Wrong story

26th May 2000 at 01:00
JAMES CAMBELL'S stereotyping of traditional storytellers as

be-kilted "bearded shennachie wannabes" ("Their story's gone stale", TESS, May 12) is a good indication of the lad's sheltered existence.

An awful lot of storytellers, for example, are women. And given that storytelling is, among many other things, a branch of the entertainment industry, it's not surprising that a tiny handful of male Scottish exponents wear the kilt.

Where James really comes unstuck is in his assertion that traditional stories have no relevance to the modern world.

Last year I saw the great

Ross-shire storyteller Alec John Williamson telling an old tale from the Western Isles. "There was this laird," he began. "He was a cruel man. I suppose he was like Milosevic."

For Alec John, and subsequently for his audience, the story was as fresh as that morning's news. It was hard and uncompromising, dealing with punishment by physical mutilation, and revenge through the murder of a child. Think Rwanda, think Bosnia, think Ulster.

The audience, whose ages ranged from around 10 years to well into their seenties, listened as enthralled as if it had been an eyewitness account.

Traditional stories have, by definition, been around a long time. Their universality, and the many levels on which they function, from pure entertainment to moral instruction, have kept some of them on the go for millennia. I wish James's invented tales of "frogs with microwaves in their tummies; caterpillars who live in eyebrows; funky dinner ladies and death-defying cats" a comparable longevity.

I've worked with "the most successful storyteller in the country" (as James describes himself). I like his stories a lot, and he's a great children's entertainer.

But I think he should get out

to a few storytelling gigs other than his own and particularly check out traveller storytellers like Alec John Williamson, direct links to a time, not long past, when traditional storytelling was an integral part of everyday life, rather than a marginalised art-form whose validity could be questioned in such an uninformed and self-publicising way, in a journal as respectable as The TES Scotland.

Bob Pegg

Beauly


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