Talking to fish and other tall tales

Last Sunday I went to the last day of the story-telling festival at Harbourfront. I attended three sessions altogether, all with the ever-cool Tara, and wound up hearing three very different types of story-telling.

The Uppity Women session was the first and, unfortunately, the most disappointing. Although the stories were well-delivered, they had a “scripted” feel to them. The “uppity women” featured in the stories were problematic, too. Sure Greta rescued Kay from the Snow Queen, but what about the Snow Queen as a feminine stereotype? And sure the ordinary woman got away from her annoying family, but what about her teenage daughter, who doesn´t get so much as a description?

The next session were a trio of story-tellers from Germany. This was the session I enjoyed the most, largely because this was the session where the stories were meant to be enjoyed the most. They were still discussion-worthy if you wanted to go by Sir Phillip Sidney´s dictum that the purpose of poetry is “to teach and delight”, but the emphasis was on delighting, with the teaching added quietly. At the end, there were two stories told in dual-language tandem, with the leader telling the story in German, and the follower translating to English and re-telling as they went along.

The third session we heard had stories about disability, told by people with disabilities. This could have been awful (flashback to well-meaning but pedantic auditorium sessions in elementary school), but was saved because the story-tellers were very good at what they did and put the emphasis on the story. Again, the message came in all by itself. I got a little squirmy about the very personal nature of the stories (reading about someone's sex life is one thing; having them sit on a stage and tell you about it is something else again), but I suppose that was also the point.

Listening to all of these different stories and styles of telling them made me think about writing. The most “literary” stories presented the worst; the most fun ones were the ones where I knew or could guess the ending (like when one of the German tellers did "The Fisherman and His Wife" -- the repetition of the fisherman talking to the enchanted fish was great, even though you knew it was coming). Something to think about for readings.