Jenna, a college student visiting over break, prepares her little sister Imra, for bed. She decides to tell her a story, although Imra insists she’s too old for bedtime stories. A long time ago, the world was not the way it is today. And it almost didn’t turn out right either. Because it happened that three trickster gods came together one day in their boredom: Coyote, Loki, and Anansi. The three of decide to cause mischief by stealing that which humans value the most: Stories. They lock up these stories in a box and hide it in a meadow.
Without stories, the world is plunged into chaos. People can’t comprehend the natural world because there are no creation myths, they don’t learn from the past because there are no cautionary tales, and they can’t aspire to be greater than themselves because there are no heroes of legend. One day, a young Girl comes across the meadow where she uncovers the box. The box whispers to her, telling her a story. Intrigued, she takes the box with her as she journeys on.
The Girl comes upon a young boy, afraid of his own echo. The box whispers to the Girl and through it, she relates the story of Echo and Narcissus. Echo loved Narcissus, but he didn’t give her the time of day, so the goddess Aphrodite cursed Echo to always echo back anything he said. Catching him admiring himself in a lake, she was finally able to tell him that he loved her. After that, Echo became an immortal force and, eventually, the cause of the boy’s alarm.
Feeling reassured, the boy now understands what an echo is. He promises to tell everyone he meets the story. The Girl moves on. Before too long, she comes upon some villagers, attempting to sneak into a wild party, being held by the god Indra. The box whispers to the Girl again and she warns them against sneaking in, relating the story of Indra’s curse: The peasant man Thintha married a spirit dancer, named Kalavati. They loved each other deeply, but every night Kalavati was called, along with the other apsaras, to dance for the god Indra. Thintha became jealous and desperate to see the god’s palace, but Kalavati forbid it, knowing that Indra hated mortals. Thintha begged and pleaded until Kalavati finally gave in and agreed to take him with her, shrunk to the size of an insect. Unfortunately, Thintha couldn’t resist crying out when Indra tried to hold Kalavati. Indra heard him and, as punishment for the deception, turned Kalavati to stone.
The people are grateful for the cautionary tale and agree not to sneak into the party. The Girl moves on, to the next village where three survivors are lamenting that a great monster has carried off some people. They don’t know what to do. The box whispers to the Girl and she tells them to simply go rescue them, relating the story of Lạc Long Quân who was in love with a beautiful fairy named Âu Cơ. One day, a monster rose out of a lake and tried to grab her with its tentacles. Lạc Long Quân saved her.
The people are fired up by the tale of heroism. As they prepare to storm the monster’s cavern, they declare the Girl to be the wisest among them. She must be their king. The Girl is reluctant at first, but the box tells her of all the good she can do and she accepts the offer. The world becomes a better place under the Girl’s rule. The trickster gods, however, have become jealous. Coyote sends a cockatrice to the kingdom. The dragon—with the head of a rooster—has the ability to turn people into stone with its breath. The Girl knows of cockatrices from her box of stories and quickly defeats it. Next, Loki sends a great rainstorm down on the people. The kingdom begins to flood. The Girl listens to the box and instructs her people in the construction of boats.
Anansi goes to the Girl. She is prepared to offer the kingdom a gift. She will grant every man, woman, and child a single wish. The Girl knows it’s unwise to turn down the gift of a goddess, but as she searches through the stories, she can find no wisdom to help her out of the situation. Finally, she agrees, on the condition that she is allowed to make her wish first. Anansi agrees. The Girl then goes before her people and tells them what’s about to happen. She urges them to use their wishes wisely. And then she makes her own wish. She wishes for the box of stories to be opened. Anansi is forced to grant her wish. The stories fly out and all the people are granted access to their wisdom once again.