Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Bags

Handbag, sandbag, eyebag, party bag … Bags have always been a passion of mine to the extent that, these days, creating birthday cards to send to friends, I attribute them to Old Bag Productions. I suppose my passion began long ago: taking part in Eisteddfod competitions as children, we’d be given beautiful little lace-edged bags, a coin inside, as prizes. Afterwards I’d hang mine from the mirror on the dressing table in my bedroom.

Bags can be fascinating in themselves – ‘Why have you got that bag, Miss?’ – and that’s one of the strongest reasons I’ve always loved them in my storytelling work, and not only when working with children. But also the fact that you’re carrying a bag naturally leads on to more. So much can go into bags, so much come out.  A beautiful cloth, an endearing soft toy, a strange sound-making instrument. Or maybe what emerges is another smaller bag with, inside it, a collection of objects for a particular story.

Love of bags was one reason for my delight this week when I received a new email from Swati Kakodkar in Bangalore. A while ago, via this blog, Swati became a storytelling friend when we had a long Skype conversation about storytelling which she needed for the diploma on storytelling she was then doing. After completing this diploma and, alongside it, engaging in much practical experience of working with different groups, Swati has begun an ambitious new project for inspiring children and elderly people through stories and storytelling. And what is her project called? Story ki Bory. Literally translated, that means a sackful of story.

The strapline of Swati’s website is Inspire. Heal. Connect. More about it here, hopefully, on another occasion. But for all who’d be interested to know more right away now and perhaps make a link with Swati in turn, here is the internet address of her project:

Meantime, the idea of a sackful of stories made me suddenly think about a story I used to know. Didn’t I sometimes tell it a long time ago? Where would I find it now? What was it called? Where did it originate? Fortunately, recalling that the story originates from Korea, I went to it straight away in my J – Z box file of stories. The story is called The Story Bag and it’s quite possible you know it already. Let me remind you of it.

A story from Korea: The Story Bag

There was once a boy who loved stories. (Don’t they all?) Every night this boy would be told a new tale. But despite much pleading from those friends of his who knew that he used to hear stories, he would never share what he heard. Without his knowing it, this caused a problem.

Hanging on a nail in that boy’s bedroom was an old leather bag. The bag was tightly tied with a thong and inside it, though no one realised this, lived the spirits of the stories that were told to the boy. Each time he heard a new one, the spirit of that story would go into the bag. If the boy had shared his stories, everything would have been alright. But because he never did that, the story spirits were trapped. As the bag became more and more crowded, the spirits became grumpy from lack of air and more and more depressed and angry.

Eventually there was a comeuppance. When the boy became a young man, arrangements were made for him to be married. The arrangements were made by his uncle because both his parents had died by then. In the midst of the enormous preparations, the old servant who’d continued to tell him stories after the death of his parents realised something was very wrong. One night, in the young man’s room, he heard angry grumbling. The grumbling became louder and more discontented. Then, from the hiding place he went to, the old man saw that the leather bag that still hung from its nail in his young master’s bedroom was moving about as if something inside it was trying to get out. The old man listened. What he heard was a plan. The plan was for taking revenge.

‘I shall become a poisoned well,’ one of the voices said. I shall become a field of luscious-looking strawberries,’ another of the voices said. ‘If your well water doesn’t kill him, just one of my berries will do the trick.’ ‘And I’ll become a red hot poker,’ a third voice proclaimed. ‘Step on me and he’ll burn to a cinder.’ Yet another voice burst in. ‘I’ll be a snake hiding under his bed. And if you all fail, one bite from me will made his new bride a widow.’

As to what happened then, the old man begged the wealthy uncle to be allowed to lead the wedding procession. When the young bridegroom got thirsty on the way and wanted to stop at a well to drink, the old servant pretended not to hear. When they passed a field of strawberries and the young man wanted to eat some, the old man refused to stop and instead urged the horses on. When a sack of rice was brought out from the house of the bride, the old man pulled it away just as the bridegroom put his foot on the sack as ritual demanded. The bridegroom fell. The rich uncle got furious and vowed to punish the old servant after the ceremonies ended.

But there was more to come. That night when the newly married couple went to bed, the old servant suddenly burst into their room with a sword. As he pulled a mat from under the bed, the bride and her groom saw an enormous snake. The old man raised his sword and hacked it to death.

After that was when the old servant told the married pair, the uncle and everyone else the tale of the unhappy story spirits that had plotted to kill the bridegroom. True enough, when the sack was brought that the young man should have stepped on, there was a poker inside surrounded by charred rice. And in the bedroom were the remains of the snake.

All was well that ended well. The old servant was rewarded by the uncle instead of being punished. And when the young man finally spoke after a period of shocked silence, he confessed his realisation that it was all his fault. ‘Now on,’ he said, ‘I will tell a story to anyone and everyone who wants to hear one.’

And he did.

PS: The bottom picture is of the bag of stones and the reed tray I use for making the sound of the sea. The other photos are of two of my three capacious storybags, all of which, by now, are in much need of replacement. It will be hard to see them go. Pink with black spots, black with white spots, striped in multi-colours: they’ve been such faithful friends.


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