12 December 2005


We received our first major snow/ice storm of the season last Friday. While the snow generally doesn't remain on the ground very long in Maryland's Decembers, the cold weather seems to have set in for good.

'Tis the time of the year when I love to read, to listen to, and to tell stories. Something about wintry weather makes me want to find a fireplace to curl up beside while listen to tall tales. Not that I have a fireplace, mind you. Instead I light candles and our Solstice tree lights to give our little apartment by the woods a soft glow. M. and I have made it our tradition in recent years to read each other stories on or about Winter Solstice. We've enjoyed reading aloud to each other in wintertime so much that we even began reading favorite children's books to each other during the ugly part of the summer when both of us felt oppressed by the double-whammy of 90-degree heat and high humidity. We read the entire Harry Potter series to each other, Garth Nix's novel Lirael, and now we are on the second chapter of Nix's most recent novel.

Part of my current spiritual path of studies includes practicing my storytelling skills. I have received some good guidance on how to do this. One technique is to create a "mind map" of the story, remembering scenes that need to be included in your story. Storytelling is an interactive artform. When you tell the story at one time and place, it will never be the same if you tell it again. That is because with each telling, the story's mood, your voice, the audience will be different. Live storytelling is performance art. Props work best when they are few and used only for special dramatic effect. A good storyteller can express the events and describe the scene in such a way so as to transport you into the tale.

At the beginning of November I challenged two of my friends who are also learning to be bards through the same course I am taking. I suggested that each of us select one story and learn to tell it aloud before the next time we meet (which is this upcoming weekend). I stated that the story might be anything real or fantasy of their choosing. It also need not be a very long-winded story, but one that we can tell from the heart. They accepted the challenge.

It took me several weeks to find my story to tell. At first, I did some searching around online for animal tales. I'm very fond of legends and old fables with animals for main characters. Yet the story that emerged in my mind, was not an animal tale. I was driving down the road one evening and all of a sudden began to sing an old Scottish tune that I learned from my music teacher, Mr. Kaplan, in kindergarten, The Skye Boat Song. That song is of Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape from Scotland after the dreadful Battle of Culloden, where the Prince Charles Edward Staurt's army of Jacobites was crushed by the English. Since I've been attempted to learn about my heritage, it occurred to me that my idle singing of this tune had within it the potential for a great story to tell.

I began to read my books on Scottish history and find website relating to the Young Prentender, as Charlie is called. I needed an angle. Then finally I happened to see a link to one of the "minor characters" of the Prince's story on The Scotsman's Heritage and Culture webpage: Flora MacDonald. To my mind, Flora is actually the critical character in the tale of the Bonnie Prince because it is she who smuggles him (dressed as her Irish serving maid, "Betty") across to the Isle of Skye by boat. Flora also paid the price for her actions: the English Government exiled and deported her to North America with her co-conspirator husband. Without Flora's bravery, the Prince might never made it out of Scotland alive. So I have decided that the tale will be at last told from Flora's perspective. Would she judge herself harshly or proudly for having made her decision? Was fully willing and loyal to the Jacobite cause, or did she harbor doubts only partly assuaged by entreaties from her husband and father?

I don't think I will write my version of the tale down just yet. No, I think, I'll keep it as a tale to be told aloud for now. I still have some homework to do this week in order to be ready to tell Flora's story. Perhaps the first telling will not be so good. Yet with each time I tell the story I know I'll get better at it. I can feel that Jacobean lore and literature holds a great many storytelling treasures for me to uncover.

No comments:

Post a Comment