Story: The Monkeys and the Moon

316px-Ohara_monkey-moonA few days ago I was in a teahouse and found this the book An Attempt To Scoop Up the Moon. I thought it was such a lovely story and could be a fun interactive story I went looking for the original.

It turns out it is a Chinese story and I found this as the source:

One night a monkey chieftain saw the bright reflection of the moon in the water below his tree. Thinking that the moon had died and fallen into the water, and fearing that the world would thus slip into darkness, the monkey called together his underlings and commanded them to join tails and together pull the moon out of the water. However, when the monkeys attempted this task, their combined weight was too great, the branch broke, and they fell into the water and drowned.

Whoa. That is a wee bit dark. So taking a cue from the book I came up with a story told something like this…

This is a story about monkeys. What do monkeys sound like?
(this lets the children know it is okay to respond – this ain’t tv kids!)
There once was a troop of monkey’s who had a king monkey.
The little monkeys would say what the king monkey would say – “I am the monkey king!” “No, I am the monkey king!” “I want a banana!” (have the children repeat a few monkey king lines).
One day they played outside until the sun went down and moon came up, golden and round in the sky.
The king monkey got it in his head that he wanted that beautiful moon and so he pointed and said loudly, “I want the moon!” And all the other monkeys said, “I want the moon!”
So, he commanded them to make a tower of monkeys to the moon. The biggest monkey sat on the ground and the others climbed on to his shoulders until there was a tower of monkeys swaying back and forth. Then the smallest monkey climbed to the top and reached for the moon. (Opt Cue: Can you show me how high you can reach for the moon?)
But the tower of monkeys swayed back and forth and back and forth until it fell over!
As the monkeys picked themselves up the king monkey saw the moons reflection shining in the lake and he began to shout, “We knocked the moon out of the sky and into the water! We must get it out!” and all the other monkeys shouted, “We knocked the moon out of the sky and into the water! We must get it out!”

So they formed a bridge of monkeys reaching out over the water. The smallest monkey climbed out and over the bridge reached down and into the water, but he could not pick up the moon! All he could get was handfuls of water. So he yelled he needed a bowl. The monkeys stole a big pottery bowl from the neighboring village, brought it back and passed the bowl out to the little monkey. The little monkey dipped it in the water and there in the bowl was the moon!
He gave it to the king monkey who was so happy that he said, “I have the moon!” and all the other monkeys said, “I have the moon!”
But soon other monkeys wanted to hold the moon and as the bowl was being passed around it slipped and fell to the ground breaking into pieces. The king monkey looked and all he saw were pieces of the broken bowl and water on the ground. He began to cry and wail, “I broke the moon!” and all the other monkeys began to wail, “I broke the moon!”
The king monkey threw his head back to have a good cry and there in the sky he saw… the moon! Big and round and back in the sky. He pointed and said, “The moon is fixed and back in the sky!” and all the monkeys cheered, “The moon is fixed and back in the sky!
From that day on the king monkey declared that the moon would be left in the sky for everyone to enjoy.

Bones Outline:
King Monkey repeat.
“I want the moon!”
Tower. Tower falls
Reflection in lake.
“We knocked the moon out of the sky and into the water! We must get it out!”
Bridge. Handfulls of water.
Bowl. Reflection in bowl.
“I have the moon!”
“I broke the moon!”
“The moon is fixed and back in the sky!”

If you like this you are welcome to use it! If you come up with a better version – let me know!


Picture: By Ohara Shoson, died in 1945 (Book scan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chewing on beautiful words

tumblr_n6vt9oEDDx1ri67xpo1_500I am always looking for new words to love. One episode of Doctor Who introduced me to the word “petrichore”, which is the smell of dust after rain. It is almost as pretty of a word as the smell is.

Another one I found in the book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of Her Own Making  . The word was “widdershins” or to move counterclockwise. In looking up that word I found that it was considered an unlucky direction. I have always liked unlucky directions being that I am left handed, and so predisposed me to choosing things that seemed against the norm, if only in the smallest ways.

New words feel like candy in my mouth. As I work my tongue around them the sharp edges smooth out and the sweetness becomes more evident.

Introducing new words through storytelling depends on context and your audience. When emerging from a cultural context some words need to be explained – “bairn” is the Scottish word for child. However, I doubt many American children (or adults for that matter) would know that. So I might add a short explanation as I introduce the word for the first time, or I would mime holding a baby.

Then there are the audiences. I was at a middle school recently and a good portion of the children were learning english as a second language. I was asked twice what the word “torso” meant. It was a good reminder to check my stories beforehand for any confusing words, and also to encourage the children to ask if they did not know what a story meant.

As I find new words I will post them here, and I would love to hear your favorite words of the moment.

Until then, adios!

Behind the Story: Crafting Snow White

rackham_snowdrop1“When Snow White was a girl, her step mother came to the castle. She brought with her a beautiful dowry; silks of every color, stones of all shapes and sizes, but the crowning piece was the mirror. It was as tall as a man with beautiful carvings around the edges, and though it was lighter than a child she had four strong men carry it to her room and place it upon her wall.”

I never thought that I would craft the story of Snow White. Everybody knows the story, and everyone knows where it is going to go. It has traveled pathways in the memory and I was not about to bore an audience with my rendition. But then, one afternoon as I was talking things over with Cooper I had a question, “What if the mirror ended up on Snow White’s wall just as we get to happily ever after?”

So began the version that I tell now.

In this version the mirror never speaks. Snow White hears her step-mother say the words “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” But I never have the mirror answer back. One could say that the mirror only speaks in the mind of the step-mother, but with many of the Grimm tales I use magic sparingly and work to find practical ways that these stories happen. Often the story is all that is needed to transport the listener. The storytelling is magic in itself and I don’t need to add anything.

As the story worked its self out I had to really tease out how Snow White ends up in a happy-ever-after situation. My first problem there was the prince. What weirdo would see a comatose girl and think “She would make a great conversation piece for my parlor…or other places in my house.” Creepy… So he had to change his approach. Thus he became a deus ex machina for the dwarves when their darling Snow White succumbs to the third murder attempt. Give that girl a Life Alert pendant! He offers the aid of his physicians, but has none with the hunting party and so they must take her to the castle.

The second problem was the death of the stepmother. How was she going to die? In the original story she is made to put on red hot slippers and dance to death in the snow. And thus we got the macarana. Kidding. Grimm humor. But the problem was either the king was the monster who murdered her, or Snow White was twisted enough to think up red hot shoes. Either one changes where I wanted Snow White to be at the end of the story. So I had to get find another way to “remove” her step-mother. When it is all said and done Cooper gave me an idea that really worked and that is something you will have to listen to the story to find out.

And so eventually I came to the end. How does the mirror end up coming back to haunt Snow White? How does any part of our childhood come back to petrify our souls? Ah, well. I cannot give away all the secrets. I recorded it and it is linked here.

“Mirror mirror, on the wall…”



Snow White and the Visual Map

This month I am performing five shows in a row at the Boulder International Fringe Festival. I have told particular stories over and over, but never in a one week period for five shows. The build up of external and inner pressure has my alarm tugging at my eyelids at 5:30am, when I am just starting to get to the interesting parts of my dreams. I lay there and listen as the stories creep up to the bedside and remind me that while I may have needed sleep, they did not.

So I climb out of bed and move in story. Each story is has a mental visual map and the trick for me is to find the words to tell the listeners what I am seeing. Some stories have natural visuals, I do not need to search too far for words. Yet, there are others that are known so well that I want to find another path with which to show the story.

For the Fringe Festival I have taken on Snow White. Now, every one knows that story. Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony, and lips as read as blood.

(Small tangent here – why name her after her skin? “Blood Red” would have been a rocking name and probably a very different story. I suppose it all is commentary on the story and the historical value at the time, but still…)

The work I have chosen to take on as a storyteller is showing the listener that we are going to talk about Snow White, but from a different angle so that the tale is fresh and heads down a different path. In this case, the tale crafted itself to be completely from the perspective of Snow White. Because I made that choice, I had to find ways to complete other parts of the story without directly talking about them.

For example, Snow White never found out what happened to the huntsman. She flees into the forest, stumbles upon the dwarves and the huntsman fades away. So in my story, as the mysterious woman slips a poison comb into Snow White’s hair she whispers, “People lie, child. They lie about who they are, they lie about the size of children’s hearts and they lie about how long they can last when punished.” A bit dark granted, but this is no fairy story. Well, it is – but you know what I mean.

This is why with each story I walk the visual path until the end and then continue to refine words. So, with five shows coming up, I have five times to walk with Snow White, and hopefully together she and I will find our way out of the forest.