I am no longer surprised by the number of adults who ask me what storytelling is. Children never do – they have an implicit understanding of the idea of story. Perhaps this is why so many adults think storytelling is just for kids. Wordsworth’s ‘shades of the prison house’ have grown around them.
Storytelling began with the development of oral communication. It’s been here for as long as we have. Certainly it was ‘sanitised’ in Victorian society and today real storytelling is often lost in the plethora of Bedtime Story books available in your local supermarket – but look even there and in the fables and folktales, the myths and legends, you will see the real elements of basic narrative structure, information giving, human history and moral dilemma.
Richard Adams described Storytelling as an unbroken web that transcends time and space. It is the stuff of dreams and it is through our dreams that we find our potential and ourselves.
As storytellers gather and swap their tales from around the globe they often find that the same story is repeated with slight variation in a number of cultures. Orange & Lemon is a tale I first accredited to be of traditional Gypsy heritage – then I found a Scottish version, then a Red Indian legend and finally a Turkish tale. This phenomenon has long been noted by academic collectors of Folk Tales. Joseph Jacobs noted in his Celtic Fairy Tales of 1892 how some stories were repeatedly collected through Scotland and Ireland and then mentions that the same tale has been attributed to the Japanese or Arabian lore.
Today, novelists, film directors, puppeteers - even singer songwriters describe themselves as storytellers. And they are right. Listen to an observational comedian and you listen to new anecdote, urban legend and storytelling – it’s the stuff of their act. But ‘true’ storytelling, when you experience it, is like rediscovering the taste of roast chicken after a diet of cook in sauces – its a warming winter ale by a roaring fire in a country pub after a week of clubbing. It is the springhead of all entertainment.
People all over the world discover this and I am not surprised. In American Indian Legend all people climbed the same ladder of Buffalo horns to enter the world before wandering the lands to find the place that suited them. (Only the Jicarilla Apache settled near the hole).
The Greeks passed on their history and learning though myth, tale and legend. Even the journey of Jason started there as a recollection of travels to Russia. It was Greek teachers who first stated that ‘if you can listen, you can learn.’
Anansi, the trickster, the spider man was keeper of the tales. According to legends of The Gold Coast, it was he who carried them down from Papa God’s throne room in a jar. The thread he descended was battered by winds and the jar upended. All the stories, all the jokes were gathered up by the four winds and spread across the Earth. Some fell in Australia to the Aborigines, some in the Gold Coast, some on the American Indian and some right here. We are all connected by our story. Even Anansi travelled in tales with the slaves and re-emerged in North America. I heard from an American teller that ‘Anansi’ was misheard by the slave owners to be Aunt Nancy. They took the stories, changed his the name and sex (you couldn’t have a woman in charge!) and Uncle Remus was born.
There are many eloquent and learned histories and explanations, insights and academic study on Storytelling - but for me? Storytelling is just good fun!