White Samite, Mystical, Wonderful

 

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This abstract image reminds me of a scene in the Grail legend, when the vessel, covered in white samite, is reverently carried aloft through the Great Hall.

The words, ‘Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,’ come from Tennyson’s poem Morte d’ Arthur , and was a line I heard but couldn’t see: something not of my time and wasted on me in high school English class.

Many years later, on a raw, winter’s day in Cornwall,  I stood at the edge of Dozmary pool, listening to Canadian Ed Kylie telling the story of King Arthur’s death based on Tennyson’s poem. This was the  place where Excalibur was said to have been returned to the Lady of the Lake. In my minds’s eye, I did see the glittering sword flung, turning, end over end through the air. The arm I imagined coming up was pudgy and chilled pink.  All I could see of the ‘samite’ was a draped, white, sodden bedsheet. I couldn’t see more of the story for the cold.

Wikiwand can give me interesting facts about samite. It was the most important silk weave of Byzantium, reserved for kings and church leaders. But, clothing is such a personal, fragile artefact. I like to feel fabrics. Mostly, it’s the colour and patterns, the warp and weft that draws me in. I have only poured over many fascinating remnants under glass in museums – from christening gowns, to shawls and mummies.

Visualising the colour and texture of fabrics and matching these to the clothing characters wear helps make them, and the story, more visual, more believable, more memorable.

The ‘fabric’ in this image might not only be white Samite, but also

  • a cloak for the wicked lead in Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen.’
  • the stone horse’s hide in the Asian folk tale about a magic brocade, when the horse is magically brought to life.
  • Sleeping Beauty’s coverlet
  • the magic tablecloth Mannannan spread before Cormac when he was in the Land of Faery
  • a dress for the woman in the moon
  • What do you imagine?

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Abstract

This week’s Photo Challenge was to turn the concrete and familiar into something new and mysterious.

Sources: Poem – Morte d’Arthur, http://www.bartleby.com/42/637.html

Wikiwand entry’Samite,’ https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Samite

All text (except that in italics) 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.

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Inside a Circle: Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s challenge about circles had me determined to look from a different angle. I ended up on the floor, looking at a light fitting!

There’s an invisible, inspirational net inside a circle.

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Look closer.

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… and closer…DSCF3093

more circles inside a circle. This reminded me of a story –

An ancient Hindu myth tells of the all-powerful god Indra, the greatest creative force in their mythical world, how he lived in a magnificent place in the heavens. Stretched above him and reaching out into infinity, was hung an exquisite net, skilfully crafted. At each node, a multi-faceted jewel sparkled. Since the net was infinite, the jewels were too. And each jewel reflected all the others. Thus the smallest movement flashed throughout the net, glittering like stars across the heavens,  and on into infinity.

The first time I heard of Indra’s Net was at a workshop on “Science and Stories” at a National Storytelling conference in USA in the 90’s. It’s been at the back of my mind for a long time. My search for stories about sustainability have brought it forward again.

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As an storyteller, the story I choose to tell needs to have caused a similar net of connections in my thinking, to be meaningful to me, before I make a commitment to it.  As I tell it, later, orally, the listener can be making their own private connections. One image of a character, one action, can set off a chain of reactions in their imagination.

Now I see why it takes me so long to find a great story to tell. It happens when it makes lots of flashes of connection in my imagination!

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The story of Indra’s net reinforces the interconnectedness of all things, in nature, in this world and beyond, even in circles and especially in stories.

All text and photos by Meg.

Reference sources:

The Indra’s Net :What is it? Downloaded 01012016 by M.Philp

RAMSDEN, Ashley. Jewels on Indra’s Net in GERSIE, Alida et al. (ed.) Storytelling for a Greener World: environment, community and story-based learning. Stoud, Glos. Hawthorn Press, 2014.

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Circle

 

 

 

 

 

Walking Your Way: Hodja No. 6

Story characters often set out on a journey. Like many in Scottish folktales, they announce their departure. “Mother! Bake me a bannock and roast me a collop. I’m off to seek my fortune!” As Dick Whittington, Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs they have a task, a goal to accomplish, in the hope of a better life. Even nursery rhymes set us up for the road.

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I had a friend, a people – watcher, and on sunny Saturdays, as we sat on the beach together, we would make up stories about people as they passed by, based on the way they walked.

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Often I do the same myself when people catch my eye This man was walking away after throwing keys into the Seine. I saw them, flung from his hand, and curve in the air. The back story (now a fad, thanks to a TV program) is that lovers have their names inscribed on a padlock. They lock it onto a bridge and throw the keys in the river as a symbol of their eternal love. ( My brother tells me that they’ve had to cut all the padlocks off one particular bridge in Scotland – the weight of so many was endangering the safety of the structure … so much for the stereotype of dour Scots!)

IMG_4698 Yet, here in Paris, he was on his own. Where was his partner? And he was plodding along, not strolling. Had they argued? Was he going to catch up with them. When you love someone, you can pick them out in a crowd by the way they walk …There must be another story here. What do you think?

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Everyone walks differently. Actors know this. They can alter their body shape to add to their role. As a storyteller, I tend to gloss over the way a character walks in a story.

Let me see …  age would have to be a factor, as well as …

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what’s on their feet.

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or the ground underfoot could be tricky.

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Even the time of day can influence the way we walk our walk. When there’s no rush and you can stroll, saunter and enjoy the scenery.

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I have loved the freedom of walking since I was small. In this amazing world of ours, I am so glad I have feet and legs. Yes. Wings might have been handy. But to get from one place to the next you just step out putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, faster, softly, nimbly, steadily, appreciatively … and the world moves on as it does.

Once long ago, Nasreddin Hodja was working in his garden and a passer-by asked him, “How long will it take me to get to the next village following this road?” The Hodja didn’t answer. The stranger repeated the question but the Hodja just looked him up and down, a couple of times, and went back to his work. The man shrugged his shoulders, turned away, and continued walking. When he had gone a little way, the Hodja shouted after him, “You’ll get there in about two hours!” The man stopped in his tracks, turned and yelled back,“Why didn’t you say that before?” To which the Hodja replied “I couldn’t tell you how long it would take, until I’d seen the way you walked.” (Adapted)

PS. The last five posts have featured a Hodja story –  one more to go in my set of seven!

Source for walking tale: Özdemir, Nebi The Philosopher’s Philosopher Nasreddin Hodja.  Trans: M. Angela Roome. Ankara: Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 2011. Philosopher’s Philosopher: Nasreddin Hoja

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





 

Character’s Clothes: Hodja No. 4

 To help the listener ‘see’ the character in a story,  it helps if I’m clear on what clothes each might be wearing : to know, at least, their shade and shape. Once upon a time, clothes were basically functional: allowed people to work in them. But the story’s setting (time, country, culture) and the character’s identity through action all come into play.

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*Early photo of Lana Turner learning to sword-fight wearing a tight corset in the movie At Sword Point (1952)

A recent exhibition in our city hall museum showed a collection of costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood. (What surprised me were how small the clothes actually were! I realised that, up on the screen, actors look enormous.) However, the workmanship, fabrics, designs and attention to detail was stunning. One of the conservators working on the exhibition said she thought this brought ‘the fairytale to life!’ Guess which actors played their part dressed like this?

A little red jacket over a long warm dress. Who do you think might have worn this? 1

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or this blue velvet jacket and jabot? 2

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Was she a sheer, femme fatale? 3

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Does the robe help show the character’s authority? 4

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Or is the dress is so plain … in order to show off how beautiful the wearer was? 5

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Or was that man devilishly handsome? 6

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Perhaps the clothes ‘made’ the lady? 7

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Here’s a story about how Nasreddin Hodja feels about clothes.

Sleeve, sup!

There was to be a great banquet in the town, and Hodja was invited. When the day came, it was such fine weather that he worked in the garden, before setting off for the palace.

Arriving in good time, he asked directions to the banqueting room. Several attendants walked past but did not help. They did look him up and down, as they went on their way.

At the huge table, when he found himself a seat, no waiter came near with refreshments.

Friends were surprised to see Hodja suddenly leave the table. He returned some time later, wearing his most elaborate robe. As platters were brought to him, he was seen to dip his sleeve into each dish, simpering “Do have some of this. How do you like that sauce, then? Mmmm.”

The other guests began to mutter that Hodja had surely gone mad.

Hearing this, Hodja laughed and said. “Oh, no, my friends. I’ve simply learned that, at this table, my robe is more important than I am.”

Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood

Actors who wore them. 1. Katherine Hepburn in Little Women (1933) 2. Cary Grant in The Howards of Virginia (1940) 3. Claudette Colbert in Cecile B. DeMille’s Cleopatra (1935) 4.Richard Burton in Cleopatra (1965) 5. Grace Kelly in The Swan. 6. Yul Bryner? Marlon Brando? 7 Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl.

All text and photos (not *)  by Meg

Sleeve, Sup! adapted from ‘Eat, my fur coat, eat!”  in  KABACALI, Alpay. Nasreddin Hodja. 1992: 32.

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Characters: Question the Details! Hodja No. 2

In popular children’s tales like “The Turnip” by Aleksei Tolstoy, 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?”

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© Meg Philp

What was he wearing? Did he have a favourite shirt that he wore all week?

What was he good at? What did he dislike?

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What was his favourite food? Was he fond of cooking?

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Did he have a favoured pet? What was it’s name? How did he treat it?

Up until the turnip appeared, what was he most proud of in his garden?

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© Meg Philp

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 who taught it to Pete Seegar.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u90qRE2F7CM

Answers to questions like these can make characters seem 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 the way I feel towards them, I try to hold a sense of their personality as I tell. As I begin the story, they’re there, ready to participate in the tale, as large as life.

Of course, Nasreddin Hodja (A tricky character to understand, I’ve found, for he always had an answer to any question.) had heard the story of The Turnip. He liked to tell it dramatically to children in the square, extolling the virtues of vegetables, and engaging the audience in the action. The children loved acting out 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 garden, with its row upon row of leafy greens – beets, cabbage, kale.

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“Come to me, my beauties!” he cried, as he started quickly filling the sack. Half way up a row of kale,  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! So 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.”

Without another word, Hodja took to his heels and vaulted over the wall – no mean feat for a man his age. He landed in a heap on the other side, unable to get up.IMG_1108

A group of children walking home from school, spied him lying there and ran up, calling, “Hodja! Here! Give us your hands. We know how to pull you up!”

[Adapted from Strange that 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©MegPhilp

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Counting the Waves: Hodja No. 1

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Despite the heat, I clutched my find to my chest, as  I sauntered among Saturday market stalls. The thin book, a collection of Turkish “Hodja” stories (published in English) made me smile. Then, while I was dithering about what to buy at another stall, a clear voice cut through my indecisiveness.

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“ Ah! I see you have the Hodja with you. In Turkey, we love Hodja’s stories. Some say he was a fool but others say he was wise.“ The stallholder was an older man, amber eyes, grey moustache, wiry, my height. He shrugged his shoulders. I nodded in response.

“Yes. I love those stories too,” I mused and when I began to move off, he threw back his arms and began.

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“Did you know that Hodja was sitting like a statue at the beach one morning, facing the sea? People, passing by, became curious when he was still there hours later. Eventually a crowd gathered and one villager called out “Hodja! What are you doing?”

When there was no reply, he added “You have been here so long!” and the crowd edged forward to where Hodja sat.

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“I am counting the waves,” he announced, without looking up. The crowd laughed.
“So, Hodja, how many are there?” someone shouted from the back.

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“One”

The crowd laughed harder. Eventually a tall man asked, “How can that be? The tide is coming in and there are so many of them!”
“No,” said Hodja. “There’s only one. Look. There’s one. There’s another one, and there’s another one.”

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 We laughed together, the teller and I. He had given me a new story and I made a purchase in return.

Remembering this story helped me out of a writing block a couple of weeks ago. All I had to do was focus on “one wave” and not be swamped by a sea of ideas. There’s a lot more to Hodja stories than meets the ears!

NB. There is a protocol which says that if you tell one Hodja story you have to tell seven … so there are six more Hodja stories to come … when the time is right.

All text and photos © MegPhilp

Story Twigs the Imagination: blog by Meg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What are those characters saying?

A storyteller has to carry all the characters inside her self. She uses words, expression and imagination to make them real and come alive in a story.

What story characters say and then do, carries the plot along to a resolution. Not only that, but all the different ways they might speak make an impact on the meaning made.

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Statue of La Fontaine with the fox and the crow

Some stories have only two main characters like La Fontaine’s fable “The Fox and the Crow.”  The fox outwits the gullible crow through flattery. Fox will say anything to get that cheese. The crow feels stupid.

In some versions the fox is male and the crow is female. Here’s a version featuring Master Reynard and Mistress Crow http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/FoxCrow.shtml

Might crows be either gender, or maybe both? Flattery is a common human foible to help a person get what they want

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It’s what characters say and how they say it that is so loaded. ” How well you look today, my dear. Your beautiful feathers are so glossy. How finely chiselled is the nose on your noble head. If only we could cut the ties that bind and fly away together!” Hmm.

What characters look like and how they dress can give more clues as to what they might say. (Be wary with stereotypes.)

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The two of them may have known each other for long time and saying nothing says a lot.

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or like the Crow and the Fox, they have just met.

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They may both want the same thing and agree to share.

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But stories rely on conflict being resolved: finding solutions to problems.

Are they earnestly competing with each other? Is there money at stake? Might one be a poor loser?
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This argument stopped me in my tracks. I heard their angry voices first.

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As soon as I put the camera down, he took her arm, and kissed her and she kissed him back.

That’s one problem solved.

But wait, there’s more! Story characters keep on coming. Thank goodness.

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PS. Listen to this recording of actor Jonathan Pryce reading ‘The Fox and Crow’ aloud. He’s reading rather fast, for my liking, but he is using his voice like a storyteller. Listen to how his voice makes the characters come to life. He uses all the variations his voice can offer to sound ‘fox-like’ – pitch, tone, volume and timing.

Longer pauses and visualising the story, as you tell, helps listeners see the character and believe they are real, as well as keeping up with the action.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/subjects/english/aesops_fables/1-8/fox_crow

PPS. Doesn’t the birdsong, in the audio background, take you into the woods.

All text and photos by Meg

 Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Beginnings and endings

This post is about the importance of ritual openings and closings for storytelling; signals of other-worldliness, our willingness to leave disbelief and worries behind, and open up to the heart of story .

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Storyteller: I’m going to tell you a story.

Audience: Right!

Storyteller: It’s a lie.

Audience: Right!

Storyteller: But not everything in it is false.

Audience: Right!

(Sudanese ritual opening in Livo (1986: 188)

Telling stories to a new group can be nerve-wracking. Inviting the audience in, as a traditional Sudanese teller might, encourages them to imaginatively participate in the story. Some new audiences haven’t been sure when I’ve come to the end of a story. Is it that I’m not slowing down enough, or lowering my voice to signal the end? I need to start confidently, too.

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“Under the earth I go. Upon the oak leaf I stand. I ride the filly hat was never foaled and I carry the dead in my hand.” (Celtic ritual opening)

Such rituals give me a frame for stories from particular cultures.

In Storytelling: Process and practice, Livo and Reitz list many ritual openings and closings.   These rituals are often quirky rhymes that signal the story world, where anything is possible. In the past I’ve used –

IMG_2567“We do not really mean … We do not really mean … That what we say is true.” (Ashanti ritual opening)

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“Once there was and was not …” (Armenian beginning)

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“ … And so they achieved their heart’s desire. May you thus achieve your heart’s desire.” (Accompanying ending)

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“Now I’m ready to tell my story. And if you don’t listen, your ears will turn green and fall off.” (Beginning)                “ … and I’m glad to see you still have your ears.” (Ending)

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Folktales, themselves,  usually have formulaic beginnings. As soon as we hear “Once upon a time … ” we’re ready to travel into that make-believe world. Idries Shah (1991:105) begins the tale, The Three Riddles , like this – “There was a time, and there was not a time, when the sky was green and the earth was a thick stew…”

 There’s whimsy, too,  in this opening to the The Three Little Pigs. “Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme, and monkeys chewed tobacco, and hens took snuff to make them tough, and the ducks went ‘Quack, quack, quacko!” (Haviland 1972: 22)

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I met up with Scots Traveller & Storyteller Duncan Williamson several times in Scotland. When I saw him telling to children, he always involved the audience. Here he is playing the Mouth-Harp.

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Connecting with his audience, was second nature to Duncan. ” This story I’m going to tell you was my granny’s favourite – I hope you enjoy it. Now I’m going to tell ‘The Taen-Awa’ the way my granny told it to me: if you find any fault in it then I can’t. “(Williamson 1995:45)

And off we go into the story! The teller takes the audience far away on a journey and must bring the listeners safely back to reality again; home safe and sound –

“There was the cradle and John looked in … there lying in the cradle was the bonniest wee baby … his blue eyes … lying smiling up at his mammy. ‘There Mary, there’s your true baby.” (Williamson 1995: 64)

 “So everyone was pleased, and lived happily ever after.” (Steel 1983: 60)

“The wedding lasted from one Monday to the other Tuesday, and the whole land was in great joy, and if the strings of the fiddle hadn’t broken they would have been dancing yet! (Shah 1991: 228)

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And lastly,  here’s what we take away, when the stories are over and it’s time to leave – my favourite traditional closing from Armenia –  “Three Apples fell from heaven. One for the teller, one for the listener, and one for the one who took it to heart.”

     All text, except quotes, and photos by Meg.     Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

   CROWLEY, Daniel J. ‘The Art of Bahamian narration’ in MACDONALD, Margaret Read, ed. (1999) Traditional storytelling today: an international sourcebook. Chicago, Fitzroy Dearborn.

HAVILAND, Virginia (1972) The Fairy tale treasury. Ringwood, Vic.. Penguin Books Australia.

LIVO, Norma J. (&) REITZ, Sandra A. Storytelling : Process and practice. Littleton, Colorado. Libraries Unlimited, 1986.

SHAH, Idries (1991) World tales: the extraordinary coincidence of stories told in all times, in all places. London, Octagon Press.

STEEL, Flora Annie.(1983) Tales of the Punjab. New York, Greenwich House.

 WILLIAMSON, Duncan (1995) The Broonie Silkies & Fairies: Traveller’s tales. Edinburgh. Canongate.

Why the Rooster Left Home

I’ve been telling the Jacob’s version of the traditional story Jack and the Robbers lately. My young audiences really loved the animals’ antics.

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The kids seemed to have no trouble with the notion that Jack has to leave home “to seek his fortune.” For centuries, tales from different cultures have, as the main protagonist, a boy who leaves home to find … riches? a better life?

Of course, I can think of exceptions. In the Scottish tale, The Black Bull of Norraway,  it’s the three daughters who leave their poor home, one by one, to seek their fortune and all end up marrying a wealthy man.

Paraz points out in her … Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales. There’s a pattern here too,

“Unlike male protagonists, a female character in a fairy tale sets out into the world not to seek her fortune but rather to accept isolation and poverty and to forgo all hope of stability, which can only be brokered by marriage.” (p. 139)

Does this still ring true today?

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I did wonder why the animals all asked to go along… perhaps because they were bored and Jack was so welcoming to each, in turn – “Why of course, the MORE the merrier! and on they went, jiggelty jolt, jiggelty jolt.”

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I found myself giving the cat, dog, bull, goat and rooster all different excuses for being free to join Jack in his quest. The cat’s owner had moved away, the dog was old and nobody wanted him, the goat wasn’t leader of the trip anymore, the bull was for the chop, but the rooster? He wasn’t hoarse from crowing … em … his tail feathers had dropped out.

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I feel it in my bones that he was hen-pecked. They’d all had enough of his territorial swaggering and chased him off.

Next time I tell this story, I’ll add that he was hen-pecked.

Does it really matter? What do you think? It’s only a story after all.

All photos, drawing and text by Meg

Other Sources

JACOBS, Joseph (1974) English Fairy Tales. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Puffin.

MONTGOMERIE, Norah & William (1985) The Well at the World’s End: Folktales of Scotland. Edinburgh, Canongate Press.

PARADIZ, Valerie (2005) Clever maids: the secret history of the Grimm Fairy Tales. New York, Basic Books.

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Australia Colours the Tale

As a storyteller, I do my best to see the story unfold in my imagination as I tell. A well-known American teller, Gioia Timpanelli, once said to me, “If you’re going to tell as story about an eagle, make sure you’ve had a real close look at one.”

Looking closely here in Oz, it’s colours that are especially striking –

Ficus Tree Pink, a sign of new growth.

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Sunset Mauve Flame, the colour of the Flame Child’s dress in Jospeph Jacob’s ” My Own Self”

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Aquamarine, on the edge of the sea, the place the farmer retired to in “J.Percy Cockatoo” by J.Bodger & M.Philp.

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Kelpie Cattle Dog Red in many a faithful, farm dog, tale.

DSCF0029Ancient Grass Tree Green.

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Soft Pelican White, where ‘his beak holds more than his belly can.’

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 Guava like watermelon – juicy, sweet-smelling tucker.

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Eucalyptus Speckle Bark on the “Galah Tree” where those pesky birds roost  in Jean Chapman’s tall tale of the same title.

IMG_1561 Silver Quandong Fruit Blue, the colour of the new eyes Vulture finds for Jaguar, in M.R. Macdonald’s “Little Crab with Magic Eyes”

IMG_1280Sugar Almond Sundown, the end to a perfect winter’s day.

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