Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ In two worlds

Last weekend, a wonderful story was read to me over Skype by a seven-year-old girl in Australia. I felt lucky to be able to  hear it and see it – her drawings were brilliant.  The story was entitled  The Magic World and the Tragic World. It first talked of the dragons who inhabited each of these worlds. Then one day, it said, everything changed: the dragons of the Tragic World attacked those of the Magic Wall of creepersWorld. Happily, by using and testing their magic, for instance to grow themselves wings, the Magic World creatures became able to pacify their attackers. 

Some human problems are harder. I think in particular of all those people who become obliged to leave the world where they grow up to go and live in another. War exacerbates the problem.  Among all those millions of Syrian refugees now desperately seeking a new safe place where they can live in peace, so many are reported as saying that where they’d most like to be is back home. Is there any prospect at all that they will ever be able to return?

This problem speaks to me personally because, like so many people today, I feel conscious of living in two worlds. But I am fortunate. Coming from one place (north Pembs), settling in another (London), I’ve been able to move easily between the two and increasingly over the years, and massively helped by my storytelling, have been more and more able to integrate the two. But what if you cannot ever go back? Perhaps you have to learn to live with the idea of carrying your sense of home in your heart. It’s the idea expressed in a very beautiful Welsh song, Paradwys (Paradise) which my husband is currently learning.  Its final line expresses the theme with the thought that the key to your paradise lies in your own heart. A similar thought underlies a Chinese story I came across a long time ago which I refer to as The Peach Blossom Forest.

A Chinese story: The Peach Blossom Forest

A poor man was out on the river, rowing upstream as he’d done often before. Absorbed in watching the waters, where they swirled and where they were calm, it suddenly dawned on him that he was seeing lovely new colours and when he looked up, he observed with amazement that he was in the middle of a peach-blossom forest. Everywhere around him was blossom – on the branches of the trees which stretched into the distance and all over the ground. Hardly able to believe the beauty,  he went on rowing, on and on, wondering how far this forest stretched.

Eventually the man reached the very start of the river and when he got out of his boat, he saw where the water came tumbling out of the high rocks before him. Then, as he looked at the rocks, he also noticed a gap, a chasm that, when he pushed himself through it, came out into open country. In front of him stretched an entirely new land and he saw at once that it was settled. The fields were cultivated, there were houses and, as he walked towards them, he began to see people.

The people were very surprised to see this stranger. They spoke to him in what sounded like an old-fashioned tongue and were interested to know where he’d come from. They were welcoming too and eager to feed him and give him a bed for the night. In turn, the man was fascinated by all that he learned as the next day and the following days went by. Many hundreds of years before, he learned, this people had fled away from war and, coming upon this hidden land, had created a new life here.

Red leaves and shadowsSo the poor man began living with this new people until one day he remembered his home, his wife and his children. Overcome with longing, he told his hosts he must go back to visit his home and they said to him that of course he should go. He could always come back if he wished. But he must please promise not to say where he’d been, not to utter one word about them.

The man promised and said he’d return. Then he went back through the rocks, back to his boat and back down the river until he came to the place which had been his home. His family were so pleased to see him and he to see them, and for a while he said almost nothing to anyone of where he’d been. But of course word spread that he had been somewhere and soon he was being questioned. Eventually he was being questioned by officials of his country and then finally he had to agree to take his questioners with him and show them where he had been.

But when they set off, however far and long the man searched – the river had so many tributaries, so many streams – he never could find the source of the waters or the way through the rocks. Yet the knowledge of the place that he’d found always stayed strong in his heart. He never ever forgot it. 

P.S. In the absence of any photos of a peach-blossom forest, I’ve had to continue last week’s theme with some more red Autumn leaves.    


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