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- The Art of the Story-Teller - 1/40 -
ART OF THE STORY-TELLER, by MARIE L. SHEDLOCK
Some day we shall have a science of education comparable to the science of medicine; but even when that day arrives the art of education will still remain the inspiration and the guide of all wise teachers. The laws that regulate our physical and mental development will be reduced to order; but the impulses which lead each new generation to play its way into possession of all that is best in life will still have to be interpreted for us by the artists who, with the wisdom of years, have not lost the direct vision of children.
Some years ago I heard Miss Shedlock tell stories in England. Her fine sense of literary and dramatic values, her power in sympathetic interpretation, always restrained within the limits of the art she was using, and her understanding of educational values, based on a wide experience of teaching, all marked her as an artist in story-telling. She was equally at home in interpreting the subtle blending of wit and wisdom in Daudet, the folk lore philosophy of Grimm, or the deeper world philosophy and poignant human appeal of Hans Christian Andersen.
Then she came to America and for two or three years she taught us the difference between the nightingale that sings in the tree tops and the artificial bird that goes with a spring. Cities like New York, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago listened and heard, if sometimes indistinctly, the notes of universal appeal, and children saw the Arabian Nights come true.
Yielding to the appeals of her friends in America and England, Miss Shedlock has put together in this little book such observations and suggestions on story-telling as can be put in words. Those who have the artist's spirit will find their sense of values quickened by her words, and they will be led to escape some of the errors into which even the greatest artists fall. And even those who tell stories with their minds will find in these papers wise generalizations and suggestions born of wide experience and extended study which well go far towards making even an artificial nightingale's song less mechanical. To those who know, the book is a revelation of the intimate relation between a child's instincts and the finished art of dramatic presentation. To those who do not know it will bring echoes of reality. Earl Barnes.
PART I. THE ART OF STORY-TELLING.
I. THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE STORY. II. THE ESSENTIALS OF THE STORY. III. THE ARTIFICES OF STORY-TELLING. IV. ELEMENTS TO AVOID IN SELECTION OF MATERIAL. V. ELEMENTS TO SEEK IN THE CHOICE OF MATERIAL. VI. HOW TO OBTAIN AND MAINTAIN THE EFFECT OF THE STORY. VII. QUESTIONS ASKED BY TEACHERS.
PART II. THE STORIES.
STURLA, THE HISTORIAN. A SAGA. THE LEGEND OF ST. CHRISTOPHER. ARTHUR IN THE CAVE. HAFIZ, THE STONE-CUTTER. TO YOUR GOOD HEALTH. THE PROUD COCK. SNEGOURKA. THE WATER NIXIE. THE BLUE ROSE. THE TWO FROGS. THE WISE OLD SHEPHERD. THE FOLLY OF PANIC. THE TRUE SPIRIT OF A FESTIVAL DAY. FILIAL PIETY.
THREE STORIES FROM HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN. THE SWINEHERD. THE NIGHTINGALE. THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA.
PART III. LIST OF STORIES. BOOKS SUGGESTED TO THE STORY-TELLER AND BOOKS REFERRED TO IN THE LIST OF STORIES.
Story-telling is almost the oldest art in the world--the first conscious form of literary communication. In the East it still survives, and it is not an uncommon thing to see a crowd at a street corner held by the simple narration of a story. There are signs in the West of a growing interest in this ancient art, and we may yet live to see the renaissance of the troubadours and the minstrels whose appeal will then rival that of the mob orator or itinerant politician. One of the surest signs of a belief in the educational power of the story is its introduction into the curriculum of the training-college and the classes of the elementary and secondary schools. It is just at the time when the imagination is most keen, the mind being unhampered by accumulation of facts, that stories appeal most vividly and are retained for all time.
It is to be hoped that some day stories will be told to school groups only by experts who have devoted special time and preparation to the art of telling them. It is a great fallacy to suppose that the systematic study of story-telling destroys the spontaneity of narrative. After a long experience, I find the exact converse to be true, namely, that it is only when one has overcome the mechanical difficulties that one can "let one's self go" in the dramatic interest of the story.
By the expert story-teller I do not mean the professional elocutionist. The name, wrongly enough, has become associated in the mind of the public with persons who beat their breast, tear their hair, and declaim blood-curdling episodes. A decade or more ago, the drawing-room reciter was of this type, and was rapidly becoming the bugbear of social gatherings. The difference between the stilted reciter and the simple story-teller is perhaps best illustrated by an episode in Hans Christian Andersen's immortal "Story of the Nightingale." The real Nightingale and the artificial Nightingale have been bidden by the Emperor to unite their forces and to sing a duet at a Court function. The duet turns out most disastrously, and while the artificial Nightingale is singing his one solo for the thirty-third time, the real Nightingale flies out of the window back to the green wood--a true artist, instinctively choosing his right atmosphere. But the bandmaster--symbol of the pompous pedagogue--in trying to soothe the outraged feelings of the courtiers, says, "Because, you see, Ladies and Gentlemen, and above all, Your Imperial Majesty, with the real nightingale you never can tell what you will hear, but in the artificial nightingale everything is decided beforehand. So it is, and so it must remain. It cannot be otherwise."
And as in the case of the two nightingales, so it is with the stilted reciter and the simple narrator: one is busy displaying the machinery, showing "how the tunes go"; the other is anxious to conceal the art. Simplicity should be the keynote of story-telling, but (and her the comparison with the nightingale breaks down) it is a simplicity which comes after much training in self-control, and much hard work in overcoming the difficulties which beset the presentation.
I do not mean that there are not born story-tellers who _could_ hold an audience without preparation, but they are so rare in number that we can afford to neglect them in our general consideration, for this work is dedicated to the average story-tellers anxious to make the best use of their dramatic ability, and it is to them that I present my plea for special study and preparation before telling a story to a group of children--that is, if they wish for the far-reaching effects I shall speak of later on. Only the preparation must be of a much less stereotyped nature than that by which the ordinary reciters are trained for their career.
Some years ago, when I was in America, I was asked to put into the form of lectures my views as to the educational value of telling stories. A sudden inspiration seized me. I began to cherish a dream of long hours to be spent in the British Museum, the Congressional Library in Washington and the Public Library in Boston--and this is the only portion of the dream which has been realized. I planned an elaborate scheme of research work which was to result in a magnificent (if musty) philological treatise. I thought of trying to discover by long and patient researches what species of lullaby were crooned by Egyptian mothers to their babes, and what were the elementary dramatic poems in vogue among Assyrian nursemaids which were the prototypes of "Little Jack Horner," "Dickory, Dickory Dock" and other nursery classics. I intended to follow up the study of these ancient documents by making an appendix of modern variants, showing what progress we had made--if any--among modern nations.
But there came to me suddenly one day the remembrance of a scene from Racine's "Plaideurs," in which the counsel for the defence, eager to show how fundamental his knowledge, begins his speech: "Before the Creation of the World"--And the Judge (with a touch of weariness tempered by humor) suggests:
"Let us pass on to the Deluge."
And thus I, too, have passed on to the Deluge. I have abandoned an account of the origin and past of stories which at best would only have displayed a little recently acquired book knowledge. When I thought of the number of scholars who could treat this part of the question infinitely better than myself, I realized how much wiser it would be--though the task is more humdrum--to deal with the present
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