Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The Uses of Ambiguity

P1070080In the depths of the ocean lived a king. (What was his name? I don’t remember.)

The king longed for company. He lived all alone. (Had he ever had a wife or children?)

One evening as he rode out on one of his tides, the king became aware of sweet sounds of music and, looking up at a house by the sea, he saw two lovely young women sitting in the firelight playing their harps. 

A longing grew in the heart of the king until one late evening on a high Autumn tide, he rode out of the sea on his finest white horse, rushed to the girls’ house and snatched them away together with the harps they were playing. (Were the girls alone when he did that? What were they called?)

When the king of the ocean had brought the two girls into his palace beneath the waves, they first felt fear, then became very sad. They missed their home. They missed the bright light of day. The king of the ocean would ask them to play him their music, but the music they made for him lacked any joy.  

After much sadness and pleading, the king of the sea knew this couldn’t continue. He must show pity. He must listen to the two young women he’d seized and return them to their home on land. But when his white horses brought them in from the sea, just as they stepped onto the land, they changed. (Did the king of the sea command that to happen? Or did the pity that the girls felt for him play a part?)

As they stepped out of the sea, the two lovely girls became transformed. 

At the sea’s edge, they turned into seagulls, those birds that perpetually range between the land and the sea, always calling our attention to where we are and what’s going on.

Why I remember the story:

The story is Welsh, I do recall that. And one reason I remember it (insofar as I do) is because ever since I was a child I’ve been saying that when I come back to this life, I will come back as a seagull. It’s the bird I most love to watch, wheeling over the cliffs and out to sea or standing poised and watching on the beach, its image reflected in the thin layer of water left by the receding tide. Or when it comes flying over the streets and rooftops here in the city, the seagull reminds me there are edges to land. We live surrounded by sea.

Another reason I remember the story is probably because I like the edges it has in my lack of full memory of it. What age are the girls? Did the king of the ocean want them as wives? Questions bubble around it and I could try searching it out in order to answer the questions. But I don’t think I will try right now. I’ll leave it to fly back and forth between the crispness of knowing and the ambiguities of imagination.

Why I’m telling the story this week:

P1070595The immediate reason is the herring gull we saw on our Thames Path walk last weekend.

The walk was from Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf along the Thames on the north side of the river. Often before, we’ve walked along the equivalent path on the south side of the river. On both sides, the path sometimes turns inwards briefly where you have to go round blocks of flats.

On one of those inward turns to Ropemakers’ Fields along Narrow Street in Wapping ,  surprisingly, suddenly, there it was: a massive metal herring gull standing open-beaked on a marvellously sculpted circle of rope.

Another reason for telling the story now that only comes specifically to mind as I write is that it somehow urges me not to forget or ignore the horrors of the news this week, adults and little children drowning in uncompassionate seas in the course of their attempts to reach safe places to live.


P.S. The bottom picture this week is of course of that herring gull sculpture by Jane Ackroyd we saw on our walk last weekend. The top picture comes from one of my Pembrokeshire beaches.   

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ The Uses of Ambiguity”

  1. Jean Says:

    Dear Mary Thank you for this moving and thought provoking blog – I have returned to it several times- ‘ to fly back and forth between the crispness of knowing and the ambiguities of imagination ‘, the image of the wheeling seagulls, oh and the story and the questions – of course we must ask questions of ourselves and of the stories and of our actions and responses to what is happening in the world around us . Yes a beautifully written and mindful blog. Again thank you .

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Jean
    Your comments are always an inspiration to me. They are an affirmation of values and approaches we share in common and they encourage me to continue writing about this subject (or should I call it this storytelling world) that we both so love. All the best.

Leave a Reply