Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ask the storyteller: Traditional tales intro

I'm really enjoying #askthestoryteller and I hope you are, too. A number of you have written in with questions about telling traditional stories. That's a really big topic, so I wanted to start by reposting a slightly edited version of a piece I wrote in 2010. At the time I was posting Telling Topics, which aren't so different from #askthestoryteller, but I was coming up with the issues. I'm enjoying your questions far more.

I wrote this piece about telling fairy tales and myths. I still stand by it and it seemed like a good starting point for questions about telling traditional stories. I've edited it slightly and will explore these points further in relation to specific kinds of traditional story and what I do with them in coming posts, if you'd be interested. This post is rather generic, but a good starting point. What questions does it raise for you?

Please keep your storytelling questions coming in the comments section. I love this challenge and am looking forward to seeing what we come up with!

This was originally posted in October 2010 as part of the Telling Topics series. You can read the original post here. 

Fairy tales capture the whole range of human experience. Regardless of the culture in which they originated, they help us understand our lives and how our individual experiences are more alike than different. They give us a roadmap to use as we travel our lives. These are the stories that ripple through our lives, giving us a common language with which to understand the world. Here are some basic things to consider when telling fairy tales.

  • Just because it's a fairy tale doesn't mean it's a simple story. Many of the these stories are dark, frightening, or at a minimum explore some of the more challenging times of life (childlessness, parental abandonment, learning who you are, adolescence, etc) so spend some time with the story and decide how you want to tell it. Do you want to focus on the happy endings? Are you more interested in the voice of a minor character?
  • Understand where the story comes from. All stories come with a cultural context and none moreso than traditional material, so you should have some understanding of where the story comes from and what it means in context. Some are still considered sacred stories, so think carefully about where you stand on telling a story that has sacred meaning to other people. Always tell living stories respectfully. Personally, I don't tell sacred stories that are outside of my culture without permission from someone to whom the story is alive.
  • Explore why the story appeals to you. Myths and fairy tales are rife with symbols, so it's worth spending some time understanding why a particular story appeals to you, what the symbols mean to you. This can be the work of years, so please tell the story, but don't be surprised if it has unexpected meaning for you.
  • If you change the story do so carefully, without stripping the heart out of the story. The Disney version of The Little Mermaid overlooks her death at the end, entirely changing the meaning of the story; if you choose to change a story make sure you understand why you're doing it and how the meaning will be altered. Be especially careful about changing myths, since these may be living sacred stories. If you modernize the story make sure you honor the original text in whatever way makes the most sense to you.
  • Select the right story for the audience. This is a tenet no matter what kind of story you're telling. Be wary of using accents unless you're very good at them (very few of us are), and if you choose to tell stories from a particular culture to that culture and you're not of that culture make sure you treat the stories with utmost respect and be prepared to get some feedback. 
Fairy tales and myths are among the most enjoyable stories you can tell - they are deep in our psyches and convey experiences we can all relate to. Who hasn't been lost in the woods or undertaken a journey from home? Enjoy telling these stories. They are part of our human heritage. Just don't forget to do the same work you would for any other kind of story.

(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Laura. Carefully thought out and useful, as always.


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