Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Light and dark

It’s strange how stories come to mind – sometimes after a very long gap. Yesterday morning, I was wondering what I could write about this week. Suddenly I remembered a story I haven’t thought about for ages. It feels like it fits with the extremely troubled times we’re all living through at present.  

The story:

Christmas Lights 1In this story, which I’ll say more about below,  there was a country that was riven by war. One frightened family – a young girl and her parents – had finally found refuge in a ruined tower in a rocky part of the land.

One day, an old man approached the tower. He asked the parents and their daughter if they would give him shelter for the night. They thought he seemed a kindly man. So they gave him some tea and some of the little food they had and showed him a tiny room with a bed where they said he could spend the night. That evening as they were sitting together, the stranger opened his leather satchel and brought out a glass ball. The glass ball shone in the gloom. Then, as he got up to go up to his room, he handed the glass ball to the little girl. ‘Keep hold of this,’ he said to her, ‘and it will keep you safe.’

As they went to their bed that night, disturbed by the presence of someone they didn’t know, the parents looked in on their guest. Lying asleep in the small room they’d given him, he looked different from before. He looked young. Beside him, hanging from the bedstead, they saw what they now realised was a false beard.

The parents felt very worried. Who was this man who had come to disturb them? Their sleep that night was troubled. But when they woke in the morning, they found that the man had gone.

Not long later, the people in the tower heard angry shouting approaching. A gang of rough-looking men with guns was coming up the slope towards them. The parents and the child were very afraid until the girl picked up the shining glass ball she’d been given by their visitor the night before.

Without hesitation, the girl placed the ball on the ground and said to her parents, ‘We can go in here.’ The ball opened up and they went inside.

Christmas LIghts 2Before the rough men got to the door of the tower, the glass ball had closed. When the first man saw it, he laughed, picked it up from the ground and threw it to one of the others. The men continued briefly to chuck it about until one of them said, ‘Time to get rid of this.’ Going outside, he threw the ball with an angry shout down into the ravine below the tower.

The glass ball shattered. Inside it, the tired parents and the girl saw with surprise that they were standing on fresh green grass. The grassy space began extending around them as all the broken shards of glass moved outwards until the place where the people were standing had become a new land. When anyone approached its edges, only the peacable ones were able to enter. Those with guns or angry faces found that, however hard they tried, they were unable to step inside.

Thus was a land of peace created.

About the story:

First, my apologies if I haven’t remembered this story quite accurately in all its details. I know I’ve kept to the spirit of it for it moved me deeply when I first came across it and I’ve told it a number of times, sometimes to children, sometimes to adults. It’s a story by Richard Hughes, the extraordinary writer of novels and stories who had his writing-studio high up in the walls of Laugharne Castle and who was the person who encouraged Dylan Thomas to come and live nearby. If you look up at the castle walls as you walk out along the shore-line from the centre of Laugharne, you’ll see the oddly anachronistic bay windows of his writing-studio above you.

The title of Richard Hughes’s story, I’m fairly sure but I’ll check it out, is The Glass Ball and it can be found in The Wonder-dog, the collection of his extraordinary stories for children. I can only conclude that it came to my mind this week because, in the way that I guess happens to all of us every now and again, it’s been an oddly mixed time for me just lately. Illnesses of friends, the death of one, accidents and family problems – it’s all been going on in the world about me and, like the troubles in our wider world, the unhappiness such things bring seems glaringly in contrast at the moment with all the Christmas glitter. But there we are: somehow our minds have to stretch to include both extremes – the dark things as well as the bright ones.  

This week’s photos:

The top one is of some Christmas street lights in the centre of London. So too is the bottom one even though it looks more like the graceful, ice-covered branch of a tree.      



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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Light and dark”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    Oh, how I loved reading Richard Hughes’ stories to my class of 7 and 8 year olds! They have an extraordinary dream-like quality that enters deep into children’s imagination. The Spider’s Palace was our particular favourite. My cousin, a retired teacher, remembers spending a wonderful summer with Richard Hughes and his wife many years ago. What a splendid storyteller he was.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    And how lovely, Hilary, that someone else knows Richard Hughes’s stories – and that your cousin actually knew him. I’d love to hear her memories of him!
    All the best, Mary

  3. Val Holmes Says:

    I have read your comments on Richard Hughes and my cousin Hilary’s reference to the fact that I once met him. In the late 60’s I was browsing in a bookshop and quite randomly picked out a Penguin paperback, “The Fox in the Attic”. The made a great impression on me although I had not heard of the author. A few years later I was a mature student at Matlock Training College and found lodgings with a wonderful lady named Penny Minney. One day she told me her mother was coming for a visit but her father was staying at home to work on his novel. I asked her his name and when she said, Richard Hughes, I almost fell at her feet and worshipped her! I told her what an enormous impression “The Fox in the Attic” had made on me. Some time later she asked if I would do some research for him concerning the latest novel in his trilogy. It was to go through the 1930s and not outstanding events. (I was a history student). He must have been satisfied because later that summer I was invited to his home in Ynys, Gwynedd, to go through his reference books and make a note of Churchill’s speeches. It was awe-inspiring to be in his study, smelling of books, old leather and tobacco! I worked every morning and after lunch his wife, Frances, insisted I go out for a walk to get some fresh air. He was so kind that he put me completely at ease and I enjoyed our mealtimes, he at one end of a long table, Frances at the other, and myself in the middle. He even took me to his wine merchant. There was a huge table in the kitchen made up of one slab of Welsh slate on which they wrote messages to each other. He presented me with a signed copy of “The Wooden Shepherdess” which is a prized memento. When I became a teacher, I often read stories from “The Spider’s Palace” to my class.

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Val. It was just marvellous to receive your message with all its fascinating detail about your meeting with Richard Hughes and the time you spent with him. It was especially good to hear from you after your cousin Hilary’s comment. She had aroused my interest! You have written in the kind of fullness that has inspired me to start re-reading Richard Hughes’s novels which I too admired hugely when I first came across them, now years ago. Hopefully you’ll also have inspired others to look out his children’s stories and let today’s children hear them as well. My thanks and very best wishes. Mary

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