This thread comes from the fact that all I have been only able to ponder, and not to type. It is a train of thought begun by a discussion on the Storytell list about the American focus, at least at festivals, on personal stories as opposed to folktales.
I will fully admit that I haven't followed the current storytelling festival scene due to household logistics and lack of interest. I only have time, and resources, to focus on researching stories, and performing storytelling; as opposed to traveling out of town to hear it. And I count myself lucky that during the days of the Clayville, and New Salem, storytelling festivals, which were near, that the focus was still mainly on folktales. Plus there was the added benefit of the many years that Prairie Grapevine, the local folklore organization, brought in nationally known tellers.
Nor do I have anything against personal stories. I have heard many fine, and powerful ones. Personal tales are part and parcel of human communication since it has we shape our world. and with some being told often enough to enter folklore themselves.
What I have dealt with, though, is that for many of my audience, be they adults or teenagers, folktales are alien creatures.
Maybe there is an obsession with reality? Maybe a a fear of the imagination?
What makes up a lot of folktales? Magic. Or a least of hint of magic. To process the stories the listener has to call upon both creativity and the imagination.
But what is the current popular fare? It is reality television shows, news shows, and talk shows. We even chase ghosts with electronic gadgets, and probably most of the audience is ambivalent about whether they want it to be a real ghost or not. A real ghost would open up doors of far vaster worlds, which can be scary to consider.
This fascination, or "obsession," with reality might somewhat explain the focus on personal stories on stage.
What does concern me is how to help bring back the wonder tales and legends, and other folklore, to the modern culture, particularly the modern, adult, culture.
From everything I have read about storytelling that less than a hundred years ago, in some regions, these types of stories were still part of evening entertainment for the adults. There were certain types of stories for the younger children, and it was considered a mark of approaching adulthood when a youngster was allowed to listen to the later tales.
Now all things magical and wonderful, at least when it comes to storytelling, is mainly considered for children. And it has reached a point where storytelling is mostly considered only for children. It has been forgotten that along with the wonderous tales that there are also wisdom tales that focus on the very human condition.
I find this somewhat ironic since there is also a popular fascination with "supernatural" romance and mystery novels, and with gaming. Yet very, very few make the connection that the source of the "supernatural" elements, however weakly, have roots in folklore and in oral culture.
I still remember last fall when a 13 year old girl was amazed at hearing "Tamlin," and "Jack and the Gower" (a Ozark version of a dragon slaying - in this case it was a giant alligator). She told me she had never heard anything like them; that all that was in books and tv right now was about vampires and that type of stuff.
Magic and mystery can't be done away with, but they can be diluted to safe, often cliche, levels.
So, have I come to any great insights into how to bring folktales and wonder tales back into popular culture?
Only what I have been doing - dogged persistence, and a firm belief that these tales deserve to live and be heard.
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I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.