Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to tell a story

This is Hamish Henderson, in an article about Jeannie Robertson, writing about the Scots travellers' storytelling style:

What stood out a mile... was the creative joie de vivre of the Scots travellers... The lively traveller storytelling style, the exact opposite of deadpan delivery, was tehre in strength, just as Jeannie had described it: "He'd gae through a' the acts, like. He would show to you what they were like, and if it was eerie or oniething like that, his voice soundit eerie - his voice would change as he was telling the story. If it was comin' to the right desperate bit, he was get desperate too. And he's a' the bairns roon' the camp-fire jist a' listenin', and maybe feart.'

There is a tremendous liveliness about the style described here. I've heard recordings of it, and it's marvellous. I was put in mind of it while listening again to Flannery O'Connor's reading of one of her stories, which I've mentioned on here before. Both the Scots travellers and the American southern gothic traditions tended to recount the lives of poor, ordinary people, rural people, mostly outcasts from the rest of society. But while the Scots tales tended to be wide-ranging, perhaps a supernatural tale from Scotland, or a story from Ireland, or something heard and adapted from literature or from other countries, or about the past, or about the current day, the southern gothic tradition found itself stuck in the past. It ended up arguing against any prospect of change, because change allowed the prospect of evil entering their lives. There was a flatness about it all. That is reflected, I think, in the typical, laconic, drawled delivery of southern American storytellers. Joie de vivre is not the way one might describe the southern gothic. And yet the stories are coming out of communities with more in common than divides them.

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