Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Fire and wind

My Blog-break was in Italy. And very lovely it was too. Evenings, we lit candles in the Umbrian villa we’d rented with our group of friends. The first couple of days, there were dramatic rain storms and a lot of wind. The rest of the time, the weather was hot and getting hotter. Lovely. And there were stunning views, a garden full of flowers including my favourite Love In The Mist, and when we went visiting hill-top towns, there were intriguing sights to photograph. Plus gorgeous food.

Every now and then while away, especially in the evenings when we lit those candles, I thought about the little riddle I’d included in my last Blog.

The riddle:

How can you get fire wrapped in paper?

The answer:

The answer is obvious when you know it and most obviously satisfying when you see it made real, brought out in the form of an object. For the answer is a paper lantern. The candle inside is the fire. The paper around it makes the lantern.

The story:

So clever, so simple, the riddle plays a key part in a Chinese folk-tale I was told just before I went off to Italy. The teller was Nada, one of the excellent people on my Kensington Palace parents’ workshop. She’d found the tale in a picture-book version and had recognised it at once as a good story to tell. Besides, she’d taken the trouble not only to remember the story but to equip herself with a good-looking bag for the props that she’d prepared.

Out of this bag, at the appropriate moment, came a lovely Chinese lantern. And shortly after – for as you’ll see, a second riddle is also contained in the story – she brought out her second prop. This was equally simple, equally magical.

Read on and you’ll see what it was.

A Chinese folktale: the story

There once was a father with three sons. When the eldest was old enough, the father found him an excellent wife and when the middle one was old enough, he did the same for him too. Then, after a while, the father announced that he had a task for his two daughters-in-law. He asked the first one to go away and bring back fire wrapped in paper. The second daughter-in-law he asked to go away and come back with wind wrapped in paper.

The two women left their home village. They had no idea how to fulfil these difficult tasks and after a long while of searching and thinking, they were sitting weeping beside a river when out of the river came a wonderful-looking woman riding a water buffalo. After listening to their story, this woman said she would help them. At once she rode away on her water-buffalo and when she returned, she was carrying two objects. The first was a lighted paper lantern (a candle provided the fire inside) and the other was a beautiful paper fan (you felt the wind when it moved).

Thus the problem was solved. Fire wrapped in paper and wind wrapped in paper! And when the daughters-in-law returned home with the objects, their father-in-law was very impressed. He asked the two daughters-in-law to tell him how they’d managed to answer his questions and as they told him their story, he began to look very happy. Who was the woman who’d helped them, he asked. Where did she live? Could they go and find her?

As to why the father was asking about the water-buffalo woman, you’ve probably already guessed the reason. It was, of course, that he was thinking about his third son who by now was also in need of a wife. And what better wife could they find for that son than the woman who’d been able to provide answers to his father’s riddles.

So they went, they found her and – it’s the end of the story – she became the third daughter-in-law. No doubt there was much celebration and feasting.

See you next week.

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