Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The truth of the matter

The question comes up quite often and I feel privileged whenever it does. Usually it gets asked by someone in a Year 5 or 6 class who is therefore one of the older-age children in a Primary school. Almost always,  a silence has fallen before it’s asked and invariably it’s asked in a quiet, thoughtful way. The question is: ‘Is that story true?’ On one unforgettable occasion, I’d just finished telling a most unbelievable Japanese story about a lazy liar who deserves a comeuppance.  

A Japanese story: The Magic Nose-Fan

P1010704One day, lolling under a bush, Kotaro is offered a magic nose-fan by a tengu who is a kind of mischievous Japanese troll-type figure usually recognisable by his very long nose. Our anti-hero accepts the nose-fan in return for the dice he’s been idly tossing about and it’s this same magic nose-fan that leads to the story’s final denouement in which Kotaro is left dangling off a far-distant planet, his little legs no doubt kicking around in the air.

What happens in between is that our anti-hero discovers that, when one side of the nose-fan is turned towards a nose, the fan will make the nose get longer. When its other side is turned nose-wards, it makes the nose get smaller again. With judicious use, it can return the nose to its normal size.

And how does our anti-hero make use of the tengu’s gift? Why, when he sees the local princess taking the air in the royal gardens, he wanders casually by and uses his fan to make her nose get long. Panic and pandemonium ensue. What is to be done? Doctors are called. Creams are deployed. Nothing works until our lazy no-good-boyo presents himself at the palace and, in a darkened room, returns the princess’ nose to its regular size. In return he gets to marry the princess as his reward and that enables him to lead an even lazier life than before.

But here comes the comeuppance. One day when he’s taking a nap in the gardens, Kotaro sleepily turns his magic nose-fan towards his own nose and as he fans himself with it, his own nose gets longer … and longer … and longer. Past the clouds, up into space it goes until it bumps into a planet where the inhabitants are constructing a bridge. In fact, they’ve nearly finished. All they need now is one last piece to complete it. So what’s this here? It’s just what they need and as they bind the end of our bad boy’s nose into their construction, he is desperately fanning his nose with the other side of his fan. As it makes his nose shorten, it draws him up from earth till his whole body reaches that distant planet where we know he’s going to be stuck for ever because when the whole of him gets there, he accidentally drops his fan into infinite space.

The question:

P1010703So that was the end of the story except that, to finish it off, I said something like this. ‘And I know he’s still there because, last time I got my telescope out, I could see his little legs dangling around in space.’ Then I probably said, because I often do: ‘Now I’ll play a bit of my magic music and then anyone who wants to say anything or ask anything can do so.’

There followed a significant pause from my 10-year old audience. It felt like the whole room was thinking. Then a boy put up his hand and said: ‘Miss is that story true?’ I took a moment before responding with emphasis and a smile,  ‘Yes, that story is true.’ Now the atmosphere became even more remarkable as, after a pause, a girl sitting just behind the boy put her hand up and said, ‘Miss, will you tell us another true story?’

It’s those sorts of moments when you know you’re all on the same wavelength. That’s probably why I instinctively hadn’t felt the need to add the words I usually add when that question is asked:  ‘Yes, that story is true … in our imaginations.’ Indeed, that’s how I answered it this last Monday in a small Pembrokeshire school where I’ve been before and where, six years later, the children remembered what stories I’d told them on that previous occasion. Then, the stories were funny stories. This time, I’d just finished telling them the Magic Tapestry story which I referred to here two weeks ago.

The answer?

P1010714The Magic Tapestry is a big story. As I was telling it, I could feel it was being very deeply received. Afterwards evidence of this appeared when several children asked what happened to the two older brothers, the ones who’d failed to take the journey to the Dragon King’s palace to recover the tapestry he’d removed from their mother. Did they ever come back to ask their mother her forgiveness? Or did they feel too ashamed? It was after some discussion of those questions that the ‘Is that story true?’ question was asked. I answered in my usual way – that it is true in our imaginations. At the time, I felt my answer satisfied the need. Afterwards, as I went away from the school, I began to ponder. Perhaps I could and should have added something like this. ‘It is also true because it has meaning for us.’

Now I’m wondering what you think. Do you get the same question? How do you respond?

PS: My pictures this week are of one of the many paper fans I’ve made. I love fans. Children love making them too. This one was simply two pages of a magazine stuck together and then folded. It helps to have a tape measure or ruler handy to keep the folds the same width and also to iron the folds to make them sharp as you go along.


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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ The truth of the matter”

  1. Meg Says:

    Have been thinking about this, Mary.
    I’m not consistent in my responses – it depends on my feelings about the story. Sometimes “Its’ not all true but there’s truth in it.” or when asked if its Fiction or Non-Fiction -” Faction … there are facts in the fiction.” I found “If its not true, it should be!” useful to keep the audience pondering. I’m sure there are much more lyrical responses. Be keen to read what others think. Kind Regards, Meg

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Meg. I like your thoughts. I think I’ll try one or other of them out next time I get the chance. All the best. Mary

  3. Jean Says:

    It’s an interesting question and I always enjoy being asked ‘is that story true’ by children – I usually reply ‘ a story’s always true whilst it’s being told’ or sometimes with older children – ‘there’s always a bit of truth at the heart of a story’ but i love the responses given above — ‘if it’s not true it should be’ or ‘true because it has meaning for us’ — thank you Meg and Mary for those. x

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Jean, an interesting question indeed. I’m glad I shared it. Reponses from yourself and Meg have been good to think about. Much love. Mary

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