Monday, 20 June 2011

Norwegian Folk Tales and Icelandic Adventures

Asbjornsen and Moe's Norwegian Folk Tales - another treasure trove of stories I've pored over and plundered. My favourites include:

The White Vear King Valemon
The Three Trolls
The Twelve Brothers

Iceland is where I'm headed tomorrow though - in the footsteps of Njal's Saga, on horseback. Five days of camping in places like this:

And this:

And this:

I could go on and on adding pics from Emily Lethbridge's fantastic blog, but I'll look forward to taking my own from Wednesday morning. On horseback! What, what stories shall I bring back??

Story Boot Camp 2

Pummelled, panting and perfectly knackered I was at the end of a week of discovery, frustration, occasional (well, actually rather frequent) humiliation, mime, song, music playing, laughing, dancing, running, shouting, and crying. WHAT a week. I've mimed visiting a house overflowing with bananas, umbrellas, monkeys, toffees and corpses (not a word of a lie), told the story of a man who meets a sticky end in a hilarious way and a god who turns into a horse and back into a god again, shot an arrow, seen some moments of true, stinging inspiration, and found out that I tell stories best when I'm prancing about. Phew!

I also got my hands on Song In-Zob's Folk Tales from Korea, in which I haven't yet found a dud story out of more than 50 read so far, and an unremittingly interesting book on Ancient Chinese storytelling traditions - masters, apprentices, epic tragedies and lots of tea.

Drinking and eating and watching stories. Swap the tea for wine and it sounds rather too much like my idea of Heaven. Boot camp (6 professionals, one breathtakingly beautiful prodigy, old me) can't put me off. Nooooo. Quite the opposite. I'll regret I said that one day, when I'm old and grey. But you know what they say - tell a tale, come what may! Well, actually it might just be me who says that.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Ravens and other Stories

I could spend my life reading Raven stories. I'm pretty familiar with them in Scandinavian mythology, but this week I met the Japanese version for the first time:

(cc) Gullevek
The three-legged Crow-Raven, called Yatagarasu, is always black, and symbolises the intervention of the gods on Earth. If I followed Japanese football I would, of course, know this already - a cartoon version is the Japanese FA symbol, I learned from Muza-chan. Rather more inspiring than Arsenal's cannon, in my opinion! It looks like Yatagarasu is a portent rather than a character as such (I can't find links to any stories in which Yatagarasu speaks or is the central character) but WHAT a portent. I'd sit up and take notice if one of these gents flew past my window.

Last week I discovered a Korean 'Crow' too in the kids section of my local library:

The Crow King in the story - a ogre-like character with hundreds of smaller crow familiars who is beaten by a brave boy in the Underworld - was quite different from what I've read about the majestic Korean Samjok-o, a symbol of power to beat dragons and phoenixes. Are there stories about him? Hopefully I'll find out this week at Storytelling School, where I will live either in the classroom, or the library, for the WHOLE TIME. I can't wait. Only a few hours to go!

Coyote the Trickster

I made a brilliant discovery yesterday morning, and didn't have to go any further than my own bookshelves. Coyote the Trickster is a collection of twelveNative American stories featuring the trickster animal / god Coyote, a character who, after gorging myself of Anansi / Anancy and Loki, I felt it was really time to know more about. I'd forgotten we even owned his little book of tales retold by the marvellous Douglas Hill and the poet Gail Robinson, but it sang out at me just as I was beginning to get bored waiting for delivery of my brand new passport (! more on that later). 

I've found over the past couple of weeks that it's unusual for a retelling of a traditional tale to be as engaging on the page as I imagine it would be told out loud - that is, after all, why I'm studying stoytelling - but this collection was a bit special. Almost every one fired off in my head and made me want to take it away and ferment it and evangelise about it to the whole world! But here's the list of my favourites:

Coyote and Brown Giant 
Coyote and Little Blue Fox
Coyote and the Giant Lizard
Coyote in the Land of the Dead

Raven had some stories in the collection too. He's an incorrigible trickster as well, from further North than Coyote, but despite being greedy, naughty and cunning, in the stories I've read he seems more conflicted - by guilt, and duty, and loneliness - than the Coyote I know so far. My favourite Raven stories in this collection are the absolute classics if Wikipedia is anything to go by:
Raven and the Coming of Daylight
Raven and the Whale
Raven and the Fisherman

I was hugely excited by the latter two in this list, because of their great potential to become 'framing' stories: the characters get into a situation where they're sitting together, and to pass the time they tell each other about their lives, the things they've seen, the places they've been, and so forth. In the Raven and the Whale, the Raven tells stories of the air and the light, and the outer world, while the girl-spirit of the whale counters with stories of darkness, of inner life. In the Fisherman, it's stories of the air, versus stories of the sea. What songs! what fun could be had imagining what they actually told each other. But that is, of course, another story.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Mining Afanasiev

This is a monster of a briliant anthology of Russian tales, hardly any of which actually have fairies in them, where houses stand on chicken legs, and every second person seems to be called Ivan (in England he'd be 'Jack' I guess). I picked the ones that caught my imagination and listed them here:

The Golden Slipper
Emelya the Simpleton
The Frog Princess
The Fox and the Crane
The Fox as Midwife
Baba Yaga
The Secret Ball
Old Favours are soon Forgotten
The Bold Knight, the Apples of Truth, and the Water of Life
The Bun
The Crystal Mountain
The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa
The Dog and the Woodpecker
The Wise Wife
The Goldfish
The Devil who was a Potter
The Raven and the Lobster
Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf

Now I'll read them all again and narrow it down to 5 or 10.

Crow Dog, Tricksters and The Crow King

I'd been buried deep in Snorri's Prose Edda during the day, but in the evening, at the Soho Theatre, just as night was falling...TUUP's irresistible voice, wirf box shaped accordion and mischeivious smile snatched me away to the woods and plains of the southern USA, when slavery was just about still ok. A boy escapes a massacre and becomes a shaman, and just...well, just lives, I guess. Not much to separate this story from lots of others except that the way TUUP told it had me laughing and crying and hurting and flying like some sort of puppet. Grandfather Grizzly Bear was there - then he was gone. The sight of the moon through the leaves of the trees when you're lying on a stretcher mortally wounded was there - then gone. I could go on.

Afterwards, in the bar, I needed (needed!) two glasses of wine before I sounded like myself, and not some starstruck 15 year old. Loki made an appearance, for a second. Anansi fixed to fight him.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Story Hunting Part 1

What can be more alluring to a wordaholic than evangelising about stories, and making them relevant? I can't think of anything.

Having spent most of my life reading everything I could get my hands on, until not so very long ago I didn't really even think that the telling of a story, unscripted, out loud, to an audience, could be where it comes most alive. But it can. And it is! I spent most of last week in Worcestershire at 'Story-telling camp' exploring hundreds of different ways of 'freeing' a traditional story (I'm sure it would work for other stories too) from its text form. It's actually more helpful if you DON'T think of it as text, major discovery of the week. Up until recently, I'd almost always learnt or composed lines, memorised them, and then recited them back unless I was telling very informally. I was good at that. Storytelling, real live Storytelling there is nothing of the 'comfort zone' about it - but it's vital, exciting, and relevant in a way that scripted things simply can't be, I don't think! I had to get used to my own speaking voice again. But the stories...oh, the stories I heard, and saw, and learnt, and discovered. I have to learn how to do it myself. So, I will. Well, I am.

So this week's educational reading is Afanasiev's Russian Folk Tales, Angela Carter's Virago Book of Fairy Tales, Hrolf's Saga Kraka, and Snorri's Prose Edda. I'm hunting a trickster fable, and a tellable section of an Epic, for Story Camp Take 2 the week after next.

Watching the masters at work was another pleasure of this week. I took myself off to see Jo Blake telling The Girl Who Became a Boy (Adam and Eve, Tiresias, a brave soldier girl, a talking horse and a case of mistaken identity...and lots lots more) at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton.

Jo Blake in a previous show - no pics of the new one online!

Now, I don't usually travel half way up the country on a school night to see a performance billed to last less than the time it took to get there, so I was completely delighted that it was so much more than worth it! Even before I knew what was going on in the story, I loved her voice, and the way she didn't need to do exaggerated accents to suggest character. I can't usually sit still for more than half an hour without starting to fizz and buzz and fidget in the most annoying way...but if my legs went dead during this performance (which was so packed there was only room to sit around the edges) I didn't notice until it was over. Just her, on stage, two props and a cardigan, with two musicians off to the side playing the occasional interlude. Hahhh. Amazing.