…this was Childe The First’s request to me last night as I was getting him ready for bed. He’d been complaining that his mattress was too lumpy because of the wooden slats beneath it; I’d laughed and said he was like the Princess And The Pea. He hadn’t heard this story before, so I told him it while he sat on the edge of his bed, fingers on his chin, watching me intently as I described a towering pile of a hundred mattresses, a lonely prince, and a very sensitive princess.
Afterwards we looked through his books and found a written version of the story, complete with illustrations, but he seemed a little underwhelmed by it. He asked instead for me to tell him another story “from in your head Mummy” – as anyone who’s familiar with this blog can imagine, I was utterly thrilled by this request and more than happy to oblige him.
I have tried on many occasions to play ‘storyteller’ to my eldest son, but he has always preferred to have a tale from a book, so he can look at the pictures or follow the words with me. As much as I love reading to him (he gets at least one book a night), I often long for the freedom to tell a story in my own words, to build on the bones of a tale that lived for centuries in the minds and on the tongues of our ancestors.
“When we speak of storytelling we are encompassing a vast heritage of lore, myths, epic tales, folk tales, travellers tales; tales of the creation of the world, tales of its destruction; sagas of Gods and men; all the great traditional legends from around the world. These stories are not learned by rote or read from books but retold by the tellers, making each interpretation unique. Storytelling is more than just performance or entertainment; it can also educate, heal, lead to better practice in business, inspire and change lives.”
- from The Society for Storytelling‘s website
Many of the stories in Katharine Briggs‘ Dictionary of British Folktales are direct transcripts from recordings of the people she interviewed over the course of her work; dialect and strange grammar litter the descriptions of black dogs and devils-in-disguise. These are stories in skeletal form, the essence of a folk memory passed from parent to child to grandchild, embellished as each teller saw fit. One of my very favourite books is Kevin Crossley-Holland‘s British Folk Tales; its pages are rich with beautifully-told stories whose roots are discussed in an appendix at the back. He takes these roots and weaves them into evocative and striking prose that has stayed with me for over twenty years since my first reading; I can’t wait to share these stories with my children.
I promised Childe The First that I would tell him lots more of the stories from in my head, with a little help from Ms Briggs and Mr Crossley-Holland – and I can’t wait to get started.
Kevin Crossley-Holland - official website