It’s certainly not a book genre. It has few fans, and it’s not a topic we typically seek out in our reading choices. We seldom want to think about it. Yet it is inevitably our common experience, regardless of where or when we live or whether we are kings or peasants (or if we talk, bark, or meow).
If you’re reading this, you’re still walking the Earth (go you!), but you have probably shared in the death of someone you care about or are facing such an unavoidable future event. If you yearn to make peace with that, or just be enlightened, you have to read The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death by Skywalker Storyteller, an uplifting and unique collection of stories from around the world that show how the people of various cultures have faced and learned to accept life’s last great mystery.
I’ve been a fan of Skywalker Storyteller (a.k.a Skywalker Payne) since I first stumbled into her blog a few years ago and began reading her essays, poems, and stories. In addition to being a gifted writer, she is as original and fascinating a character as you’ll ever come across. I’ll let you discover for yourself as you read the brief interview and learn about her and her work in the YouTube videos posted below.
EJB: Tell us about the concept of The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death.
Skywalker: I wanted to share a selection of stories I told a few years ago on my storytelling website. I feel that they can help people face and accept this one, last experience of life we all share.
EJB: Describe the spiritual journey that led you to write this book.
Skywalker: It really wasn’t so much a spiritual journey as a storytelling journey. But, I do practice Tibetan Buddhism and my practice influenced me to begin the podcasts and write the book. I have a YouTube Three Minute story – My Journey to the Ultimate Wonder [see below] that explains a little more.
EJB: How did you go about collecting, adapting, and sorting the tales for this collection? Beyond the unifying theme of death, they’re quite diverse and illuminating in different ways.
Skywalker: When I began the podcasts, I first found stories I had told on the theme of death and then chose some, particularly the African ones, that I had wanted to tell for some time. And yes, as you noted, death is the unifying theme, but I was able to find different themes within that and then group stories around larger ideas, such as “Death is a Nurturing Woman” and “Resurrection.” All of these stories have been retold by me, and for many, I found more than one version. Also, for all, I gave characters names, researching names within the cultures that the stories originated. I also include a couple of original tales.
EJB: The framing device for the stories in this book—that of the storyteller before an audience—is interesting and unusual. I know you have been a professional storyteller in the past. How much of that character is based on you and your experiences?
Skywalker: Well, I’m still a storyteller and I am the storyteller in the book. I wanted to give readers as much of a storytelling experience as I could in a written form.
EJB: Who do you think should read this book and what do you hope they gain from it?
Skywalker: I actually think people of all ages will enjoy reading The Ultimate Wonder. It is arranged in such a way that people can pick and choose the stories that interest them. It’s a book that is perfect for families—as older members can select stories for children and then those children can later return to find new stories to read. What I trust readers will gain is a new view of the end of physical existence, that they will be able to share my understanding of life’s last great adventure as the ultimate wonder.
The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death is available on Skywalker’s website (follow the links there to your favorite bookseller).
Skywalker’s other website and blog are here. Do check them out! And here are some short videos further explaining the book and giving a sample of one such story: