Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting the ending right

Critic says, ‘How could you ever forget such a crucial part of the story?’

Self replies. ‘I know, I can’t bear it. All I can say is that story’s got two endings and at least I remembered the main one. ’

Critic continues: ‘But that’s really not good enough. If that boy hadn’t asked, your audience would have gone away without ever knowing the other ending.’

Self replies, a bit more assertive now: ‘Perhaps I can be partly forgiven? After all, it was a very big story, it was my first time to tell it and the children were so attentive. It held them for the whole of the hour we had and I probably got carried away by my feeling of pleasure that I was able to bring it together with just enough space for the silence with which I think all stories should end and then a few comments from them.’

Critic persists, a little more leniently now: ‘So how did you feel when that boy so urgently asked what had happened to the two jealous sisters?’

Self admits: ‘How could I possibly have forgotten? I was horrified but partly also glad. The question showed how much attention the boy had paid because the two jealous sisters were a whole hour before. And the main story did not involve them. At least, his question gave me a chance to tell him what happened to them – and I won’t ever forget that ending again.’

Critic says: ‘I should hope not.’

The dialogue:

The dialogue pauses. But it never wholly goes away. You know what I mean? Perhaps it’s the storyteller’s curse. The critic pops up on your left shoulder and what the critic says disturbs you. Yet, when you think about it, the critic is vitally important, often saying useful things, making you delve into things more deeply and embedding them in your memory.

What occasioned this particular dialogue was my very first telling of the Arabian Nights story, The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile.  I’ve retold this story several times in this blog (track it through the search box). But when I first told it I don’t now remember. In a way it’s a double tale. Without the two sisters whose jealous rage gets the whole thing going, there’d have been no main story to follow. For it was the two jealous sisters who, three times in succession, pretended that their sister the Queen had given birth to an animal – a puppy, a kitten and a mouse. And it’s because their accusations were so humiliating that the King ordered his Queen to be locked away and it was because he was so ashamed (and so gullible too) that he didn’t find out  – not until the end of the story – that his wife had really given birth to two sons and a daughter and these children were still alive, now fully grown, having been rescued by the King’s loyal gardener from the river where the jealous sisters had thrown them.

Ever since that first telling and the mental dialogue it produced in my mind,  I’ve felt strongly aware of three things: how much I enjoyed doing the story, the extraordinary atmosphere that built up in the room and my horror when, after I’d finished, the boy asked his question about the two jealous sisters.

The answer:

I dealt with the question. ‘Ah yes, the two jealous sisters. Well, one ending of the story says they were sent to their deaths. Another says they were so enraged by the happiness of the King when he finally found his three children, now grown into fine young adults, and in consequence released his wife from her prison, that some people say they burst into a million pieces and were never seen again.’

The boy was satisfied. I felt so grateful he’d asked. Had he not done so, I might never have realised my omission nor understood the power of what I might describe as the outer tale. For it’s the force of the rage in the two sisters’ jealousy in that outer tale that brings the inner story into being. And in one sense, the inner story needs no other ending than the King’s discovery of his children and the reuniting of the family. Yet even there, there’s something to ponder. For it’s no thanks to the King himself, nor his wife, that their children have become such remarkable people, beautiful and brave and good. So perhaps the story makes us think quite hard about the twists and turns of fortune and what produces goodness and what produces evil.

Thinking about it again:

Why I’ve been thinking about the story again right now is probably because of the current interplay between two personal stories of my own.  My main story at the moment – the breast cancer one –  is going well. I’ve had the cancer-removing op, I’m recovering well and yesterday I got the good news that I don’t require any further ops, only the radiotherapy. Concurrently with that main story, however, I’ve had another one on the go too. A few days before my op, I wrenched my left leg. It has been a nightmare – not actually sciatica says my osteopath, but with similar effects.

The main story is the one so many friends have been so kind about – and thanks to all readers of this blog who have sent such lovely messages of hope and comfort. But the other story has in a way been worse and, of course, it has raised lots of questions. Why did I get that bad leg in the first place?  Surely it wasn’t jealousy of my breast on the part of my leg? Might it have been general stress? Or a sudden jerky movement I hadn’t noticed? Or – to put a smile on the matter – was it a kindly thing on the part of my leg, providing a huge amount of distraction from the main business?

Well, who knows? What I conclude on reflection is that the interplay of stories is worth observing. Also, I feel I can now say with certainty that getting the endings right is desirable too.

PS: The roses in the garden have been great this year. Now I’m feeling very aware that, come November, they’re going to need a lot of good pruning.

One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Getting the ending right”

  1. Jean Says:

    Dear Mary
    Good news about the op and recovery — not so good with the leg — hope the pain passes soon.
    I love how children often come up with simple but such insightful questions — Thank you for the news, thoughts and story
    Mary and big hug and lots of love.

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