An ancient reporter – not an old reporter, a young reporter from ancient times – has been sent to interview a traditional storyteller and oral historian whose career has become redundant with the advent of writing, which allows people direct access to the stories themselves. (The storyteller himself is pretty old.)
The reporter has invited the reclusive storyteller outside, in hopes of loosening him up. Though, seeing as how he was blabbing his head off inside, that may have just been an excuse to divide this story into two parts.
THE STORYTELLER AND THE REPORTER STROLL ALONG A WALKING PATH BY THE RIVER.
What a magnificent view.
It’s all right.
You don’t think it’s that great?
I’ve told stories about way more spectacular views than this one.
Where did you see them?
Nowhere. But that’s the beauty of storytelling. It doesn’t have to be true.
You made stuff up?
Let’s say I embellished.
But you never saw the v…
Okay! I made stuff up! But I had to. The hearkeners – who hearkened to my storytelling – demanded colorful details. That’s what they paid me for. You tell them, “It was a pretty nice view”, and they don’t have you back. They get a storyteller who describes better views.
You were not compelled to stick to the facts.
It’s a business, Sparky. You tell them what they want to hear.
So you made up a view.
I made up entire wars. The “Tressalian Campaign”? Never happened. But I set it in antiquity, “antiquity” being that point in history before anyone is the audience was born.
Did you ever get caught?
Once. A guy shouted, “There was no ‘Tressalian Campaign’.” I was quick on my feet in those days. I said, “Did I say ‘Tresallian Campaign’? I meant ‘Tressalalian Campaign.’ He says, “Never heard of it.” I say, “That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
It didn’t. But it shut the guy up. And you know what? He went nuts over the story.
Who did you tell your stories to?
Anybody with a drachma in their pocket. Or the equivalent in barter. I once traded a story for a cute, little bunny rabbit.
You wanted a bunny rabbit?
No. But my doctor’s six year-old daughter wanted one, and I had a head cold. He gave me some nose spray, and I paid him in bunny rabbits.
Where did you get the bunny rabbit?
Are you kidding? They’re all over the place. But the doctor had a bum leg and they were too speedy for him. It’s a good thing she didn’t want a turtle. I would still have the head cold.
What kind of stories did you tell?
All kinds. From fairy tales for the kiddies, to boring stories for people who had trouble falling asleep, to extended epic poems about battles lost and won – when it was a king and his country was involved – won. Somebody asks for a story where the king’s country lost, I’d say, “Sorry, I don’t think I know that one.”
I do. But I know where the money is.
I’d tell funny stories to a town in need of cheering up – like they were decimated by a plague and required humorous distraction as the tumbrils carried the dead bodies to the cemetery. You see that? I could have said “wagons” but instead, I said “tumbrils.” That’s my training as a storyteller. I can’t shake it. Even in retirement.
Weren’t you concerned about catching the plague?
There was no plague. It was a town of very old people. By coincidence, eleven of them died on the same day. Actually, it was over a three-day period, but “on the same day” makes a better story.
How did the traditional practice of storytelling get started?
It was a beautiful time in history. Nobody could read. Before that, of course, nobody could write. Because…? – I’m employing the “Socratic Method” here –
There was no written alphabet.
Go to the head of the class. There was a time, way back, when people could talk but they couldn’t write. Somebody said something long, you said, “Could you write that down for me?”, they said “Write down what!” There were no letters!
After a while, it became an untenable situation – which means they got sick of it – but I use the word “untenable”…
Because you’re a professional storyteller.
Exactamundo. They invented a written language, so that people could write things down, and they wouldn’t have to rely on their memories. You remember the Ten Commandments?
They were written in stone.
Literally and figuratively. The problem was, there was, there was only one set of tablets. If they were not within easy access, you could remember some of the Commandments, but not ten, for Heaven’s sake.
You forgot what they were, and you start breaking Commandments all over the place, not necessarily on purpose, you just couldn’t remember. Sometimes, they’d obey a Commandment that wasn’t one – “Thou shalt not fish” is not a Commandment, but they guy thought it was, and he didn’t fish his whole life.
What you needed was your own copy, so you could check which Commandments were actual Commandments, and which ones were mistakes. That was the advantage of the written language. There was only one problem.
Very few people could read.
You got it. Only I didn’t call it a problem; I called it an economic opportunity. I learned to read, which was hard in the town I grew up in, because nobody there knew how.
How did you learn?
A vagabond taught me. I then assembled an appropriate repertoire of material, I committed it to memory, and I took it on the road.
And you were a huge hit.
The hugest. The “Secret to my Success”? An entrancing amalgam of content and delivery. Did I go too far with that one? It’s from a review.
I think that’s a little “over the top.”
Sorry. On the road, you can do “fine tuning.” I’m just winging it here.
What made your delivery special?
Modulation, articulation and pauses – “MAP”, as I would say in my seminars to Storytellers-In-Training. Pace is essential. Clarity, of course, especially when you’re storytelling to the hard of hearing. And, my specialty, if I may be permitted to brag…..
Do you see how I paused there? That’s an example. Five dots of pause. I didn’t write them down, but I am certain it was five. I can feel it in my gut.
People hung on my every word. But they never hung more attentively than during my pauses. The tension would build and build. “Is he finished? Is there more?” They never knew how long it would go. Neither did I, to be honest. I just responded to the moment.
That’s what made me special. I was “Master of the Pause.”
Not to be insensitive…
“He said, before being insensitive…”
Sorry. I just wanted to know how you knew it was over?
The handwriting was on the wall, so to speak. Once there was writing, and once people learned to read, the clock was ticking on my career. I would contact my “Regulars”, I’d say “It is time for my annual telling of Homer’s The Odyssey. How’s next Saturday, and, if I run long – I’ve been feeling it these days – Sunday morning.
The guy says, “Funny thing. Our Scroll Club just finished The Odyssey. We read it out loud to each other. We had a ball.” I said, “Good.” But I didn’t mean it. They were reading away my bread and butter.
When the rich move on, the masses lose interest. The masses love to emulate the rich, which they did, by not hiring me anymore.
It’s a damn shame.
Nothing compares with someone telling you a story. Reading doesn’t even come close. People read too fast; they wanna race through it. There’s no way you can listen fast. The storyteller determines the pace. And I always give it the time it needs. The writer’s efforts deserve no less.
Plus, I was paid by the hour.
I think I’ve talked enough. After this, I go straight to bitterness.
Thank you for speaking with me. I will send you a copy of the article.
Don’t bother. I am boycotting reading.
Then I’ll come by and tell it to you.
Thank you. You’re a lovely boy.