Thursday, October 23, 2008

Telling and retelling

A few nights ago I retold The Giant With No Heart In His Body, a Norwegian folktale I've long been haunted by. I wrote about this in the previous post. The telling went well though I suspect this will grow into a longer, more complex piece.

The story itself is comparatively simple, one you will find familiar. A king has seven sons, six of whom leave to seek their wives and fortune. They find both and on their journey home trespass on the lands of a giant, who turns them all to stone. The youngest son sets out to rescue them, along the way encountering and helping a raven, salmon and wolf, all of whom promise to help him in turn.

The wolf becomes his traveling companion and brings him to the home of the giant, where the youngest son is then helped by the princess who lives with the giant. Through various acts of guile they find out where the giant hides his heart, destroy the heart thus killing the giant. The spell is broken and everyone lives happily ever after.

I was always troubled by this story. Why was the princess with the giant in the first place? And it just didn't seen fair that the giant should die for telling his secret. So where to go in the telling...

I love exploring the interstices of stories, the motivations of the smaller characters, the hidden hearts of heroes. There is a lot to work with in this story. While there were many places and characters I could have explored, for this telling I chose only a few; in the future I may explore more.

For this past telling I spent some time with the princess, why she chose to live with the giant, what his hugeness felt like beside her humanness. Yes, I went into the bedroom some with that, though no more than seemed to be enough. I spent some time with the silence she lived with, the quiet when she put her head on his chest at night.

I also spent some time with giant, the way his heart, hidden in an egg in a duck in a well in a church on an island in a lake so far away, pounded with joy when he saw the garlands of flowers around the places he told the princess he had hidden his heart. How he was filled with the hope of love, how this hope led him to reveal the secret of his heart. And how his heart was broken by her betrayal before the youngest prince crushed the egg that held that fragile, beating organ.

And I spent some time exploring what happily ever after might mean in this story. How the youngest prince was wise or incurious enough to never ask if the princess ever missed the silence of the giant's chest. How she never asked him to reveal his secrets. How this might constitute a kind of happiness.

All of this is why I love these stories. They make us question our own secrets, our own hopes and acts of betrayal, our own definitions of happily ever after. They help us remember that we are the tellers of our own stories.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer
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