Thu, 31 July 2008
"Stone Soup" is not only a popular folk tale with variants in many cultures and countries, it's also become a proverbial expression of sorts -- not to mention the name of a popular magazine for children. In some versions of the tale, the cornucopian object might be a nail, a button, or even an axe. And in some versions there is only one miserly individual involved, as opposed to a whole village. But there is something particularly resonant about the image of getting nourishment from a stone, and even more so about being able to feed an entire community, even if it involves a little deception.
One reason for the story's endurance is that it can be interpreted in a number of ways. There's the concept, for instance, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There's the importance of pitching in to help your neighbors -- it takes a village to feed a village. There's the principle of making something from nothing, or at least being productive in difficult times. And of course there's the motif of applying psychology to encourage cooperation -- prompting people to contribute by appealing to their pride in creating a desirable outcome, rather than just telling them their efforts are needed (somewhat similar to Tom Sawyer's trick with the fence.) We come to you from the outskirts of Philadelphia, where we've returned to perform again at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Zephyr rejoins us after spending a couple of weeks in Winston-Salem, while Dennis and Kimberly report on their recent visit to Pennsylvania's capital city, Harrisburg, where they took a pleasant bike ride on a 20-mile loop that took them one of the finest nature preserves they've ever seen.
Thu, 17 July 2008
"The Peacock and the Crane" is one of Aesop's fables, and (surprise) it has a little lesson to teach: namely that it's wiser to make good use of the skill you have than to boast or make a display of yourself. The peacock has long been a symbol of vanity and ostentatiousness, and it may have been Aesop who started that tradition. NBC seemed to have had something else in mind, however, when it adopted a peacock for its network logo during the early days of color programming.
We come to you, minus Zephyr, from West Virginia, where we are having a busy week during our summer library tour, helping youngsters "Catch the Reading Bug" (that's the theme of the summer reading program for many of the nation's libraries this year). Our first West Virginia performance was in Point Pleasant, so named because it is a pleasant point at which the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers come together.
Up until 42 years ago, the town was best known as the site of the first battle between Native Americans and European settlers, which occurred here in 1774. As usual, the Natives (led by Chief Cornstalk) got the worst end of it. There's an impressive mural of the battle painted on the wall that runs along the riverfront by the national park that commemorates the event.
Okay, that was the town's old claim to fame. But in November 1966 it was the site of the reputed appearance of a strange creature that came to be known as the Mothman. He stood about 8 feet tall and looked like a cross between a human and a moth. He may have been of extraterrestrial origin, or he may have just been the Reading Bug. Or he may have been someone's hyperactive imagination. We can't know for certain, because he did not strut around like a peacock, but hid in the dark like a moth. But whatever he was, he is now folklore, and that's where we come in. There is a life-size statue of him in downtown Point Pleasant, so you can form your own theories. And be thankful that it wasn't you who ran into him.
Comments and folktale requests 206-426-0436.
Award winning storyteller Sean Buvala offers teleconferences and coaching for storytellers. Reading bug PSA courtesy of the Collaborative Summer Library Program
Award winning storyteller Sean Buvala offers teleconferences and coaching for storytellers.
Reading bug PSA courtesy of the Collaborative Summer Library Program
Thu, 3 July 2008
In folk tales, as in cartoons, the laws of physics and biology often are violated without a second thought. Things get blown up, and then are fine; coyotes run off the edge of a cliff and hover in mid-air a moment before plunging; and mice have their tails cut off and then restored. As in the British story "The Cat and the Mouse", which is based on the cumulative list motif, similar to the nursery rhyme "The House That Jack Built". The best-known version of the story is itself told in rhyme by folklorist Joseph Jacobs, who included it in a volume of English stories published in 1890. And it was this version that was familiar to our winner in the Be A Character Contest, a young man from Indiana named Aiden. He requested this story, so we made him the mouse (Ouch! Sorry about that.) But of course we weren't content to copy someone else's version of the tale (tail) despite its appealing rhyming rhythmic lines. We devised, as usual, our own madcap, quasi-improvised retelling.