Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing it out

Cropped paperweightProfessor Ruth Finnegan is a specialist in oral tradition. I remember being especially moved when I read her 1981 book on storytelling among the Limba people of West Africa. One storyteller she wrote about told her he’d need several days of preparation before telling her a particular long story she wished to hear. I won’t get the exact words he used quite right at the moment (the book is not to hand) but, as I remember it, what he said was that, in order to be ready for his telling, he’d need several days alone in his hut ‘seeing the story out’.

What especially interests me about that Limba storyteller is that he was blind. He was one of a number of renowned Limba storytellers of that time who were blind. 

Eyes and eyesight are currently much on my mind. Just before Christmas, I received a date – it’s next week! – for a cataract operation on my left eye. The right eye will. I hope, be attended to soon after. Both operations are now much needed: my sight has become foggier and blurrier as the days have gone by.

My personal situation has made me think a lot (and not for the first time) about the links between sight and storytelling. Perhaps the story in my repertoire that feels closest to me is the one that was entitled The First Storyteller in the book where I first came across it. It’s a Chinese myth about an Emperor’s son who was born blind and, in consequence, abandoned. In the absence of sight, the boy grew up becoming acutely attuned both to the world of nature and of people. What he heard, felt and experienced were what made him into a storyteller.

What the blind Chinese storyteller of myth or the blind Limba storyteller Ruth Finnegan met may share with sighted storytellers – though inevitably in a different way – is an appreciation of visualisation. Call it a technique if you like, but I prefer to think of it as an art that is at the centre of storytelling. What it entails is absorbing, digesting and reproducing the experience of being alive. Of course it needs time and commitment and that’s why it is so fascinating.

That’s it for today. By the time my next posting comes along, nudging my elbow to be written, the sight in my left eye may be a whole lot better. I can’t wait.

PS: Yes, the photo is of a paperweight I was given once. It usually sits on my desk. I hope it makes you smile.


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