Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Body Stories/Amazing Eyes

In many sports, keen eyesight is crucial. Reading last week about the Tour de France, however, it was interesting to come across something Mark Cavendish was quoted as saying – that beforehand he ‘sees’ every kilometre, every bend on the course. It’s visualisation, of course. The very thing that storytellers do! Yet with sportspeople as with storytellers, seeing with the inner eye must be matched by the experience of the physical eye, its accuracy and its alertness.

Eye stories make one of the themes that I love. I remember talking about them with storyteller Kate Portal who never made her blindess a bar to her making her way to the Drill Hall Workshops I used to run with colleague Karen Tovell. Did Kate dislike eye stories? Did she mind people telling them? No, she answered. She was quite emphatic. She enjoyed collecting such stories herself. Why wouldn’t she be interested? It was an important theme for her – to think about how people see and how people such as herself find ways to replace the act of physical seeing. What she disliked was people becoming mystical about blindness, as if it was a special blessing.

A good story about eyes:

My story today is one I refer to as The Crab with Magic Eyes. I came across it in a most useful book, Twenty Tellable Tales, by American storyteller and storytelling teacher, Margaret Read MacDonald. The book has been in my library of story books for a very long time. Published in America in 1986, it contains strong simple stories that are good for telling to a wide age-range of children and also to adults. The way it sets them out is tremendously helpful. The style looks a bit like poetry: refrains and repetitions are indented which make it easy to see the patterns.

In her notes in Twenty Tellable Tales, Margaret Read MacDonald says she began telling The Crab with Magic Eyes (she entitles it Little Crab and his Magic Eyes) after hearing it told just once at a festival by storyteller Augusta Baker.

Her version, she said, had probably changed from the one she’d heard. She didn’t know where the story originated although she herself had traced similar tales in various languages, including German. In a similar way, my version has also changed a bit from the Margaret Read MacDonald version. On checking the book, I see I’ve particularly adapted the rhyme used by crab to make his magic eyes work. The change is marginal. But storytellers have to settle on what works for them.  The right rhythm  is crucial.

 The Crab with Magic Eyes:

Once there was a crab with magic eyes. Every day he’d go down to the sea to try out their special magic. When he got there, he’d sing this song:

Magic eyes, magic eyes

Go sailing out over the sea.

And they did! His eyes would come out of his head and go out over the sea. Then crab would enjoy looking down into the depths of the waters. When he’d finished, he’d make his eyes come back:

Magic eyes, magic eyes

Come sailing back to me.

And they did! Every day, Crab would do the very same thing. But one day Jaguar noticed what he was doing and Jaguar became very jealous. He swaggered up to Crab and demanded that Crab teach him the trick. Crab didn’t want to do it. He tried to put Jaguar off. He said, ‘You shouldn’t do it. The Oonkaloonka fish might swallow your eyes.’

Jaguar didn’t care about any Oonkaloonka fish. He just wanted to have magic eyes. In the end, he prevailed upon Crab. ‘Teach me your trick OR ELSE,’ he shouted. ‘Teach me your trick or I’ll eat you up.’

So Crab said he’d teach him the trick.

Magic eyes, magic eyes

Come sailing back to me.

Jaguar tried out the trick many times in a row. He didn’t care about any Oonkaloonka fish. Nor did he notice when the Oonkaloonka fish came up from the depths of the ocean and – Galumph! – swallowed first one and then the other of Jaguar’s eyes.

Now Jaguar was terribly frightened. The whole world had gone suddenly dark. He could not see one thing. He shouted at Crab and Crab was so frightened he ran quickly away to hide under a stone.

Before long, Vampire flew over. Vampire heard Jaguar crying for help and quickly saw how he could get a good meal out of the situation. He flew down to Jaguar and told him he’d go and get Jaguar a new pair of eyes if – AND ONLY IF! – Jaguar would promise him a very good dinner.

Jaguar promised. Vampire flew off. He flew off into the mountains and went straight to the tall juniper trees where the juniper berries were in full fruit. As he inspected the berries, he chose the two that were best and he picked them – two beautiful, large blue berries. Holding them carefully in his sharp claws, he flew back down to the ocean. There he went straight to Jaguar and popped them into the spaces where Jaguar’s eyes had been. At once, Jaguar was able to see. In fact, he was able to see even better than before and he was so grateful to Vampire that, ever since, whenever he finds himself a good fresh meal, he is careful to leave enough for Vampire to have a good dinner straight after.

As for Crab, he’s still hiding under his stone. But every day, when no-one’s around, he crawls out from under the stone where he’s hiding and runs down to the edge of the sea to try out his magic trick to see that it is still working:

Magic eyes, magic eyes,

Go sailing out over the sea.

And they do!

And after a bit he calls them back:

Magic eyes, magic eyes

Come sailing back to me.

The End

Some hints on telling:

1. Make spectacle eyes with your hands every time you tell the rhyme, then make the spectacle eyes move away from your body until you’re ready to make them come back.

2. Softly mention the things you might see under the sea.

3. Speak the refrains in a sing-song voice and find ways to repeat them: In the morning … in the evening … day after day … that’s what Crab always did.

4. Use different voices to distinguish the different characters. I do high and soft for Crab, big and boastful for Jaguar, polite and wheedling for Vampire.

A note about this week’s pictures:

I looked through my photo album and zoomed in on some animal and bird photos. A London pigeon, a Venetian cat, a Pembrokeshire wild horse, New Zealand cows. What astonishing eyes!

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