The Art of Story-Telling

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Descripción editorial

Story-telling is almost the oldest Art in the world—the first conscious form of literary communication. In the East it still survives, and it is not an uncommon thing to see a crowd at a street-corner held by the simple narration of a story. There are signs in the West of a growing interest in this ancient art, and we may yet live to see the renaissance of the troubadours and the minstrels whose appeal will then rival that of the mob orator or itinerant politician. One of the surest signs of a belief in the educational power of the story is its introduction into the curriculum of the Training-College and the classes of the Elementary and Secondary Schools. It is just at the time when the imagination is most keen—the mind being unhampered by accumulation of facts—that stories appeal most vividly and are retained for all time.

It is to be hoped that some day stories will only be told to school groups by experts who have devoted special time and preparation to the art of telling them. It is a great fallacy to suppose that the systematic study of story-telling destroys the spontaneity of narrative. After a long experience, I find the exact converse to be true, namely, that it is only when one has overcome the mechanical difficulties that one can “let oneself go” in the dramatic interest of the story.

By the expert story-teller I do not mean the professional elocutionist. The name—wrongly enough—has become associated in the mind of the public with persons who beat their breast, tear their hair, and declaim blood-curdling episodes. A decade or more ago, the drawing-room reciter was of this type, and was rapidly becoming the bugbear of social gatherings. The difference between the stilted reciter and the simple story-teller is perhaps best illustrated by an episode in Hans C. Andersen's immortal story of the Nightingale. The real Nightingale and the artificial Nightingale have been bidden by the Emperor to unite their forces and to sing a duet at a Court function. The duet turns out most disastrously, and whilst the artificial Nightingale is singing his one solo for the thirty-third time, the real Nightingale flies out of the window back to the green wood—a true artist, instinctively choosing his right atmosphere. But the bandmaster—symbol of the pompous pedagogue—in trying to soothe the outraged feelings of the courtiers, says, “Because, you see, Ladies and Gentlemen, and, above all, Your Imperial Majesty, with the real nightingale you never can tell what you will hear, but in the artificial nightingale everything is decided beforehand. So it is, and so it must remain. It cannot be otherwise.”

And as in the case of the two nightingales, so it is with the stilted reciter and the simple narrator: one is busy displaying the machinery, showing “how the tunes go”—the other is anxious to conceal the art. Simplicity should be the keynote of story-telling, but (and here the comparison with the Nightingale breaks down) it is a simplicity which comes after much training in self-control, and much hard work in overcoming the difficulties which beset the presentation.

I do not mean that there are not born story-tellers who could hold an audience without preparation, but they are so rare in number that we can afford to neglect them in our general consideration; for this work is dedicated to the average story-tellers anxious to make the best use of their dramatic ability, and it is to them that I present my plea for special study and preparation before telling a story to a group of children—that is, if they wish for the far-reaching effects I shall speak of later on. Only the preparation must be of a much less stereotyped nature than that by which the ordinary reciters are trained for their career.

Ficción y literatura
1 de febrero
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The Library of Alexandria