Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Flag-of-Wales-thumbnail[1]OK, I admit it. Over the last few weeks, I’ve become a devoted football fan. Obviously that’s because I’m Welsh and the Wales football team did so brilliantly in the Euros. It wasn’t easy seeing them get knocked out against Portugal in their semi-final this Wednesday. Yet, especially in this post-Brexit world, it’s an inspiration that the team believes so much in the strength of playing as a team, they pay such high regard to their fans and the support they get from them, they speak with such warmth of their country and they have been so good-humoured during their time away in France.

Besides, Gareth Bale is drop-dead gorgeous, both to look at and in his manner. I’m not sure I’ll keep following football as avidly now as I have been, but I’m sure I’ll be following him and the wonderful Welsh team.

It’s surely all this football stuff that caused a familiar phrase to pop up in my mind this week and with it the story from which it comes. The phrase is ‘extendable legs’. And the story it comes from is one I told in this blog on 21st July, 2012. To read a full version of it, you can look back at that blog posting. Simply fill in the words Chinese Brothers in the Storyworks Blog References slot on the top left side of the blog. Then press Search and up it will come.

The story itself is one children love to remember. An example occurred earlier this summer when I said to the two children in a family we know that I had a special story to tell them. Because the 10-year old sister is potty about mermaids, this was going to be a mermaid story. But somehow or other the promise of a story immediately made the 7-year old brother remember  The Five Chinese Brothers which I’d told to them it must be three years ago. Volunteering that they still had the colourful Chinese pin-cushion I’d taken them as a present to go with the story, he started recalling the magic powers that are at its centre.

The Five Chinese Brothers:

In the story of the Chinese Brothers, each of the five identical brothers has a special magic power. Trouble begins when the first brother uses his power – to be able to suck up the entire ocean and hold it in his mouth – with the disastrous result that a little orphan boy whom he’s taken to the beach as a treat gets swept away on the surge when that brother can no longer keep all that water in his mouth. From then on, each of the other powers serves its turn in saving the first brother from being put to death as punishment when the villagers notice that the little orphan boy has gone missing.

Faced with having his head cut off, the first brother asks if he can go home to wish his brothers goodbye. But when he does, the brother whose magic power is that his neck cannot be cut volunteers to go in his place. And of course, the villagers don’t realise that he’s not the same man because all the brothers are identical. When it proves impossible to cut off his head, the second brother is allowed to go home to say goodbye before suffering the penalty of death by drowning. And that’s where extendable legs come in. For when the next brother goes in his stead and is thrown into a very deep lake, that brother’s legs promptly extend until they’re standing on the bottom. Next penalty is to be burned. But when the brother that cannot be burned goes into the village and is tied into the bonfire that has been prepared, he doesn’t even get singed.  The fifth brother can hold his breath indefinitely. When he is put into an iron box and kept there for three days and three nights, it is no trouble at all to him. Naturally, he comes out alive.

wholeWhat is going on? By the time the villagers conclude that, being unable to deliver their punishment, they may just possibly have got things wrong. By now also, the first brother has perhaps worked out what he can do to put things right. Either that, or he’s just lucky. For when he goes back to the seaside and once again sucks up the sea, who should come back on the surge but the little orphan boy. And of course, the five brothers immediately adopt him as the sixth brother in the family. So it’s a happy ending.

My ending and those expandable legs:

I like to make the ending of the story even happier by saying that, at this point, the five brothers not only adopt the little orphan boy. They also share with him something of each of their magic powers. It’s an ending that is apparently confirmed by the fact that the colourful Chinese pin-cushion I always keep in my storytelling bag has six pony-tailed figures on it.

 It’s a satisfying story. And had I been telling it to children this week, it’s those extendable legs  I’d have been emphasising by making reference to the Euros 2016 championship finals. And why? Because any footballer who had extendable legs would undoubtedly be able to score as many goals as were needed to get his team into the finals and win the whole competition. And that footballer would never get sent off for unfair play because the magic of extendable expandable legs must be that they work so quickly, no-one can see them getting long or getting back to normal size. Come to think of it, some version of extendable legs (or maybe necks) is almost certainly what Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and our beloved Gareth Bale do already both possess.

And don’t you agree, I’m sure you do, that whether you remodel the whole story or just pay attention to some small aspect, one of the pleasures of telling a familiar tale is recycling it in such a way that it acquires fresh contemporary relevance?

PS: The top photo is, of course, the Welsh flag, the lower one the Chinese pin-cushion to which I’ve referred. I must say, I’ve only ever used it as a storytelling prop, never for the pins for which I guess it’s intended.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply