Sunday 12 November 2017

Why Tell Stories on YouTube?

Just in case anyone was wondering, there is a logic and rationale to what I do, even in cases where I seem to be 'just' telling jokes, or 'just' telling stories. 

For example, my son Joe has filmed me telling the stories of 'Till Owlyglass' (Till Eulenspiegel). These originate as short tales first written down in a cycle of tales in 1515 probably authored by someone called Herman Bote. I had an English adaptation of these when I was a child, loved them, and wrote my own adaptation of them as 'The Wicked Tricks of Till Owlyglass' published by Walker Books, illustrated by Fritz Wegener. 

I believe the stories are powerful, funny, subversive tales which defy the 'natural' social order, in much the same way as the Robin Hood tales. When he is a child, he defies adults, when he's a peasant, he defies the artisans, and when he's a full adult on the move across central Europe, he defies Lords, Dukes, university professors and, in his own way, ends up defying death. Though the great Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin doesn't refer to him, Eulenspiegel is the perfect fit for what Bakhtin called the 'carnivalesque' and one who produces 'subversive laughter', often through turning the world upside down, and indeed turning the human body upside down, making it 'talk' through its backside. Bakhtin's prototype was the works of the French writer, Rabelais.

In telling the stories direct to camera, I wanted to do several things: use the popular medium of the day, the internet, to show that story-telling still works, is still a great way to give people events, scenes, the interaction of characters through the use of our faces and bodies. It's what we all do every day telling each other about things that have happened to us. Story-telling is like a distilled or concentrated way of doing something that belongs to nearly every single one of us. 

I also wanted to do something else. In truth, it may look from the videos as if I'm telling the stories, but I am in fact reading an autocue. I am reading word for word what I wrote in my book. Of course, I wrote it with an ear to the sound, so that parents, teachers and children reading the book would get a sense of that oral storytelling world. In the present day world, then, I am offering what I hope is a 'bridge' between the oral and the written, via new technology. As part of that, we're putting the stories up 'day by day',  just as I've written the book, each chapter representing a 'day' when my brother and I (according to the book) hear the stories. 

It's the job of us adults - whether as parents, carers, teachers - to help children become familiar with the written way of saying things. It's a bit like learning another dialect or even another language: familiarity is crucial for getting the flow of sentences, plots, events, consequences, imagined possibilities. It's hard to do this if you're not familiar with the written way of doing this. I think of these stories (and indeed my own poems and stories) as half-way houses between the oral and the written. As I say, they are in a way 'bridges'. 

These re-tellings, then, as I see them bring together several interests of mine: the history of stories, the 'carnivalesque' and 'subversive laughter', and the role of the 'bridge' in language, literacy and learning. 

Here's the wiki entry on Till Eulenspiegel

Here's the wiki entry on Bakhtin

Here's our video channel on YouTube