Tag Archives: Storytelling

Getting Festive


It’s festival season again! I’m rather delighted by the wide variety of niche, special interest, communities that set out each year to immerse themselves in their enthusiasms for a weekend whilst living in a field and drinking too much.

I’m currently preparing for two days of telling tales to an assortment of LARP (Live Action Role Play), cosplay and re-enactment fans in Gloucestershire at Fantasy Forest. I did a wedding for a sub set of this group a few weeks back and it has to be said that LARPers make a great audience, though I am expecting to be outclassed in the costume department as, for a lot of these people, getting dressed up as something spectacular, wizards, elves, werewolves, aliens, is the entire reason they are there.


Two weeks later I’m off to Valhalla, which is unsurprisingly a Viking Festival, though the location may raise an eyebrow since it’s just outside Basingstoke. There I have to compete with archery, axe throwing, blacksmiths, wolves, fire walking, ravens, boat burning, display fights featuring viking warrior bands from around the country, and the Mead Hall, complete with stage, 10 kilowatt PA and a full programme of viking related music from tinkly medieval harpists to gothic Scandinavian metal.

Now you may think that my preparation for these involves rehearsing my stories and maybe looking up a couple of new ones, which might happen if I have time but mainly it is comprised of activities like rubbing the inside of my viking boots with neats foot oil; sewing my viking tunic up where a seam has split; jump starting the car, moving it to the drive and recharging the battery which has mysteriously gone flat. I have Thursday down for loading the (hopefully fixed) car with the ridiculous array of things I need. Alongside all the obvious camping gear, tent, bedding, stove, enamel plates etc. I also need to fit in chalk boards to advertise my shows, emergency backdrops, costumes, merchandise… instruments: lyre, bodhran, djembe, thunder drum, chimes, dulcimer… then there’s all the odd stuff you have to take because it’s camping: toilet roll, solar powered torches, wet wipes, and not just camping but camping in England, so you need to have enough clothing for any and every possible weather condition: wellies, waterproofs, sun hats, umbrellas, insect repellant, factor 50 sun screen, t-shirts, jumpers.

If last year is anything to go by I could do with a fridge and a rubber dinghy too, one for when it gets too hot and the other for when the rain gets biblical, like it did at Wickham, where I was woken up at about 4am by the extraordinary pounding of the rain on my, thankfully brand new and very waterproof tent, and on going out to check on the guy ropes discovered that a sheet of water around an inch deep was flowing down the hill and under my tent.

I might get to practice my performance a bit before I go but not if I can’t find my sewing kit, I’ve looked in all the obvious places and no sign yet. It’ll turn up eventually but the sooner it does the higher my chances of getting to sit in the shade and bone up on a couple of new viking sagas.

Oh! Water carrier, chalks, tankard… and I must remember a towel this time.

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Sink or Swim?


If you heard of a story that saved thousands of lives, could have saved thousands more, and might yet save tens of thousands if enough people heard it, would you want to know that story? It will be no surprise to you that I, having learned that such a legend exists am desperate to know the details.

There are some fascinatingly unusual and distinct tribes of people on the Andaman islands of Indonesia. The Onge, for instance, who limit outside influence to maintain their gathering and hunting lifestyle free from modern diseases, are a genetically distinct tribe who do not share the genes of Neolithic Iranian farmers or steppe pastoralists that much of the rest of the world have.

The nautically semi nomadic Moken spend a great deal of time collecting seafood, and thus have evolved advanced free diving capabilities, including improved underwater vision and an ability to slow their heartbeat so that they use less oxygen, doubling their time underwater.

Along with a handful of other officially “Particularly Vulnerable” nations, each of these groups has a very small population, dancing along the very edge of extinction. There were only 96 Onge alive in 2004 when a sub-aquatic earthquake sent a tsunami through the region on, what was to us, Boxing Day morning. Over 220,000 lives were lost. Anthropologists feared that entire races could have been relegated to history by the sudden inundation. On further investigation however, it turned out that every single one of the Onge, Moken and so forth survived, having headed inland and uphill as soon as they felt the tremors. How did they know what to do when so many other people from “modern” industrial cultures simply walked out on to the freshly exposed sea bed as the ocean gathered itself to strike? Of course, it was because amongst their folklore are tales in which a great shaking of the ground was followed by a massive and destructive wall of water surging in from the ocean.

This remarkable example of a life saving story demonstrates two things. Obviously the incredible value of story, but also the vast gulf of the understanding of that value between the Andaman culture and ours. Even the parents of people whose lives were saved by the tale had not been born the last time a tsunami swept their shores, yet generations later they were still telling the story, with sufficient vigour and frequency to recognise and follow the essential information contained therein as soon as it became reality.

Witness in contrast, the response of those who brought back the new story of how a story saved nations. Did they collect this life saving tale? Did they beg the Onge to speak the wonder that kept them from obliteration? Have they pleaded with the Moken to disseminate this priceless myth to the countries who lost so many loved ones? Can I find it online? No. All we have is a couple of news reports of how quaint it is that it happened. No one seems to have got as far as recording this proven, life preserving narrative for the benefit of the wider world.

I despair, I really do.

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The Silent Invention


Throughout history technological advances have produced stories about how they were made, who they were made by, or the changes they brought. Some are more common than others: nearly all civilisations have a tale about how mankind got fire from the gods, which is, in almost all cases, that we stole it. The thief, be they a generous god or a daring human, usually pays a price for their crime, experiencing a sentence of eternal torment. It seems the gods were very possessive about fire.

Brewing alcoholic drinks splits along gender lines: male protagonists steal the magical vessel that brews the divine draught, while women and goddesses invent fermentation themselves. Irrigation is invariably passed to early agricultural societies by their solar deities, who have become surprisingly generous since the flame filching incident. The rotary quern, commemorated worldwide in a tale that explains the salt in sea water, is nearly always initially obtained by trade with a demon… before being stolen… usually several times. Metallurgy is more varied and can be gifted by angels, gods, dwarves, or simply innate in the personality of a great king. Medicine tends to come to families through an ancestor from the fairy realm.

These are the more widely dispersed tales of great leaps forward. Various other inventions have been mythologised in single tales from specific places, tea for instance. As I have been quietly noticing these ancient echoes from the inventors workshops of the past, I have been rather struck by one particular area that remains totally silent. Not one single story I have come across details the inspired creation, deific giving, or daring heist, of the first wheel.

Surely the momentous construction of the very first, utterly unique, rolling conveyance – be it wagon, carriage, chariot or wheelbarrow – surely that device, that could carry something without it being on your back, head or arms, would leave some kind of track, some kind of rumble in the tales of the civilisation it first trundled in? However, not one god, goddess, angel or devil is credited with revealing vehicular transport in a high velocity vision; no hero or demigod is chained to a rock in never ending punishment for half inching wheel number one; none of the celebrated artificers have an episode in their saga where they solve a benefactors problems by axing up an axle. How is it possible that we have worldwide myths about the taming of fire, which we’ve been using for around one and a half million years, but not even a whisper concerning the invention of the wheel less than seven thousand years ago? Unless we are just not listening for the right sound.

What if the sound we should be listening for is rigging? Hear me out. The world that first saw wheeled locomotion had no name for the machine bowling past them. Nevertheless they had been skulling, rowing and, more recently, sailing for thousands of years. A plank built wooden construction, with sides and cargo may very well have been called a ship, even if it was rolling down the street. Now, ‘the ship that goes on land’ does exist in folktales, sometimes hunted out in a great quest, sometimes picked up almost accidentally alongside other magical items whilst searching for something or someone else. This land boat is highly desirable, very valuable, and most often traded off to a king for a barrel of jewels and the hand of a princess. Now, if it were already possible to truck produce around in carts who would be interested in a ship out of water? But if that “ship” was sailing on land using the first and only bogie, then that would be worth talking about for years, maybe even six thousand of them.

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Flippin’ ‘eck!


This may surprise you but there is a quite large and active storytellers community. I say community, we see very little of each other as it is rare to have more than one storyteller for an event, but we do communicate through the odd festival and, of course, online groups. Apart from asking each other for stories whenever we get a short notice booking on a topic we know nothing about, we obviously talk about how to keep the presentation of our corpus of ancient material vaguely relevant in the modern world.

“Should we present the tales unchanged to preserve the tradition?” Is met with a unanimous “No!”. After all they are preserved in their original form in countless books, libraries and archives. Changing the stories for the audience in front of you is the tradition! Mostly we agree that the wedding between protagonist and opposite sex royalty at the end of a tale can be freely dispensed with in favour of lifelong friendship and a business start up with the pot of gold as capital. This switch goes down really well with kids, especially with girls when the protagonist is female. And so we come to one of the topics that the community is slightly less unanimous about: gender flipping. This is a process by which Jack becomes Jade and the storyteller has to remember to say she and her instead of he and him through the whole story, taking extra care during the exciting bits. Why would one do this? Well, the main reason most of us give it a go at some point is that there are far more stories about boys and men than there are about girls and women. Hmmm.

Early on in my storytelling career I made an effort to source a balanced repertoire from tales in their original gender. As time has gone on I have found myself picking a theme for the halloween tour, only to find the corpus is largely devoid of women: Lycanthropy is a pretty much exclusively male curse; demon stories feature the male of the species. With an adult only audience it is possible to address this simply by pointing out that the imbalance is there, and is a product of the societies that produced the tales. With family audiences it is a different thing, children need representation.

I first gender flipped a tale quite late on a Sunday afternoon of a four day festival. The story I had decided to tell was a simple, upbeat trickster yarn featuring a boy and a boggart. The audience was, by chance, entirely girls and their mothers. Rather than hunt through my brain for a story with a female protagonist, I just re-cast the lead part with a girl. After that I occasionally gender flipped the main character where I felt it would work.

Then, I was given a Christmas present: a book of classic fairy tales that had been gender flipped by a computer algorithm. No editing has been done, the stories are in exactly the same words and sentences as when written down by Hans Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, except with absolutely every she turned to he and vice versa, right down to fairy godfathers and lizard footwomen. “Handsome And The Beast” maintains it’s narrative with nary a ruffle in it’s fur. “Cinder, or The Little Glass Slipper” trots along as implausibly as it ever did, even the ugly brothers tightening their corsets just embedding it more deeply in the fashion of the 18th century and the eponymous footwear being exactly as ludicrous on a male foot as a female one.

Back in the storytelling tent this summer I flipped a couple of my other regular stories just to see how they went down. “The shade Of The Cypress” pits a poor pedlar against a rich and arrogant merchant. The only other character is a magistrate. In the original all three are male and no one bats an eyelid. In the gender flipped version, the two business women visit the magistrate twice. The first time I used only the title of the office and left the sex of the magistrate unspecified, waiting until the climax of the story to slip in a gendered pronoun as the magistrate delivers the verdict. The effect on the female members of the audience when I said “she” was worth it. There was a palpable ripple of excitement, widened smiles, daughters and mothers turning to each other, sharing joy in the judgement between two women not being made by a man.

So I am now firmly in favour of gender flipping. Every little surprise, every time some part of ones brain goes “hang on” highlights a preconception, a bias, a conditioning in our perceptions of what men and women are or can be. It is frankly illuminating. Try it.

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Legendary!


[This year I have been even more out of kilter with keeping the blog up to date than usual. I completely lost this article and had to retrieve it from the sent folder of Mail. It was written in July for August’s Morchard messenger]

I’m doing a bunch of Viking tales for an online gig in three day’s time. I know a lot of the mythological material really well, the stories of Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki and the other gods of Asgard as they struggle with the giants. I have been telling them on and off since I started nearly 30 years ago. It’s nice to keep things fresh though and I’ve been meaning to work up a version of the story of Halfdan, a young Viking warrior who has to fight assorted foes, traitors, brigands and wizards to eventually retain his father’s kingdom and win the hand of the fair Ingigerd. It’s a great tale! It’s got star crossed lovers, treachery, cross dressing, blood feuds, sea battles and magic dogs. What more could you want?

Well, I want it to be easier to learn. Being part of the saga material, huge amounts of the action are dependent on the relationships between the characters, often with respect to generations of animosity sparked by an ill-considered, fatal dust up between their grand uncles, or some other unburied hatchet, or unburied Dane axe, as it might be. On having a read through before starting work on memorising it I realised that every character comes with an entire genealogy, each ancestor emphasising their status in the hierarchy of the North, in one case traced back to Odin himself.

Now, you might think that one could simply ditch all this back-story and get on with the action, who cares about lineage? However, if you don’t know that Griff The Bald’s great grandad was stabbed in the back by Frank The Flashy’s grandmother in law in the wake of a bit of pillaging, that would strip the emotional power from their chance meeting on the deck of a longship in the middle of a battle. All that tedious “Bjarki The Bashful was the son of Bronji Boring Bonce from Birken” matters.


It’s not just the drivers of the drama that matter. Despite the more fantastic elements of the story, this is not a folk tale. Also, despite the occasional deity in the family tree it is not mythology because in mythology the gods are the main protagonists, or at least are responsible for a significant part of the plot. Halfdan appears in actual historic documents. Oh yes, he was a real person. Who was related to whom matters because some of it may be true. Now, if Halfdan was a historical person, if some of the things that we are told happened actually happened, and it then accrued a number of less believable elements, that makes his story technically (pauses dramatically)… a legend! Yep, because there truly was once someone called Halfdan Eysteinsson, king of Romerike and Vestfold, also known as Halfdan “The Mild”, the exploits in his saga are officially legendary.

Unfortunately that also means that editing it to make it easier to learn needs to be done with immense care, and getting down to the level of “There was a prince who went out to seek his fortune” is not going to happen. So Halfdan is going to have to wait to get his legend told and I am going to have to find some other tale to tell. One I can have ready to go in 3 days…

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

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Eye Eye


Theatre, I have recently learned, did not develop directly from storytelling. In several different cultures around the globe theatre evolved from religion via ritual performances of myth. The sacred dramas were, of course constructed on a foundation of earlier storytelling, so it is theatre’s ancestor, maybe not it’s mother as I have previously held, but in true mythological style, still a parent via an incestuous relationship with an earlier offspring.

Each of these three generations of the storytelling family have their own accepted range of physicality. When I run workshops one of the things I ask my students to play with and make a decision about is the basic concept of movement involved in their performance: are they a sitting or a standing teller? Static or mobile? As storyteller’s go, I am out on the extreme end of active, roaming the stage with imagined swords, opening non existent doors, leafing through transparent tomes taken from invisible shelves, pulling faces, waving my arms and sometimes even running from side to side. It must be a bit of a surprise for anyone who thinks that storytelling is someone sitting down and reading from a book.

We in the 21st century are very much an optical culture. Video may not have actually killed the radio star but it did push her in to an abandoned cellar and steal her lunch money…
And no one cared: out of sight, out of mind!

Storytelling though, is and interactive art form and the line of sight goes both ways. The bard of yore was given the best seat by the fire, not just because their status earned them the warmth (if they were anything like me they would be oblivious to the cold once the words start to flow), but because then the audience is lit by the blaze and their reactions can be seen, read, and reacted to in turn.

When storytellers give a narrative performance both performer and audience are lit so we can see each other. We will let the audience know that they are seen by making eye contact with them now and then, a universal sign of acknowledgement and inclusion. Since I am the only person on stage I can use these various lines of sight for different parts of the show. If two characters in the story are having a conversation I can clearly demonstrate that by stepping to one side, looking across the front of the audience, making eye contact with someone sitting near the opposite side of the room and talking to them as if I am the Giant and they are the Padishah’s Daughter. To continue the dialogue I simply step across the central line, turn to face someone on the other side of the room and they become the Giant while I speak the words of the Princess.
We all understand the visual convention, acclimatised to it through years of theatre and a vocabulary of camera angles learnt in the early days of the big screen and passed down through TV, yea, even unto the TicTok generation.

But now a new re-evolution is upon us. As the storytelling world has moved en-masse to the virtual firesides and feasting halls of Zoom and Google Hangouts we find ourselves restricted to a single eyeline. I have my web cam standing in front of a large screen which shows as many of the viewers as possible, each in their own rectangular box. I can see and react to them but I am unable to look from one side of the audience to the other as all eyes have become the same cyclopean orb, all engagement must be through the one unblinking lens. As we all adapt to the unfamiliar context I am intrigued and excited to see the full form of this new child that storytelling and technology are spawning before our very – universal, digitally integrated – eye.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

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The Old Grey Waffle Test


“But how do you remember it all?” It is the question I am asked most often about my craft. I have answered it in this column at least twice. With two different answers of course, both of which are true. Today as I sat down to write this months FTC for you I realised I am going to give you a third answer.

“What is it about Three?” Is one of the questions I am asked most often about my material: “Why does everything happen in threes”; “Why is three the magic number?”
The observant among you may well have put three and three together and realised the answers to these questions are linked.

The thing is, folk stories, stories that stay alive by being told, heard, remembered, and told again do have a survival mechanism that has evolved in them. It came to my attention last night when I was reading Jo a bedtime story. I had chosen the tale of the Goddess Inana and her descent in to the Underworld. This is one of the Sumerian stories that was found on 5,000 year old clay tablets from the dawn of writing. A deeply significant tale of power, sacrifice, loyalty and resurrection. Having performed it on tour nine years ago I am re-learning it for a zoom gig in September. It is around twenty minutes in total but I only have to learn about 7 minutes of it. Here’s the trick: every element is repeated at least three times, sometimes quite cleverly.

Before Inana descends in to the Underworld she gives her minster, Ninšubur, a set of very specific instructions concerning the ritual mourning she must perform, including some quite shocking procedures, and a richly metaphorical request for help she must make to Inana’s father and two grandfathers. The story follows Inana down while Ninšubur waits. After three days have passed and Inana has not returned, that specific sequence is reprised as Ninšubur puts on the dress of a servant, covers herself in ashes and performs the series of lacerations to her eyes, nose, ears (in public) and buttocks (in private) as directed previously. She then makes the requests to all three ancestors. Father Enki grants the wishes of Ninšubur and produces the necessary help so we don’t hear the request sequence again, but we don’t need to; we’ve heard it six times by now. We have only experienced the mourning ritual twice though. Don’t worry, it’s coming up again soon.

After Inana has been restored to life she comes back from the Underworld accompanied by the Anuna, who are described variously as the “Judges of the Underworld” and as “Demons”. They are not just up for a jolly in the land of light but have to maintain the cosmic balance by taking back someone to fill Inana’s place in the realm of the dead. The first person they encounter is of course Ninšubur, waiting patiently by the gate. The Anuna are about to take her below when Inana stops them: “This is my minister of fair words, She did not forget my instructions…” and continues to run through the litany of mourning that Ninšubur executed, lacerations both public and private, the visit to the houses of the three gods and concludes “She brought me back to life. How could I turn her over to you?”. So we hear the same words three times but in very different contexts, first as impending imperative, second as action and third as both praise and a defence before the Judges, each repetition carrying a different emotional charge.

Much as musicians listen out for departing audience whistling one of their melodies, storyteller’s know we have got something right when someone quotes an oft repeated line back at us. After I’ve told The Field of Genies I enjoy hearing “Who gave you permission to do that then?” echoing across festival fields; those who have heard The Padisha’s Daughter Who Married a Donkey Skull find themselves approaching taps with the words “What fountain is this?”; and any audience that has made me run around at the end of The Hedgehog And The Devil will get up to leave afterwards with the words “Off we go again then” on their lips.

And there you have it, at the risk of repeating myself, repetition within a story makes that story easier to remember and the stories that have triple repetition are more likely to be told because they are more easily remembered.


…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk

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Off We Go Again Then


For several years near the beginning of my storytelling career I used an old gag about a hedgehog as my encore number. It explains the origin of the well known phrase for getting on with a task: “Off we go again then, as the hedgehog said to The Devil”. I first learnt it as a short filler story for a guided Performance Archaeology walk at Lechlade. Between the very interesting historic town centre and the very interesting historic riverside tower, there was quite a long section of footpath past garden fences and allotments which was very uninteresting. However, we needed an excuse to stop and let the audience catch their breath and whilst they did so it was somewhat incumbent upon myself and my archaeologist compatriot, as walk leaders, to entertain them while they did so. That, to a fair extent, being the point of the exercise. 

The thing with guided walks is that your location is part of the show, it is both the inspiration and the backdrop, the set and the subject. Having chosen a specific site to build one’s performance on, it is rather a requirement that said performance be site specific. Unfortunately at this particular pause in forward locomotion the only landscape features available to talk about on the otherwise flat, floodplain fields, were a hedge and a ditch. Neither of these could be conclusively proven to have historical provenance, so it would obviously be the storyteller’s job to fill the yawning chasm with excitement. The brief then, was to tell a short story somehow connected to the aforementioned hedge and ditch, and since the majority of the history on the walk was from the Middle Ages it should preferably be a medieval story… about a hedge or a ditch. I expect I don’t need to elaborate on the unsurprising paucity of material in the ‘Hedge and Ditch’ genre of medieval folktale. Oh the conundrums we contrive for ourselves!

What the Middle Ages did have in copious quantities were stories about The Devil. I say, The Devil but I should say “devils”, plural. Although the hellish antagonist is mostly referred to as “The” singular, one and only, definite article “Devil”, the plots have him killed off or permanently confined to the flaming pits of the nether regions too often for us to be able to accept the entire trope as the single saga of one solo demon. A quick shufti at the sources of some of his many names will also demonstrate that we are looking at more than one. For instance Beelzebub was a pun used by the early Israelites to insult a Philistine god called Beelzebul. Beel meant “Lord”, Ze can be read as “of the” and Bul translates as “heavenly home”. Bub on the other hand, meant “flies”. Leaving the dubious humour of the pre-biblical authors aside, it is clear that this is not the same fella who sat at Yahweh’s right hand until he got too big for his boots and had his wings clipped.

The obsessively Christian society of the Medieval period was beset by a plethora of devils. One of the problems of a monotheistic religion is that one has to do something with all the other deities that are hanging around. The obvious solution is to deny their heavenly status and send them to hell, to quite literally demonize them. Since there is only one god the general populace tend to simplify the over subscription of hell by assigning the activities of numerous underworld denizens to the one primary evil doer. The attributes of the foremost fiend are transferred the other way and all manner of newly ex-gods find themselves sporting horns, tails and hairy legs as they are forced to conform to the stereotype.

Amongst the great pile of devil related tales of the time I managed to find “How The Hedgehog ran The Devil To Death” which has a hedge and, more importantly, a ditch in it. I was going to tell it to you but I have been sidetracked by devils and demons, not unreasonably since they will be the subject of my autumn tour. Maybe if you come along I will tell it you then, in the meantime I must get back to my research. 
Off we go again then…

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If Truth Be Told


Sometimes I am surprised by something story related that turns up on the net, not because it is on the net but because I remember being told it at primary school and am amazed that it was considered appropriate. One such item is a famous painting and it’s attendant story: “The Truth coming out of the well” by Jean-Léon Gérôme. The painting features a rather pleasant Mediterranean courtyard corner with a vine climbing up the walls. In the foreground a young lady is stepping over a low wall wearing nothing but a shocked expression.

The story that goes with the picture is that the Truth and the Lie meet one day. The Lie says “What a lovely day”! The Truth looks around and has to agree, since the day is rather nice. The two amble around together for a while and eventually arrive at a well. The Lie tells the Truth: “The water is very nice, let’s take a bath together!” The Truth, once again suspicious, tests the water and discovers that it indeed is very nice. They undress and start bathing.

Now, I’m not sure what you think but, as a 6 year old I was dubious about the concept of random strangers meeting up and going skinny dipping in the water supply. I especially had trouble with the idea of taking a bath in a well as this would surely necessitate some level of naked climbing or levitation, on top of which they had no towels or soap with them and the whole episode seemed rather unlikely. Looking back I realise I must have been a much more literal child than the adult I grew into and clearly had issues with extended metaphor, so for anyone else who is struggling with details of this nature I should probably suggest that they are unimportant, just the dressing, let them go. It is an allegory and as such it is the interrelation of the two characters that we are supposed to be paying attention to.

Suddenly, the Lie gets out, puts on the Truth’s clothes and legs it. The Truth is unsurprisingly rather miffed and clambering out of the well runs around trying to find the Lie and reclaim her clobber. The World, seeing the Truth naked, turns its gaze away, with contempt and rage.

And this is the bit I had trouble with in terms of appropriateness. There seemed to be a double standard about the nakedness issue. If we are not supposed to look at her naked then why are you showing us a picture? Also, someone’s nicked her clothes, why is everyone being mean to her? Furthermore, I really didn’t like the ending which leaves the world a very dark and hopeless place. Is this really the world view to present to infants?


The poor Truth, so the story goes, went back to the well and hid in it, feeling ashamed of her nakedness. Since then the Lie travels the world freely, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society, because, the World, in any case, harbours no wish at all to meet the naked Truth.

See what I mean? Grim. Today though, I am a storyteller and I know things that I did not know then. I know that Truth did not stay in the well. She crept out under cover of darkness and turned up at the Storyteller’s door. There she was taken in, given food, comfort, a warm bed and gentle embraces. Now each day the Storyteller dresses her in material of metaphor, wraps her in robes of fantasy, heightens her appeal with hats of hyperbole and sends Truth out, hiding in plain sight, to whisper in to peoples hearts.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman

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Man’s Beast Friend


While the deeper meanings of a story remain constant the details and mechanics are often effected quite strongly by the medium. This is never more obvious than the change wrought on werewolves by the cinema. Almost everything we think we know about werewolves: their connection to the lunar cycle; their immunity to all but silver bullets; their un-controllable blood lust; the weird feud thing with vampires; that a bite will will make you one too… were all popularised by movies and are all wrong.

In pre-Victorian folklore the moon doesn’t play a part in werewolf stories at all, they have no crossover with vampires whatsoever and getting bitten by a werewolf may be painful, or even fatal, but it is not transformative. Werewolves die as easily as any other mammal and only a few of them are hell bent on destruction. In the old folktales it seems that being a werewolf is a purely physical condition. The person of evil intent will become an evil wolf whilst the good and civilised person will remain equally domesticated whilst in their furry skin.

Those who are wicked and have the ability to become a wolf are frequently repeatedly violent, not always when changed either. The renowned folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould, wrote a book called The Book of Were-Wolves” which is actually primarily about serial killers. He appears to be making the case that the werewolf trope arises out of the monsterfication of the multiple murderer. In folktales and history bad werewolves get killed of course, usually with a fairly standard sharp implement such as a spear or a knife, or dancing at the end of a rope if the law has caught up with them.

One of the things about the good werewolf is that they don’t have a big problem with being a bit doggy; running off in to the woods is just a thing they have to do now and then. There are even stories in which the ability to transform is given as a gift or reward. Any problems that they have stem from other people’s reactions. It is often getting past society’s unwarranted negativity that creates the conflict in the story. In one French tale (France has quite a high density of the afflicted), a dissolute Abbott called Gilbert falls form his horse in the forest whilst drunk, cutting himself in the process. The smell of blood attracts some wild panthers who are about to make a meal of him when he is rescued by a werewolf. The werewolf follows Gilbert back to the abbey, despite Gilbert’s repeated and ever increasing attempts to shoo it away, and later turns out to be his Bishop who lectures Gilbert on the Christian values of judging people by their actions rather than their appearance.

Unlike many other beast genres in folktale, the climax of the tale rarely involves the werewolf becoming permanently human, the condition is not one that gets cured. The more gentle and well behaved werewolf can mostly avoid the terrible terminations of their murderous cousins but is still generally the same amount of canine at the end of the story as the beginning. The wedding that is the resolution in so many fairytales is totally absent as well, the werewolf’s marital status being neither here nor there unless it is their spouses attitude to their lupine nature that causes their problems. What the good werewolf can generally look forward to as their “happily ever after” is acceptance of who they are, however big their eyes, ears and teeth are.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk

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