” so much and they said “because we’re interested in what’s inside bodies.” So sad stories are apparently ones that involve injury to the body broaching the boundary between what’s inside and outside. I wonder how general a principle of narrative that might be.