Theatrical introduction to Scottish literature

5th December 2003 at 00:00
THE MAKARS' LITERARY TOUR. CD-Rom and teachers' pack. Scottish Literary Tour Trust. Range: Standard grade, Higher Still. pound;45.00

Being sent free to each Scottish secondary school in the new year SLTT, tel 0131 226 3735

If you want a celebrity to launch a literary resource in Edinburgh, who better to do it than Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in the city?

And so it came to pass that on his 153rd birthday the resurrected Stevenson stood by at Makars' Court, outside the Writers' Museum, to welcome a dozen senior pupils from his old school, the Royal High. They had come to watch a wee enactment from The Makars' Literary Tour, a theatrical journey through the history of Scottish literature, and then went on to the National Library, where an interactive CD-Rom and teachers' pack of the tour was launched.

The tour complements the Higher Still English and drama curriculums and will also be extremely relevant to Standard grade English and drama students, says Morris Paton, director of the Scottish Literary Tour Trust, which is behind the tour and new resources.

The brief excerpt from the hour long tour, scripted by Moira Burgess, was entertaining and informative. The full version serves as a fine introduction to the writers who are commemorated in the specially carved stones embedded in Makars' Court. These range from Barbour, the medieval makars Henryson and Dunbar, through Fergusson and Burns to 20th-century writers such as Helen Cruickshank, Sorley MacLean, Naomi Mitchison and Iain Crichton Smith.

For schools that cannot take the tour, the interactive CD-Rom is an effective substitute. It is well designed, with brief biographies of the writers, examples of their work (on screen and in audio), some background information and relevant footage (with contemporary Celtic soundtrack) from the tour itself. It has been handsomely produced and could be put to good effect at an introductory level, though its educational value to the serious senior student will be limited.

"I think it is interesting for the Higher student and will hopefully open up Scottish literature and culture to a lot of people who don't know much about it," says Royal High S6 pupil Alan Burns. "It's a good starting place for Higher and for Standard grade, though not really for me, doing Advanced Higher. But I enjoyed the tour and what I saw of the CD-Rom."

Royal High English teacher Linda Craig agrees. "I haven't seen the whole CD-Rom but it doesn't look as if it gives enough depth for Advanced Higher.

For example, our students are pursuing how Gregory Smith's concept of the 'Caledonian Antisyzygy' (an internally conflicted national character) applies to Scottish literature and I doubt whether this CD-Rom is at their level.

"It would be much better for Standard grade.

"We are studying doubles in Scottish literature at Higher, so it was good the tour touched on how Deacon Brodie related to Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and I think the CD-Rom gives good background to writers," she says.

The teachers' pack focuses on five poems taken as representative works of the Middle Ages (Dunbar's "Meditatioun in Wyntir"), enlightenment (Fergusson's "Elegy on the Death of Scots Music"), modern (Garioch's "Glisk of the Great"), women's writing (Cruickshank's "The Ponnage Pool") and Gaelic (MacLean's "Hallaig"). There are informed explications of the poems alongside teaching points and a good glossary.

But there's not too much to cheer students, as four of the poems are focused to a greater or lesser extent on death; and while Garioch's satirical sonnet is accomplished, witty and well-turned, it's hardly an example of modernism.

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