from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven
One way to get into storytelling is by giving your own version of a well-known folk tale, a popular myth, or even one of Aesop's fables. The plots, characters, and structures of these stories have been handed along from one generation to the next for centuries, and have already passed the test of time. As soon as you start your story you join a historical procession and launch yourself into the new and wondrous world of imagination.
Storytellers are occasionally asked how the story just told to them, came to be. Here are a few paragraphs from my version of an old West African folk tale about the source of all stories and how they came to be.
The folk tale relates one of the adventures of Anansi, the Spider-man, a mythical trickster among the Ashanti, the Wolofs, and other peoples of Ghana and West Africa.
Anansi's fame has spread throughout the world, and generally depicts him as a conniver and full of deviltry. In the well-known story Spider and the Box of Stories, Nyami, the Lord of the Sky, keeps a box beside
him in which are all the world's stories. Spider asks Nyami for the box so that he can release the stories. Nyami agrees to give him the box if he will first bring a python, a leopard, a hornet, and a creature that none can
see. Spider does so by first misleading his victims with falsehoods and then capturing them with trickery and pain.
Nyami, nevertheless true to his word, gives Spider the box of stories and Spider releases them to the world. The myth, told in this fashion, depicts how a noble gift from the Lord of the Sky enters the world through dishonesty and the abuse of creatures who are also under Nyami's care. In Stories To The World I tried to replace deception and entrapment with respect for life.
Alamander, whose name was arbitrarily shortened from Salamander by my grandson during a story conference, has a parrot Aringabella; my grandson merely added an 'a' to each end of 'ring a bell.' The problem is the same as in the Spider story: long, long ago the people of the world
had no stories.
After successfully testing Alamander, the Lord of the Sky turns the box of stories over to him. Alamander, with the box on his back climbs down to the Earth's surface along a rope ladder. He drags the box to the middle of a meadow, and removes the heavy padlock that holds the lid in place. Alamander, with Aringabella gripping his shoulder firmly and helpfully flapping his wings, lifts the lid and steps back to watch all of the world's stories gain their freedom to roam the world forever. This is what happened:
There was moment of deep silence. Suddenly, the heavy lid flew up and over, and crashed to the ground. From out of the box's darkness gusted a powerful wind that whirled about and away in a cloud of dust.
In an instant there rose from out of the box swarms and tangles of flapping wings, waving arms, running legs, grasping claws, writhing tentacles, and a horde of strange wriggling shapes Their number was beyond counting. And from this twisting mass came sounds of laughing and crying, whining and humming, rustling and chattering, shouting and
whispering, and snarling and hissing and howling, and even sounds for which, even now, there are no ways to describe.
Up and away, flying and running, strutting and crawling, staggering and marching and plodding and toddling, they cascaded over the sides of the
box. Some took to the air, others moved toward the forest where they disappeared into trees, shrubs and flowers, and into the burrows of tiny
animals and the caves of larger beasts. They dove into the river and the sea, and dug themselves into the ground or slithered under rocks. A few raced each other across the meadow and slipped into the homes and
shops of the nearby village. They took to the air and the sea for distant places. Soon they were everywhere.
What did they look like? They looked like everything and anything: trolls and elves, trees and clouds, birds and people, horses and barns, airplanes and boats and spaceships and stars in the sky, and all the
things that are or ever were, and also things that are not and never could be. Stories look like anything that ever happened and which might yet happen in years and centuries to come. And stories are whatever people might wish for, and things of which they are afraid.
Soon the stories were all gone from the box in which they had been kept locked until someone came along who really wanted them freed. Now the stories could go wherever they wished, and to be for all time among the peoples of the world.
When people saw the stories, they took them in and gave them the food and shelter that stories need to be strong. In return the stories gave pleasure and knowledge and, at times, sadness, to the peoples of the
world. Stories try to give those who listen carefully an understanding of how the Lord of the Sky means for the world to be.
Sometimes, the stories from Nyami's box did not change, and at other times, they were changed about by storytellers to give them other meanings. Sometimes this was good; at other times, it was not good, but it's how stories are meant to be. However they are changed, all stories are gifts from the Lord of the Sky, who has many names.
What happened to Alamander and Aringabella?
Alamander grew from boy to man, and, in time, he married and had a family. With the wise advice of his friend, Aringabella, he became a
respected elder among the people of his village.
Often, in the evening, when the day's work was done and with his parrot perched securely on his shoulder, Alamander would lead his family to a quiet clearing along the riverbank where they would sit facing the river. They studied the world around them: flowers and trees, grass and rocks, and fallen leaves pushed along the ground by soft breezes. They looked out at the river and saw fish breaking the surface, and they listened to the hum of insects, the songs of birds, and the squeaking of bats. Raising their eyes, they gazed at the stars in the black velvet dome above, and
they spoke their thoughts of how all these things came to be.
And as they marveled, Alamander would tell again how he and Aringabella had helped to bring stories to the world, and of the wonder of the place from which the box of stories had come.
''The people of Planet Earth,' he would say at the end, 'must deserve this great gift from the Lord of the Sky.''
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