“In traditional tales like “The Enormous Turnip” from Russian folklore, we’re introduced to settings and characters through the barest of details. Often the characters are nameless.
Once upon a time, an old man planted a turnip.. “
I wonder what he looked like and what his wife called him – “Husband,” “Dearie,” or “Thomas?”
What was he wearing? Did he have a favourite shirt that he wore all week?
What was he good at? What other hobbies did he have?
What was his favourite food? Was he fond of cooking?
Did he have a favoured pet? What was its name?
Up until the turnip appeared, what was he most proud of in his garden?
Did he talk to the plants, or sing to them all? (Did they talk back?) Did he have a favourite garden song? He did? He taught it … to a friend?
Answers to questions like these make characters real. All those kinds of details add up. These invented answers don’t go into my telling of the story. While I may have them in my mind’s eye and in my looking out into the audience … I try to hold a sense of that personality there. As I begin to tell, they’re there, ready for the story, as large as life.
Of course, Nasreddin Hodja (a tricky character to understand, I’ve found) had heard the story of The Enormous Turnip. He liked to tell it dramatically in the school playground, extolling the virtues of vegetables, and engaging the audience in the action. The children re-enacted the tale over and over again. One afternoon, after one such telling, he went home for a sack. Then he climbed over a neighbour’s wall, for he’d seen into their abundant home garden, with its row upon row of leafy greens – beets, cabbage, kale.
“Come to me, my beauties!” he cried, as he started filling the sack he’d brought with him. As he bent over the stalks, his neighbour suddenly appeared at his back door shouting, “What are you doing here!”
“That Shamal blew me here!” protested Hodja, holding his sides as he straightened up.
“I hear or see no wind! And who pulled up my vegetables?”
“Didn’t I have to grab what I could … to stop me from being blown away?”
“Oh yes? So how do you account for your sack being full of my vegetables?”
“Funny you should ask that. I was just pondering that myself … when you startled me by shouting so loudly.”
All of a sudden, Hodja took to his heels and vaulted over the wall – no mean feat for a man of his age. He looked back at the wall in amazement, unable to move.
One of the children walking home from school, spied him lying there and ran up, calling, “Hodja! Here! Give me your hand and let us pull you up!”
[Adapted from Strange you should ask … In Shah, Idries. The Pleasantries of the incredible Mulla Nasreddin. Picador. 1975: 44.]
Shamal: a summer northwesterly wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf, often strong during the day, but decreasing at night. http://windlegends.org/windnames.htm
All other text and photos by Meg
Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License