Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Teller of Tales

I was in Boy Scouts growing up, and living in Arizona, one thing we did every year was a week at summer camp. Camp Geronimo. in Payson, Arizona; I think I lived there a grand total of seven weeks or so, spread across six years. This would have been in the age of Star Wars--late seventies, early eighties. There was a man there, a camp counselor, who had long wild hair and wore a dark cloak. I never found out his real name...I only knew him as “The Teller of Tales.” He was the camp storyteller, if his title didn’t make that obvious. At the end of every campfire, as the bonfire was burning down to coals, he would come striding through the smoke, stand between us and the fire, and regale us with a story of some kind, purely from memory. He held us captivated. That was the first time I ever heard “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Monkey’s Paw.” I think there was another one, about a gorilla trained as a servant by tormenting it with an alligator, and over seven trips, I have no doubt I heard him tell other stories, but these are the ones that still stick to my brain. I remember being fascinated by his ability to mesmerize us with words. No papers, no script, no dramatic flair or wandering around the campfire...just standing there, leaning on a walking stick, telling the story...letting the words do the work. One time I worked up the nerve to approach him. I think he was judging the Big Splash competition, and during a break, I walked up, introduced myself, and invited him to our troop campfire. He was friendly, and gracious, and happy to show; I introduced him myself, and I think that was when he told “The Monkey’s Paw.” Like I said, I never knew his real name.


A couple of weeks ago, our church asked me if I would like to read a children’s story. The church service starts with music, greetings, a song--and then a story for the kids. After the story, they go off to their Sunday School activities while the adults move on with the regular service and sermon. I volunteered to read the occasional story to the kids months ago, but this was the first time they took me up on the offer. “What would you like me to read?” I asked. “Oh, we can give you seven or eight minutes, do you have something you would like to read?” Well...I had this children’s book I wrote a few years ago, called “Quinn in Trashland.” I did a test reading and came up with over twelve minutes, obviously way too long. I warned them that it was a bit long, but that I would cut it down as requested. “Quinn” would be my story to the kids. MsQuill and I sat up late into the night, carving pieces out, trying to bring it down to the requisite time...and failing miserably. We were starting to cut out pieces that I thought were critical to the fun of the story. Finally, I decided, I wasn’t going to savage my story just to make it fit their timeframe. I was going to just *tell* it. I threw out all the papers. I got rid of the script. I sat down in front of the podium, right down there with the kids, and I told “Quinn in Trashland” straight from memory. Oh, I have no doubt I left out some stuff. Possibly some of the good stuff, but I doubt it; I think I managed to get all of the important stuff in there. The kids laughed at all the right spots...heck, the adults laughed at all the right spots. I think I kept it down well under ten minutes, rough guess, but I didn’t time it. And they didn’t record it; about the only real complaint was that they didn’t take the time to put a microphone on me. They record all of the services for people who are at home sick and can’t make it, and my story was too quiet to be picked up, so there’s a large hole in the recording for that stretch. Not having a script in your hands *helps* with telling the story. Your eyes aren’t trapped. You can look out at your audience, make eye contact, make a connection...especially with the kids. One little boy kept inching closer and closer as the story went on, until by the end he practically had his head in my lap. After the service, several people complimented me on the story, and one person actually used the words “Teller of Tales.” At that moment, something clicked. I remembered the *original* Teller of Tales, thirty some odd years ago at Camp Geronimo...how he held us spellbound just by telling us a story. And at that point, I realized that this is something I need to do more of. -=ad=-