The Tale and the Teller by Nancy K. Wallace

Storytelling is older than civilization. It traces its roots to the very dawn of humanity on this planet. Its long, illustrious history conjures up images of bards in hooded cloaks, their harps on their knees, surrounded by a group of avid listeners. But that is perhaps,

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a fantasized vision of storytelling. The truth is much more mundane. Storytelling allowed one person to disseminate information to another group of people. Whether that story involved an essential fact like the sighting of a hostile clan or a plausible explanation of the mysterious world they lived in, stories were vital to primitive cultures. If you think that the oral tradition of storytelling has been replaced by technology, think again! As a culture, we crave books, plays, and movies. All of those are forms of storytelling. But did you know, we also become storytellers ourselves every day? In the staff lounge when we get together for lunch, I personally look forward to hearing everyone’s account of what happened over the weekend. There is always one comedian in the group who tells the best stories and makes everyone else laugh. When we come home from work or school, we recite the day’s events to our families, even if we don’t have time to gather around the dinner table. Those stories may become slightly exaggerated, but the point is that stories are still extremely important in our daily lives! We encourage storytelling in our children from the first time we are presented with an unidentifiable crayon drawing and we say, “Tell me about it!” We ask what our kids did at school each day, demand to know why they are late, and inquire cautiously about the person that they are dating. When our children are doing the storytelling, we as parents have to decide whether we’re being told the truth or not! Because I am a librarian, storytelling is particularly important to me. Fourteen years ago, I voiced my desire to hold a Storytelling Festival at our library. The first year we had an audience of 60; now fourteen years later we hold our Festival in a park and the audience has swelled to 2,500. What is the attraction, you ask? Why do 2,500 people leave the comfort of their air-conditioned homes, their cushy recliners, and a multitude of TV channels? There is something mesmerizing about the spoken word around a campfire. It speaks to something elemental and basic in our souls. Children lie on blankets or in the grass, their heads propped on their fists to listen. Grandparents and teens alike take time out of a busy day and hang on every word. Tim Hartman, actor, comedian, and “storyteller extraordinaire” has children giggling and dancing through the grass mimicking his fantastic tales of silly animals. When night falls and the bats wing their way through the trees, Alan Irvine, a velvet-tongued bard from Louisiana, chills them to the bone as he weaves his ghost stories, dressed in a black cape. In my series, The Wolves of Llisé, storytelling is a way of safeguarding the history of the provincial people. Just as the customary storytelling at the Seder Feast indoctrinates children into the traditions of the Jewish faith, Llisé’s bards teach their people to remember and honor their history. Their pride in their ancestry – who and where they come from – defines them as a people. Each province has its own chronicle – its own repertoire of tales. Each person sees himself as a member of his province as well as a member of the empire. It is when the government’s written history and Llisé’s oral tradition clash that the trouble begins. Llisé’s bards are meticulous in the repetition of the chronicles. The accuracy of their history is paramount. The average bard takes years to learn the chronicles word for word from a Master Bard. Freemasonry presents a comparable phenomenon today. Their ritual has been passed down for centuries by word of mouth. It is still dictated today that a candidate for masonry must learn the ritual verbally from a Master Mason. Stories explore our deepest fears, elicit our greatest longings, and provide a catharsis for both the teller and the listener. Their appeal is as great today as it was 1000 years ago. Storytelling is something to cultivate in ourselves and venerate in others. Grim Tidings is out 11th August

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