storytelling2-art - 1/9/96
Another storytelling article by Yaakov.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.
The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).
Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV
Subject: More Storytelling.......(long)
Date: 6 May 1994 23:12:14 -0400
[being a continuation of the Dialog between Mar Yaakov
HaMizrachi and his sister, Aura of Befudlement, on the
subject of storytelling]
Aura of Befudlement: I am glad to see you again, dear
brother, for I heard yesterday that you had some business in
the courts and could not come to continue our discussions of
Yaakov HaMizrachi: In truth I was, and a great victory did
we have before the learned judge.
AB: And did you use your storyteller's arts?
YH: It was not I who made the presentation, for I
merely helped in the preparing of briefs and researches into
the legal texts. But, though you meant your words lightly,
I will tell you that you speak truely. the lawyer uses the
same arts as the storyteller, as does the orator and the
politician. All have the same purpose, to convince another
of the truth of the matter.
AB: It seems to me, then, that a storyteller can follow
many paths in life to success.
YH: You speak with excellent wit. It should therefore be
plain that storytelling is no idle thing, nor are
storytellers to be triffled with and scorned like jongluers
or actors. In Ireland, so I am told, the storytellers have
status second only to the kings. All live in fear of them,
for they may inflict most terrible satires on any who
offend them. But, they are also courted by great lords, for
through their efforts one may achieve immortality.
AB: That is quite plain. After all, how do we know of
Arthur and his knights, save that storytellers have sung his
praises through the ages. But come! Let us return to the
topic you mentioned before, that of the storyteller who
grows too enamoured of his own arts and does not pay proper
heed to his audience.
THE TRAPS AND PITFALLS INTO WHICH STORYTELLERS MAY FALL, AND
HOW THEY MAY BEST BE EVADED OR REPAIRED
YH: I shall return once again to that analogy that has
served me so well in this discourse, that of a young man who
wishes to woo a lady. As you know, it is the fashion for
men who would woo to write poems to their beloved, and to
look greenly when she approach, to carry her picture in a
locket, to sigh and swoon, and in otherwise make a great
show on their affections.
AB: Aye. every spring, it seems, a fainting plague takes
the young men of the city.
YH: No doubt you have observed some young men who become so
wrapped up in their pantomime that they forget the object of
their affection and continue to behave so even after they
have attained their desire, or after a seemly time has
passed when the maid has made it plain the suit is not
welcome. Or, worse, that they so enjoy _being_ in love
that they switch the object of their affection from one maid
to the next, writing sonnets and romantic nonesense to a new
woman every week. They look ridiculous to all save
themselves, and are held up in the commedia and everywhere
else as laughable. So too some storytellers take such
deleight in their own telling that they shall tell the same
tale over and over, well past when the company have grown
tired of it. Also, they put far too much emphasis upon
their words and gestures.
AB: But how can a storyteller know when he is in danger of
becoming such a laughingstock.
YH: Take heed of your audience and regard them well. Do
they shift uncomfortabley? When you begin your story, do
they seem to groan, or to look at the ground or their
neighbor? Also, as you tell your tale, you should keep
careful eye upon them and so judge their mood. You must not
become so involved in your tale that you forget the
audience, or so involved in the audience that you forget
your tale. Also, it helps to know more than one story.
Time and again, at bardic circles, I have heard the same
fellow or two stand and tell the same story, for the
fourteenth time. The first time may be wonderous, the
second splendid, but the tenth in quick succesion becomes
AB: Should you never repeat a story, then?
YH: No, that is to go to far in the other extreme.
Further, if you go to such great Faires as Pennsic or
Estrella you may do well by moving from fire to fire. I
have myself eaten and drunken well on one story and two
songs at Pennsic, since it is new to the different company
each time. Yet here I shall caution you of another danger.
It may be that you tell a story so often that you yourself
cannot bear to hear it again. In that case, give it rest,
for if you cannot tell a story with the same enthusiasm as
before, the audience shall hear the boredom in your voice
and will likewise find the tale tiresome.
AB: It seems then a very good thing to have a large
YH: Indeed it is. In this way, also , you shall have
stories for every occassion- bawdy tales for revellers,
solemn tales for high occassions, romances for the ladies,
and so forth.
AB: Can you really keep track of so many stories in your
YH: Alas for our generation! Of old, it is said that the
Skols of the Norsmen could recite all the lineages of their
kings and sing the praises of their ancestors. Our sages of
old, may their memory be as a blessing, could recite the
whole of the Talmud by heart. Yet we cannot recall more
than a handful of stories! So does man ever decline. Yet
it is still possible to recall several different stories if
one takes proper precautions.
AB: And what are these?
YH: When you ready yourself to go to some bardic gathering
or faire, take the trouble to refresh your memory and
practice again those tales you wish to tell. Even if you
are confident you can recall it, practice again at
least once before you plan to tell it. If someone requests
a story from you, consider for a moment if all the details
and segues are fresh in your mind. It is no shame to tell
someone who has requested a tale 'Alas, I fear I do not
recall that one as well as I might, I shall surely tell it
to you on the morrow.' This shall not hurt your reputation,
and may well draw the fellow back with friends to hear the
tale. Whereas, if you began and then discovered in the
middle that you could not recall some crucial plot twist, or
rembered it after it needed to go into the story, then you
would look absurd and find yourself as the fool who plunged
into the well to catch the moon.
AB: Is it such a horrible thing, then, to forget a part of
YH: Only if you do not know how to recover from your error.
Too often have a seen a novice tale-teller with promise
lift the audience to great heights with his talents only to
send them crashing down again by stopping suddenly and
saying: 'Oh, I forgot to mention, the knight had a magic
sword.' For the interuption plays havoc with the illusion
you have created and the audience must be coaxed back again
to the pleasant dream in which you had enraptured them.
This work is far harder than it was before, like trying to
put back to bed a friend you awakened by making a loud
noise. The awakened sleeper is grumpy, and blames you for
rousing him from his pleasant state. Worse, the storyteller
frequently loses the rythm of the tale himself, and loses
some measure of confidence. These two things, the
frustration of the audience and the nervousness of the
storyteller, with its concominant loss of skill, wreak
havoc with the tale and make a succesful conclusion
AB: Is there no way, then to recover from such a mistake?
YH: On the contrary, if you listen to what I say now, you
will be able to recover from any such mistake of memory so
easily that none shall detect it. Recall that the audience
_does_ _not_ _know_ _the_ _tale_. Only you, the
storyteller, know the tale. Even if the audience be
familiar with the plot, there are as many variations as
there are storytellers. Further, even if you yourself have
told the story to this same audience aforetime, they will
not remember every detail. And, even if they do, they will
think nothing of it.
AB: All this is true, but how does it help in this case?
YH: When you tell the tale and reach the part wherein you
remember some forgotten and crucial detail, keep calm. Do
not panic, which is the precursor of defeat. Instead, work
the detail into the story as if it were meant to come at
just such a point. Let us return to our example of the
hapless storyteller. Rather than saying: 'I forgot to say
he had a magic sword that could cut through armor,' let him
say: 'But unbeknownst to this villain, our hero had secured
a magic sword from a djinn many years ago. This very
weapon, which could pierce any armor, now came into our
AB: I see the cleverness of your device. Even if a part of
the tale has been omitted, it can be thus added as if it
were meant to belong.
YH: Exactly. Many such devices and variations exist. The
words 'meanwhile' or 'unbekownst to our hero/villain, and
'for it was not known that' are your freinds and allies.
Even if the audience suspects, they will forgive you, if the
story continues to flow smoothly. Afterwards, the clever
among them may call you out on it. In which case smile and
do not deny it, but rather let them think themselves clever.
It shall not diminsh you fame or honor to have a reputation
for having recovered well in a difficult spot.
AB: Wise advice, but I must ask: what if you cannot
remember the ending?
YH: Pray that God will inspire you. And speaking of
prayer, the time draws nigh when I must return home to
prepare for the Sabbath.
AB: Peace be with you then. Perhaps, if God is kind, we
may resume this discourse later.
From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV
Subject: More Storytelling.....(long)
Date: 4 May 1994 10:42:54 -0400
Unto all who read these words, greetings from Yaakov.
I have elected to change the form of my discourses on
storytelling a triffle.
A Dialogue Upon Storytelling, and the Manner of
Storytelling, by Yaakov Hamizrachi, residing upon the Rialto
Aura of Beffudlement: Good brother Yaakov! I am pleased to
see you here upon Rialto Bridge. In truth, I expected to
find you here, for I am told by those that know you that you
are here often, doing no real work, but engaged in debate
with the other habitues of this place.
Yaakov HaMizrachi: Sweet sister Aura! Well glad I am to
see you again. How do you like the study and courses of the
University? I pursued them in bygone days myself.
AB: I find them noble arts and necessary in the conduct of
affairs, but I regret that while at University I neglected
to learn bardic arts. For, on my return to the Laurel
Kingdoms, I found myself at bardic circles, where, to put it
briefly, I was tongue tied and awkward, and regarded as
little more than a block of wood. I should have liked to
have acquired skill in storytelling during the hours between
serious studies, an accomplishment which would have rendered
my company welcome to all.
YH: That will be an easy thing by reading good books in
order to sharpen your wit and by learning storytelling,
singing and musical instruements.
AB: I much enjoyed singing and playing the doumbec, which
put me on good terms with the Horde. But I could not get
me a silver armband or other treasurer upon which, it seems
to me, the reputation of a young bard depends.
YH: You are quite right, as those who give treasurers and
rewards do not desire to have splitting headaches, which
comes from overmuch listening to the doumbec. Also,
storytelling allows a patron to survey the bard and see all
his aspect, to savor the quality of his performance, and to
see if his breath emit an odor, as of bad meat. And the
good storyteller do encompase all the arts of the performer
such as singer, oratition, actor, and more that these others
do not put forth. Therefore is storytelling considered the
best and most worthy of the bardic arts.
AB: You speak truely, it seems to me, but that I have heard
certain moralists and others rail against storytelling as an
idle practice. As you are a religious man I pray you tell
me why it be permitted to spend time on such things, or to
tell bawdy or other unseemly stories.
YH: For every detractor of stories, there are a hundred who
do praise them for their power to teach and to give wholsome
diversion. The Rabbis report that the greatest among them
knew all the tales of foxes, and of washerwomen, and for
this were they considered great and learned. Further, it
is reported that the High Priest was kept awake all the
night before the Day of Antonement by storytellers, lest he
suffer an emission in the night and be rendered unfit for
service in the Temple. The descendants of Ishmael so revere
stories and storytellers that the tales of Mohamad are a
source of law. So too the Christains say that their Jesus
preached by means of parables and stories. Even the anceint
pagans did thus, for it is said that Augustus himself could
not sleep at night unless a storyteller stood by to relieve
the cares of the day with fables and tales of wonder.
AB: This seems a most excellent recomendation. Yet what of
the bawdy tales that are favored, that deal with matters
coarse and plain.
YH: Even these tales have value. For, if you examine them,
you will see that many of them have fine value and give good
moral teaching, showing the vanity of love and romance and
the futility of persuing one's venal desires. Also, in
many of them, it is shown how those who behave immorally
receive their comeuppence.
AB: Your discourse shows me proper wisdom. I see it can be
meritorious to tell even the bawdiest tale. Therefore,
since there is no shame in the matter, I would bid you teach
me all that you can about this most excellent art.
YH: Since I know your quality, I know that you know the
basics: To learn the tale well so that you are familiar with
the details, to practice it, and to use one's body and one's
voice in the telling.
AB: Yes, these basics are known to me, so that I may tell a
passable tale. But now, dear brother, do confide in me the
techniques and devices by which one may improve the telling
OF THE LANGUAGE OF STORYTELLING
YH: First, you must give thought to the language which you
use. The storyteller must, above all else, use words to
paint an image. Wherefore first I must caution you, if you
tell what is commonly called a 'period' tale of old, to
exise from your words all trace of modern loqutions and
AB: But why should this be so?
YH: Nothing will so anger your audience as to tease them
into the image you desire then to tear it down before them.
If you have filled their heads with the vision of Arthur and
his knights of old, nothing could so jar them as to hear
Arthur disclaim some modern jape or slang expression. Then
will the audience's dreams be dashed and your purpose
AB: But is it not true that some humor may be derived from
this juxtaposition of imagery?
YH: I'faith, a truely skilled storyteller may sometimes
achieve this effect, but more often than not it is the
amature who does this by accident, never noticing the slip
that has tripped off his tongue. Even if the audience
laughs, you have but gained cheap laughter of no account.
You may as well saved everyone the trouble of listening to
you and broken wind loudly before your elders.
AB: Your point is well taken, but do you speak against all
YH: Heaven forfend! The gift of laughter is one of the
greatest gifts the Holy One, Blessed be He, has given to
man. But recall that you are bard, not a buffon. The Bard
uses wit, and satire, and irony.
AB: How may this be achieved?
YH: Irony is a great weapon. Make it sharp, but not so
subtle that it passes out of view of your audience.
Euphamism may also aid you, especially if you use it
ironically. For example, if you said of a man in the act of
fleeing his foe 'and so he exercised that bravery and
intelligent discretion for which he was justly famous.'
AB: And, as you have said, the gesticulations of the hand
and face should also compliment this effect.
YH: Precisely so. Further, you may make the point with the
quality of your voice, and contrasting it with the
description given in words. For example, if you said of a
harriden: and then, in her own sweet dulcet tones, she
gently exclaimed' and then screached out the words, that
would work as well.
AB: I see.
YH: Yet I urge you to be wary and not to overuse any one
trick. A song may be beautiful once, but it becomes tedious
to hear again and again. In a tale, you must balance the
tricks you use for effect.
AB: Yet how does one know the proper balance?
YH: That skill comes with time and much practice. If you
persist, then you shall learn the way of it. But come, the
hour of nones comes nigh, and I am famished and parched.
AB: In truth, good brother, so am I. Let us continue our
discourses after we have taken refreshment.