Folk Tales In Disguise - What We Hear and Tell
Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime
Seminar, 16 February 2019
Venue: · Adelaide
About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the
meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to
offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS
QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can
discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not
intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish.
We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper
Traditional folk tales usually had no known authors. They were
passed, usually by word of mouth, from generation to generation.
They did much in every culture to give people a sense of identity
and some certainty of values. "This is who we are". Fairytales are
folk tales for children, and tended to carry a hidden moral message
(e.g. showing good triumph over evil). With the arrival of mass
literacy, and now pervasive mass media folk tales are not so clearly
recognized. However, in themes, plots, characters and morals which
underly the daily "news" cycle we can see much that is familiar from
folk tales. In this sense folk tales are as important as they have
always been. Let's look at them closely...
1. TELL US ABOUT
ONE FAIRYTALE YOU HEARD AS A CHILD. HOW DID IT INFLUENCE YOU? From
the beginning of time, young children have been told stories by
their parents. These stories are usually about scary or wonderful
things. In each culture they have a deeper purpose in shaping the
values and ideas of children.
2. HOW DO YOU THINK THE
TRANSFER FROM DIRECT STORYTELLING TO MASS ELECTRONIC STORYTELLING
(E.G. SESAME STREET) HAS INFLUENCED THE VALUES THAT CHILDREN TAKE
IN? My generation (I'm 73) might have been the last to hear much
storytelling directly from parents and friends. We also read books,
including of folktales. Much of this has now been replaced, firstly
by TV, and recently by the Internet.
3. WHAT DO KIDS READ
NOW, AND HOW DOES IT INFLUENCE THEM? When I was a kid there was a
canon of children's books widely read as we achieved and enjoyed
literacy. For example, "Winnie the Pooh" (A.A. Milne), "Alice in
Wonderland" (Lewis Carrol), "Wind in the Willows" (Kenneth Grahame),
Mowglie & "The Jungle Book" (Rudyard Kipling), The Enid Blyton
series, Biggles (for boys; W.E. Johns) and so on. It was a very
British collection, later cannibalized by Hollywood. These books
influenced our worldview. Is there any similar canon now, or is it
completely fragmented by visual media and multiple cultures?
4. AS THERE ARE OVER 200 SOURCE CULTURES IN AUSTRALIAN FAMILIES NOW,
DO THEIR FOLK TALES CARRY THE SAME DEEP VALUES FOR ALL THE COUNTRY'S
CHILDREN? OR DOES THE COMMON 'FOLK STORY' CARRIED BY MASS MEDIA
SOMEHOW CREATE A NEW SHARED AUSTRALIAN CULTURE?
AUSTRALIA, WITH OVER 200 SOURCE CULTURES, AND CHANGING AT THE SPEED
OF LIGHT, HOW CAN WE FIND A COMMON CORE OF METAPHOR AND ANALOGY IN
SPEECH & WRITING? JUST TALK ABOUT TV OR 'THE GAME OF THRONES'?
With a shared cultured background, people can explain events or
people by comparing them to well known situations in literature,
folk stories etc. For educated English speakers, for example, this
used to include references to Shakespeare's plays; (now you'll
probably get a blank stare). Chinese draw on a similar repertoire of
famous characters, plus thousands of 4 character 成语 chéngyǔ (pithy
sayings with a history).
6. HOW CLOSE ARE 'URBAN LEGENDS' TO
THE TRADITIONAL IDEA OF A FOLK STORY? Folk tales and fairy stories
were often a way for ordinary people to express a wish for something
better in oppressive societies. Can you think of urban legends which
do anything similar?
7. DO YOU KNOW ANY FRESH JOKES THAT MAKE
A SHARP POLITICAL OR SOCIAL POINT? People in some cultures are
famous for telling jokes to make a political or social comment (e.g.
Russians, Jews). The Australia of my youth was rather like this too.
Now I don't hear much of it. Maybe I'm mixing in the wrong circles.
What has changed?
8. YOU ARE VISITING A FOREIGN COUNTRY AND
SOMEONE ASKS, "TELL ME ABOUT AUSTRALIA". WHAT DO YOU SAY? In every
country locals have a set of stories and explanations to explain
'what we a like'. Very often these stories have little to do with
daily reality. How about the Australian case? What do such stories
actually tell you about the common psychology of a people?
SPECTATOR & CONSUMER CULTURE Vs ACTIVE & CREATIVE CULTURE : WHERE
ARE WE ON THIS SCALE? ARE WE STILL PERSONALLY WILLING/ABLE TO CREATE
INTERESTING STORIES TO EXPLAIN OUR LIVES? .. or are we limited to
hiding behind Facebook selfies and photos of what we had for dinner,
and dependent on TV soapies for tales to retell?
10. HOW DO
YOU SEE THE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN DAILY LIFE - AS A CAVALCADE OF
INTERESTING CHARACTERS ON THE STAGE OF LIFE, OR PURELY AS AGENTS TO
GET YOU WHAT YOU NEED? I once referred to a person in a meetup as a
'character'. He was offended and never came back. Hmm, I thought we
were all characters. About 1400 Geoffrey Chaucer almost single
handedly created English literature with his "Canterbury Tales". It
was a rollicking and insightful account of the very different
characters on a religious pilgrimage. It seems the world is divided
into people who see life like Chaucer, often humorously, and those
who are more self-obsessed. What do you think?
Comments & Extra Reading
… and some things never change ….
Fine Words Are Not Equal To Fine Deeds
Once a very good lion was king of all the animals in the
fields and the forests.
He was not angry or cruel or unfair,
but only kind and gentle.
During his reign he made a royal
proclamation to all the animals.
He laid out rules for a
Universal League of animals.
In this League, the wolf would
not harm the lamb, nor would the panther harm the kid.
tiger would not hurt the deer, and the dog would not hurt the
Everyone should live in perfect peace and friendship.
When the hare saw this proclamation, she said, "Oh how I have
waited for this day.
How wonderful it is that the weak will
stand alongside the strong without fear."
After she said
this, the hare ran away. afraid for her life.
Fables, 564 BCE
Storytelling Australia (South
Australian branch) website @
http://storytellingsa.org.au [a society of
Australian Storytelling website @
http://www.australianstorytelling.org.au [articles and
Rachel Hills (19 July 2006) "Patriotism:
first refuge of Australian storytellers". Sydney Morning Herald
Paul Donoughue (5 September 2015) "Storytelling group
The Moth, buoyed by popularity of podcast, brings old-fashioned
art form to Australia". Australian Broadcasting Commission @
1. articles at
legacy site: http://thormay.net