RichardPermission to tell?


People sometimes ask me whether they can tell "my" tales. Well, it would be highly presumptuous to call them "mine": they have been around a lot, lot longer than I have.

It is true that I have my own way of telling them - although that way changes in each performance.

It is also true that I should be very surprised if any experienced teller wanted to tell them in the way and with the words that I use.
(Tellers who are less experienced may need to stay closer to my way - but we all had to start somewhere.)

So I hope that, like all true storytellers, you can make something of them, and that they become your tales.

For as I like to say at the end of a performance, these tales - often hundreds, even thousands of years old - have been alive today because you have been here to hear them.
Your task is now to keep these stories alive by telling them to others!

Of course, if you do tell some of the stories you have met through me, either at a performance or from this website, I'd love to hear from you. So to tell me which you are telling.

The respected folklorist, A.K. Ramanujan, in his Folktales from India (1991, ISBN 0-14-023328-8) writes the following on this topic:

Every tale here is only one telling, held down in writing for the nonce till you or someone else reads it, brings it to life, and changes it by retelling it. These tales were handed down to me […] consider me the latest teller and yourself the latest listener, who in turn will retell the tale.
[…]

As an old Chinese proverb tells us: "Birds do not sing because they have answers; birds sing because they have songs."
(Preface) […]

From the Introduction:
In a story told about Aristotle in Europe, and about an Indian philosopher in India, the philosopher meets a village carpenter who has a beautiful knife and asks him, "How long have you had this knife?" The carpenter answers, "Oh, the knife has been in our family for generations. We have changed the handle a few times and the blade a few times, but it is the same knife." […] Any fixity, any reconstructed archetype, is a fiction, a label, a convenience.
(p. xxi)
[…]

Stories and words not only have weight; they also have wills and rages, and they can take different shapes and exact revenge against a person who doesn't tell them and release them into the world - as in "Untold Stories" [a tale in the book]. Such stories tell you why tales have to be told. They have an existence of their own, a secondary objectivity, like other cultural artifacts. They are part of what the philosopher Karl Popper calls the Third World, or World 3: neither subject not object, but a third realm that depends on and enters into the construction of subjects and objects. Cultural forms (such as stories) make people what they are as much as people make culture. They are there before any particular teller tells them; they hate it when they are not passed on to others, they can come into being again and again only in that act of translation. […] If you know a tale, you owe it not only to others but to the tale itself to tell it; otherwise it suffocates, as in "Untold Stories". Traditions have to be kept in good repair; transmitted, or else, beware, such tales seem to say, things will happen to you. You can't hoard them.
(p. xxxiii ff.)


Generous friend and internet researcher Karen Chace tells me that Ramanujan's other collection A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India is available online as part of the eScholarship project.
His first tale there returns to the theme of the perils of not telling stories which you know.

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Go here for a list of all tales included on this site

Go here for a list of all tales included on this site

You are a teacher? Read this: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling

Want to record your own performances? Here are some suggestions

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