Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Settling into a story

Roses 3Do stories need explanation? And what kind of explanations might be needed for a story from an unfamiliar culture? I did wonder a bit about these issues while preparing The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile for telling to the older children in Wolfscastle School this last Monday. No wide cultural diversity there except for that between Welsh and English. Probably little awareness of Muslim culture. No great variety among children’s names. Certainly nothing like Farid, Faruz and Farizad.

But what explanation does a good story need? I plumped for just going ahead, telling the story without explanation. First I’d told the wonderfully daft story of Shemi and the Enormous Cabbage. Older they might be but they enjoyed that a lot. Then I came to the Farizad story. This is in a very different vein and how it begins is rather a shock. For it tells how, over the course of the three years following the marriage of the King of Persia to the youngest of three sisters, the king is told that his queen has given birth to a dead dog, a dead cat and a dead mouse. Can this be true? No, these are just lies. The queen has actually given birth to three babies and it’s her jealous sisters who have made up the stories.

Would they stick with it?

Even as I began the story, I was aware this was going to be a very long tale. So would the children stick with it until the bitter-sweet end where the King of Persia finally learns that the three babes to whom his queen really gave birth have lived and grown into lovely young people? At that point, with the queen of Persia finally released from the imprisonment in which her shocked husband had placed her, I was going to be  extremely pleased to hear some children in my audience quietly checking with each other as to what happened to the jealous sisters. I felt glad that they needed to be very sure they’d heard me say that the jealous sisters came to the bad end they deserved, their rage at being found out resulting in their exploding into a million pieces.

The sheltered life of the female?

Roses 2But in the first part of the story, it was another issue that had concerned me when I was preparing it. This was something the story appears to take for granted, namely the sheltered life Farizad was obliged to lead as she and her two brothers grew up in the secret care of the king’s gardener who’d rescued each in turn from the river where the jealous sisters had thrown them. Why must Farizad always need to be guarded by her brothers both before and after the quest that forms the main part of the story?

Thinking in advance about this issue, I’d told myself that perhaps some of my audience might hear on TV how, currently, women in Saudi Arabia for instance are challenging the gender traditions that still govern the lives of women there as elsewhere in many parts of the world. I also comforted myself with the fact – and it’s among the reasons I wanted to tell this story – that Farizad would shatter all such gender traditions by becoming the person to fulfil the quest, thus turning out to be the tale’s true hero. And as things turned out in the telling, I again felt glad when one boy in my audience quietly suggested as I got to the end of the tale that the reason Farizad succeeded in her mission where her brothers failed is that, from the moment that an old woman visiting their garden had put the idea of the quest in her head, she’d become the one who was destined to make it.

How the story helps itself:

Gradually as I told it, any other fears I’d had fell away. These children, it was evident, were good listeners and there’s a lot in the story to help the storyteller. For instance, there were the items the two brothers left behind with their sister when, insisting that she may not go on the quest, each in turn set off to find the magical things that would transform the garden where they lived into the most magical garden on earth. The first brother, upon leaving, gave his sister a gleaming knife and told her what would happen to it if he got into trouble. And, yes, when that trouble occurred and he was transformed into a big black boulder on the mountain where the quest was to be fulfilled, some in my audience immediately volunteered that the knife he’d left with his sister had turned rusty. Same with the string of pearls that the second brother left behind when he in turn set out on the quest and also turned his head on hearing the terrible voices on the mountain he had to climb. No hesitation. My audience immediately remembered that the pearls would have clumped together.

cofAnd yes, as Farizad now set off on the quest, the children also realised why she was given two pieces of cotton wool by the skinny old man sitting under a tree who’d told each of her siblings before her what they must do to fulfil their quest. Ah yes, the children saw at once that putting the cotton-wool in her ears would prevent Farizad from being distracted by the terrible voices. Farizad wouldn’t even hear them. She’d reach the top of the mountain and there find the talking bird, the singing tree and the golden water, the items that would bring her brothers back to life and transform the garden back home into the most wonderful garden on earth.

Besides, this being a story from The Arabian Nights, there were so many other wonderful details to catch the attention along the way, things like the red granite ball which was given to each of the siblings in turn by the skinny man beneath the tree and that, when thrown, had led each to the mountain.

Like all the stories in The Arabian Nights, the story of Farizad the Rose is well-constructed for the telling. Its end also is satisfying as the talking bird, the singing tree and the golden water make the magic for which they were destined. Moreover, when the king of Persia finally meets Farid, Faruz and Farizad and realises that they are his children, his imprisoned queen is brought out of her misery and the jealous sisters come to the end they deserve.

An aim accomplished:

So as things turned out, The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile accomplished one of my main aims in telling it to the older group of children in Wolfscastle School. Like the younger ones who, in their session, got the stories I outlined in my blog last week, the theme this older group is working on this term is the theme of gardens and plants. I can only hope that the garden in that Arabian Nights story will have left its impression in their minds. Some comments they made when it was over certainly left their impression in mine. In particular I’ll remember the words of the boy who tlked about  ‘settling into a story’.

PS: Roses speak for themselves.


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