Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sharing A Story about Stories

I am happy tonight. A young storyteller from Hungary, attending college in the US, emailed to ask permission to tell a story I wrote.

Mine, all mine! Or are they?

Her request makes me happy for several reasons:

  • the story was good enough to appeal deeply to someone else
  • the story speaks across cultures
  • the story will live on because it is being told

In today's world, many storytellers copyright their work. I understand the impulse--"I imagined, labored, researched, created. This is mine." I have felt the same possessiveness about stories I have developed for performance. The tales become my babies, to be protected, nurtured. Not handed off to strangers to be cared for.

As time passed, I began to see stories differently, particularly those I developed expressly for oral storytelling. What drove the change in my position was one word: oral.

Oral storytelling is a tradition that has existed for centuries, probably since the beginning of man. It is how history, traditions, and mores passed from generation to generation. Who am I to stand in the path of that long history and say, "No! This is mine!" And why should I?

All stories have their roots, their beginnings, in another story. That is why the Motif Index exists--no matter the culture or time period, there are themes that transcend all differences and appear in stories across the globe and back through time. These motifs can be identified and cataloged.

So is any story really new? Probably not. The combination of motifs, language, and experiences may vary, but at the bottom of any tale we can probably identify a universal motif (boy conquers giant, girl solves riddles, people/animals shift shapes, etc.).

So when Macsek asked to tell my version of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship (a story based on an old ballad) I was delighted. When Donna requested permission to tell my story Apple Butter, I was pleased. When Elizabeth asked if she could tell Gracie's Cabin, I sent her my CD. Not because I am such a good and generous person--because I want these stories to live on, to be told and shared and changed by generations to come who find something in the tales that speak to them.

What if Macsek, Donna and Elizabeth tell the stories better than I do? More power to them--it only guarantees the future of my stories.

And for that, I'm happy.


Mary said...

Sue, you are in such good company! Jackie Torrance said much the same thing about her stories, and added that she was always developing more, so she'd never run out of stories. Huzzah to you both!

Tiger Lady said...

That is awesome. Because the way I view it is that these people where touched in some way enough to want to repeat it. And that is flattering. Extremely flattering.

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