200th anniversary of Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales and the discussions around their work are still flaming. You can easily find a wealth of opinions, just hit search. I’m arriving to this discussion from the viewpoint of story as action – Storytelling.
For storytellers, the real discussion starts with the tales, and all those issues around Brothers Grimm are not relevant beyond a certain level; something I suppose requires an explanation.
Well, a skillful storyteller reads and hears thousands of stories and is a serious self-appointed researcher. In addition, he shares his questions and musings with other storytellers, listens to what they are thinking and questioning and receives references to more resources. Another important activity is meeting informants, folklorists, elderly storytellers, storytellers with greater experience and storytellers who are devoted to carrying on a tradition. This kind of intensive research is worthy even if the storyteller will eventually end up telling personal stories.
In addition, storytellers tell the stories they work with repeatedly, to an ever-growing number of audiences. Each session teaches us something, tiny or huge, about the way stories work people’s imaginations, our own imaginations. The desire is to reach a high level of intimacy with the text and the way it works, in order to clear the space for reciprocal delivery, being in the now. At the highest level we are looking at recreation and in Hebrew the word ‘tale’ – ‘Maaseya’ can also mean – the deed of God.
Storytellers don’t look for a final text version, but rather for a core version they can revisit, leave and recreate. After years of experience and absorbing story and story-work patterns, the storyteller has enough knowledge, a good ear, and a sharp eye for ‘surgeries’ done in stories. He gains greater respect to deep symbols, archetypes, and other building blocks. Often, he will be able to recognize a “fixed” story in a glance; sometimes it will take closer examination. This reminds the deep acquaintance musicians have with musical forms and structures. A musician who internalized the ‘Sonata’ form along years will recognize it immediately, including changes and “fixes” made to it.
If you read Grimm’s collection, you realize the body of work is not coherent and not all the tales are necessarily worth telling. Some stories are tong twisters; they don’t “sit in your mouth” because they were edited for the reading eye, not the attentive ear. Some are too local or weak and give no special reason to carry them on.
A story-action-patterns school in the German culture and way beyond
With all the criticism, Brothers Grimm’s collection is a storyteller’s treasure for two reasons:
- Some of the tales are fabulous and way out of the ordinary
- It is one of the best manuals for European tales and story-action patterns
Learning and practicing as many as possible great Grimm tales is like practicing the works of the great European composers. The patterns are tight, purified, and dense; practicing them with different audiences produces excellent storytelling core skills. The tight disciplined forms, although seemingly limiting at first, leads eventually to great freedom – to improvise, change, stress, dim and above all – to be an open channel to reciprocal communication between tale, audience, and self during a unique, one of its kind, spoken story-event.
The tales mold us on our path to become storytellers and they never stop doing so if we let them. Those patterns are codifications that pass through generations of storytellers. What seems to others as textual patterns are for us a wide score that includes references to performance indicators and the greater knowledge of storytelling.