I gave the fairies a rest last month while I checked through my stock of stories, blew the dust off some old favourites, retired some stalwarts from the last couple of years and looked over the new recruits for my summer season’s festival sets. Over a four day festival I will get through more than sixty tales varying in length from a couple of minutes to three quarters of an hour. Also some people turn up at more than one of the festivals and I like to have enough material at hand to give them something different from the previous damp field we met in. Then there are the tales I have learnt for historical sites such as Corfe Castle, special requests for weddings, private house parties and any other themed events I am booked for. That’s quite a lot of culture to lug around, and some of those myths are pretty heavy! I could really do with some help to carry it all.
Some concepts are just so appealing that they get invented again and again. In “The Colour of Magic” Terry Pratchett introduced his readers to “The Luggage”, a wooden chest with legs that can not only hold everything it’s owner might possibly need but can also dispose of things they do not want, such as violent aggressors. The small container of infinite capacity is such a practical, amazing and desirable item that we just have to keep re-imagining it: The “Room Of Requirement” may not be portable but Harry Potter would be stuffed without it; Doctor Who is able to travel in his box that is bigger on the inside and Mary Poppins can pull a surprising variety of improbable items out of her carpet bag.
Even though each of these items engages a sense of wonder when we first meet them (Wouldn’t it be marvellously useful to be able to carry and store lots of stuff without having to, well, actually carry or store lots of stuff?), it will come as no surprise that it’s not a new idea at all. Various wizards and the usual plethora of Jacks have facilitated their adventures through the possession of a Magic Bag. Some magic bags are quite specific, the one that appears in the Grim brother’s “The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn” only contains soldiers and horses, but as many as you want, and through it are won the hat, the horn and eventually the kingdom. Other bags have the power to pull things of any size in to them on command such as the one owned by a blacksmith. Annoyed by a churchman who preaches a lot but will do nothing to remove a troublesome demon, he tells the sack to swallow them both. After a long career ridding the land of wickedness, he is sent to hell since he has spent so much of his life concentrating on evil that he “has a natural affinity for it”. Since he doesn’t fancy an eternity as Beelzebub’s toast he orders the entire flaming pit in to the bag leaving St. Peter no choice but to let him in.
Although I have read and told a great many stories I know some better than others. The ones I have at my fingertips to pull out at a moments notice I consider to be in my “Ready Bag”. Although I check the contents over each year, when I am put on the spot by a request or discover an event has a theme no one told me about, if I reach deep in to my ready bag I can often be surprised by what is still in there. I have also found that no matter how big a story is it does fit in, and there is always room for another dragon, giant or goddess if I want to take them with me. I expect you have moments when a long unused fact or skill pops out of your head when you need it, and I’m sure you load new information in to your brain every day. Maybe we all have a magic bag after all, we just have to be careful what we put into it.