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History of Storytelling - Part 1

Traditional Tales - Part 2

Story for Schizophrenia - Part 3

Changing Meaning - Part 4

The Storyteller's Art - Part 5

Enchanting Bird 1 - Part 6

Enchanting Bird 2 - Part 7

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The History of Storytelling

Ely, Enoch and the Enchanting Bird of Truth

Article by Rob Parkinson, author of the Storytelling CD.

Ely has had quite a spat with Enoch. The two of them haven’t spoken for days and then Ely sees his chum walking along on the opposite side of the rode and he decides to patch things up. “Is that yo’ mate,” he calls out.

But Enoch is having none of it; he hasn’t forgiven Ely at all and he sticks his nose in the air and says sulkily: “No!” So Ely thinks for a moment and shouts back: “Well it ain’t me, neither!”

It’s a little story with a very big theme, but I’d guess anyone involved with therapy of any kind would scarcely need a storyteller to tell them that. It’s from a set of oral tales still more or less in currency, especially around the English West Midlands and particularly the Black Country where Ely and Enoch are supposed to live. (You can’t hear the accents on the page.)

It’s easy to see how much there can be in a story like this one. In a lot of conflict situations, people really are ‘not themselves’; understanding that can be an important starting point.

As the fourteenth century Persian poet, mystic and fabulist, Jalaluddin Rumi said, “A tale, however slight, illuminates truth.” It’s something I’ve seen again and again in my twenty plus years experience as a professional teller of tales.

Working day after day with a huge variety of stories, telling them to equally varied audiences, leaves you with an enormous respect for the largely anonymous makers and transmitters of the tales that form the oral traditions of the world.

And I’m not talking only of the short, illustrative anecdote-cum-joke like my friend’s Ely & Enoch story, nor of the tale of more obvious moral instruction, though by the same token, I wouldn’t want by any means to underestimate those.

If you have already come across the stories of the Mulla or Hodja Nasrudin (Goha to the arabs) popular in the Middle East or the many short Zen tales, you’ll already be aware how much a short, seemingly slight tale can ‘carry’. If not, I can thoroughly recommend them.

But stories in tradition come in all shapes and sizes. There are, for example, myths, legends of all kinds, wonder tales, fairy tales, fables, tall tales, hero stories, trickster stories, ghost tales, teaching stories, oral histories and all sorts more. Of course, the categories shade into each other; a tale of this or that historical figure turns up elsewhere as part of a mythical cycle or a fairy tale; one man’s fable becomes another’s joke.

People in ancient times travelled far more than is commonly thought. When they did so, they took along their invisible luggage of tales which they shared along the road or by the campfire. In pre-literacy days, people perhaps had better listening skills, better memories and perhaps, on the quiet, less need to be fettered by ‘authenticity’. In any case, somehow or other stories not only stuck but were told and re-told and, in the process, dressed themselves in local costume, became part of widely differing cultures.

Because oral storytelling was very much part of life: people told stories in all sorts of contexts - at the loom, in the field, with needle or adze or brush in hand. It’s what you did. And alongside the ordinary folk, professional tellers of tales of all kinds told tales in market place and palace.

Next, Traditional Tales and Modern Stories

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