Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Wales and Whales

It was a storytelling project in Outer London. The theme was local legends. A girl in one of the groups put up her hand and asked if we knew about the elephants under the line of local hills.

Suggestive shapes:

Often it’s the shape of hills that gives rise to legends about them. Above a small place called Wolfscastle in the middle of Pembrokeshire are two high rocks that, as children, we knew as The Lion and the Lamb. By today, these rocks have eroded so that I wouldn’t be able to say which looks more like a wolf, which more like a lamb. Even as a child I wasn’t sure. But I could imagine very clearly that one was attacking the other.

And what of Mathri hill on which I’m sitting (in a house) right now? It’s a smoothly rounded bump of a hill. Approaching it by car the other day, it really did look like a hill under which a massive creature had gone to sleep. A whale, I thought, a huge great whale had somehow floated in from the sea and, assured that this was Wales (A whale in Wales?) had gone to sleep.

Stories of whales:

I’m re-reading Moby Dick at the moment. It’s an extraordinary novel where far more of the chapters are devoted to facts, observations and wild bursts of thought than to continuation of the basic story. A number of times, the book has got me quite awestruck by what it relates about the vast size of some whales. The breastbone of one whale skeleton that it describes reached so hugely high that, laid on the ground, it rose higher than the head of a tall man who entered the skeleton on the back of a camel.

A story from children:

Talk about whales – and it’s funny how memories return – I’ve just remembered a story that was made up by a group of girls on another storytelling project I did, I think in Bedford. These girls were normally very shy, very quiet. I thought their story was terrific. It went like this:

A man was swallowed by a whale. Luckily when he found himself inside the whale’s stomach, he remembered his camera was in his jacket pocket. So he pulled out the camera and started photographing the whale’s insides. Not long afterwards, the whale coughed him out. When he’d swum to land and recovered a bit, he remembered the photos he’d taken. As soon as he could, he got them developed. Wonderful! He took them to the local paper, the paper published them the very next week and then the national press took them up. What a headline: The Man that Saw the Inside of a Whale! What a sensation!

It was a terrific story. But – and here comes a Storytelling Danger Alert – it almost didn’t happen.  Never mind the legend of Jonah. As the story was being talked into existence, a teacher assistant who came by reacted with words that smacked of scorn. I can’t quite remember what she said. It was something like ‘Oh, don’t be silly, how could he still be alive?’

Ah well! Some stories survive. Some don’t. I think the endangered ones (namely those at risk of being described as silly) are often among the best.

PS: My top photo looks down at some of the surrounding countryside from the rounded top of Mathri hill. The bottom photo shows the sky above the very top of the church at the top of that hill.

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