Archive for January, 2011

A new experience for me this weekend: a storytelling day based on a work of literature.  Not a folktale, not a myth, not an ecological cautionary tale to play around with, but a book written in carefully chosen words.  And not just any book – one of the best-loved works of the canon of children’s literature.

York ‘Explore’ (aka Central Library) hosted a ‘Narnia Day’ and threw its heart and soul into it.  The staff were dressed as beavers, dryads, fauns, a rather terrifying White Witch, a mighty Aslan; the public entered the library through a real wardrobe filled with fur coats; families were invited to write their own Narnia scripts, star in their own Narnia films, and also…to listen to me tell some of the stories from ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’.

What an intimidating brief!  I couldn’t just read it – that is not what you hire a storyteller for! – but nor could I take dramatic liberties with it.  I couldn’t generalise it, universalise it, twist it this way or that – C.S. Lewis wrote it the way he did and that must be respected.  Moreover, the darkness in this book is rather deep darkness: creatures are turned to stone, friends and siblings betray each other, there is even a kind of crucifixion.  This could not be skated lightly over, but an audience starting at age 5 could not cope with all of it.

Well, I wasn’t sure it could be done, but I am glad I did, because I think it did work, and this opens up a huge seam of storytelling sources for me.

The thing to do, I think, is just like with a myth: you read and re-read the book until you have taken to heart the sequence of events, the key images – these shall not be messed around with.  Then you forget the book and you make it your own story.  You can inhabit the character whose state of mind intrigues you for as long as you like.  You can halt and revolve around a certain point in a character’s journey for a while.  You can press the ‘pause’ button when you need to and invite the audience to learn to recite a key phrase, act as characters in the story, pose as stone statues…  Then you return to your telling and allow them to become immersed again.  And then you must, of course, get everyone safe home again – in this case, I had some young audience members crowned as kings and queens in Cair Paravel.

Thanks and best of luck to York Explore with this series of family events.


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