It is unsurprising that your name is obscure to most of the world. Your husband, Andrew Lang, rings bells loudly in proclamation of the great British collectors of folk tales in his Rainbow Fairy collection.
To be fair to Andrew, he did credit you Nora as writer and contributor along the way. In the preface to the last of the collection, The Lilac Fairy Book (1910) he writes:
‘The fairy books have been almost wholly the work of Mrs. Lang, who has translated and adapted them from the French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, and other languages.’
So he did try to honour you, Nora. He also credited 17 other female contributors to the Rainbow Fairy Collection. The world has not unfortunately remembered this. You name should sit along the Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson, but this is sadly not the case.
It’s interesting that nearly all of the collectors of tales had women contributing to the final books but there names are often lost. I want to say, Nora, that life is now better and women’s voices are now represented equally across society, but this is not the case. It still happens where men are credited for the ideas and words of women. We have come along way since you were compiling the Rainbow Fairy collection, but the journey is ongoing with many twists and turns. Your work has gone on to inspire many fantastic works of fiction. Most notably, J. R. R. Tolkien:
“In English none probably rival either the popularity, or the inclusiveness, or the general merits of the twelve books of twelve colours which we owe to Andrew Lang and to his wife.”— J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy Stories’
As someone who is filling their life with these kind of tales, I am grateful for the work that you did.
Little Red Riding is a shocking tale. It’s more than the simplified children’s tale of doing what your told (Sticking to the path) and not talking to strangers (the Big, Bad Wolf). We think of all of the Grimm tales and their counterparts as being for children.
The original name of the Collection was Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children and Household Tales.) We as modern audience focus on the side of the tales that are for children, but what about the ‘Household’ part of the collection?
When I get asked, as a Storyteller, what content I would perform for adults, I see a lot of nose wrinkling when I say traditional tales like you would find within the collections of Grimm Brother’s, Charles Perrault, Giambattista Basile.
Many of these collectors and writers including Hans Christians Anderson, had not purposely written or recorded their work for audiences made up solely of children. If you read the Juniper Tree from Brother’s Grimm, you are faced with a tale of murder, deceit, cannibalism and children being horribly manipulated alongside a magic tree, a bartering bird, and a little girl. These traditional tales can be (and should be) adjusted to the audience that are listening to them. Often though the tales are heavily diluted into sweet bedtime tales and a patronising delivery of “And the moral of the story is….”
Storytelling is a gateway into literacy (more on this is another blog), if we cheapen the tales in this way, it is no wonder no one can be bothered to sit down and orally share tales. We all love telling anecdotes, we are all storytellers, so why not take these tales and use them as a tool to unpick our modern life.
Cinderella is a tale of slavery. Worldwide, it’s estimated that there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. Beauty and the Beast a tale of imprisoning a young woman. The Beast can be found in the likes of Ariel Castro and Josef Fritzl. The Elves and the shoemaker tells a story if helping those most in need. We need these stories to help us connect into the world we live in.
These stories could be serving as much now, as when they were originally bought into the public consciousness, as they have throughout the whole history of humankind.
Yet you are write these characters with such texture that I connect to them. They are not women who are likely heroes, but I still hear the trials and understand them.
This seems important, as you seem like none of these women either, from the short biographies we now have of your life. You write in such an a rich way, that we even connect with Heathcliff.
You come over as someone who had a sense of wonder alongside a sense of home. Who could carve rich imagined worlds from the limits of your bedroom. If we could all write like this or imagine life like this, we would all be able to live freely.
Your poetry also talks of being in the moment. Connecting ourselves into the presence.We have a name for that now – Mindfulness. Linking that to your rich imagination is both inspiring and humbling.
“Thy mind is ever moving In regions dark to thee; Recall its useless roving— Come back and dwell with me.”
Shall Earth No More Inspire Me, Emily Bronte
My mind is ever moving. If I could hang out and chat with you, I am sure that I could become enlightened on this darker regions.
I stumbled across the above quote, and it resonates incredibly powerfully. Early on this summer I completed a course called The Performer’s Playgroundwith ClownLab. It was a 12 week exploration of playfulness. We had a lot of conversation about finding the joy or the fun in something and enjoying being beautiful even if we were playing something ugly. How do we create fun or channel playfulness?
On reflection, I think the things that inhibit me are the parameters that I have either set myself or the the ones that I have allowed others to set for me – ‘the table of do’s and don’ts‘ as Pullman calls it. There are a list of things I can do and a list of things I can’t do. I wrote a while back about Growth Mindset, the idea that through a shift in personal attitude can alter our potential. How do we know that our personal attitude needs to shift? How do we believe that our potential is unlimited?
Neil Gaiman wrote in Coraline “Fairy tales are more then true; Not because they tell us the Dragons exist, but because they tell us that Dragons can be beaten”.
Stories allow us to see that we can do, or be anything. Some of our favourite characters in our most loved tales and stories have the hardest start; they are orphans. Harry Potter to Cinderella; Superman to Peter Pan; Mowgli to Sophie in the BFG. Their world has been disrupted in a way that no one would want for a child. Yet, these characters go on amazing adventures, and overcome huge obstacles and show a resourcefulness and resilience to find their way through. Peter Pan has no ‘list of right or wrongs’ just a love of play and make believe. His game playing allows him survive and outwit his enemies.
The art of oral storytelling transcends age, ethnicity, education, borders and gender whilst also recording and reflecting our difference in those things. This kind of storytelling is a shared act between teller and listener. Jane B. Wilson tells us in her book The Story Experience, “Those who tell tales are both speakers and listeners. They have heard and remember”.
We are all storytellers and we are all listeners, if we allow ourselves the possibility to listen. We can all believe that we can do more, be more then we think we are. If we see others have defeated the bad guys, maybe we can too.
“The listener is caught and whirled into a talk, living for a single moment in the good, the great, the naughty, the lost. The tellers voice awakes dreams and spins stuff for thought; incites to contemplation.”
I have been working with Z-Arts and Crumpsall Lane Primary School in Manchester, creating story telling pieces for the schools reception class. Its been really wonderful and tomorrow we go into our third week of the project based on the collections of Brother’s Grimm, and this week we are looking at Little Red Riding Hood or as Bro
ther’s Grimm called Little Red Cap.
This story has been re told and re told and re told, and I have a strong suspicion that the children will be very familiar with it. I think that each week they have bought there own colour and magic to the stories we have looked at (Musicians of Bremen and Hansel and Gretel.) That is why working with these traditional stories is such a gift because they can be re told in so many different ways. As a story teller, I love the immediacy of the retelling. The audience being very active in shaping how the story looks and feels. These stories are so beautifully simple but it is quite easy to overlook them.
I also provide lesson plans in arts crafts for further exploration of these stories in the class in the week that follows. I’d thought I’d pass on one of the craft exercises in this weeks lesson plan. You can never have too many resources available!
First things first, copy the above template for each of the components in the mask and cut them out. I made the mistake of putting it all together before I coloured it in, which made it much harder to build, the above image is on an A4 piece of paper. You could print it directly onto card if you’d prefer. An extra task for the children , could be to draw around pre cut provided templates and see if they could get them to fit it onto a sheet of A4 card.
The decorating is worth spending time on as the masks look so much better as a result. I kept my decoration very simple and only used felt tip, but I think the mask would come alive even further with some fake fur or felt or if the teeth were very shiny….
Stick the front and the back thin pieces together. I used masking tape to stick the pieces together, that way I can adjust easily to the circumference of head that is resting on. I then
took the nose piece and folded along each of the dotted lines.
I attached part one, by folding over the top of the front piece of headband in the middle of the ears and secured with tape.
I then attached the mouth piece behind section 2 of the nose and then the tongue behind the mouth.
Nice and straight forward. Now you can howl at the moon and be big, bad and scary!
Play is a significant part of who we are as people. In fact, it is through play that humans are wired to learn. I love playing. I could play all day. I love games and songs and stories and dancing and make believe. Make believe is the best part of everything ever. But why is pretending to be a golden unicorn with ambitions to be the World Salsa Champion deemed as less then being a Doctor or a Engineer or a Fiscal Officer? I can see the significance of these roles in our society and I am not disputing their worth. They are in the hierarchy of professions though. They use our brains, in a way that we can quantify with money. Play is nothing in the face of medicine, technologies and finances. How have we got here? There are plenty of great thinkers who thought and still think today that play is an essential part of our make up. People at the top of the game in STEM subjects are saying that play is important part of innovation and discovery. However even if I was the best person at pretending to be a golden unicorn with ambitions to be a World Salsa Champion and I mean the BEST, I still wouldn’t be taken serious because make believe and play? Well that’s just for kids!
Kenneth R. Ginsberg writes on behalf of the American Academy of Paediatrics, outlining some of the ways that Play is important:-
“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.”
(Kenneth R. Ginsberg, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182)
Most of us have a good understanding of the importance of play in our children’s lives. We look at the opportunities that we can present them with. We hear the generations above us groan about kids being kept indoors, playing endlessly at video games and watching rubbish on iPads while at the same time managing to do Dancing on Monday, Choir on Tuesday, Art on Wednesday, Spanish on Thursday, Football on a Friday night and then Mindful-tots on a Saturday morning. So our kids are either doing too much or not enough??
Ginsberg talks about both of these things in his article and tells us that Parents are being fed ‘carefully marketed messages’ that children need every chance to be their best through parents buying a variety of toys and materials and making sure their children go to a range of activitities. Parents are not only being told that this is good for their child, they are also being told that this is the definition of a good parent.
It’s hard though, to work out what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘good’ and ‘bad’. After all we are all new to it. We’ve not done it before. We’re sleep deprived. It seems to be working for others and don’t get me wrong some children do completely thrive in a bustling week. These classes are structured and adult led. There is normally no element of free play. The kind where kids play shop, or mermaids. Or have an afternoon tea party with their teddies or get to be the fastest footballer on the planet or the bravest explorer.
Free play that is child driven is essential to the development of negotiation skills and an opportunity for children to discover what they are interested in. For many adults, play is something done by those mini adults that walk around copying every gesture, phrase or grimace that we do. Play seems hard. We know all the rules. We have all the answers. We have pressures on our time to keep the ship running smoothly. We have an idea and we suggest it to our children and then what?
We all just have to be careful about why we are setting up activities for our children. What might we be missing out on by keeping everyone busy and on the move. Our children need it yes, but we, the parents need it too. We need time to learn about our children’s likes and dislikes, we need to learn how to socialise and share and negotiate. We need time to cool off and unwind. Our children need to see us do this so that they do it too. Finding our love and comfort in free play is as necessary for our children to witness, as our children doing it in the first place. Our kids won’t see the point in it if we don’t.
So playing? Playing is more than stuff for kids. We need to let our children play freely and get on board with them. Let them decide the rules. If you’re not sure what that entirely means, I want to take you back in time to the late 80s in the Goodman household. There we all are: Big sister (7), big brother (5) and I (3) in the fun loving hands of our favourite babysitter -Wendy. We are wearing a rainbow of shell suits. We’d just finished watching the Never Ending Story on BBC 2.
Big Sister: Let's play a game.
Big Brother: Yeah, let's play a game.
Me: I know a game.
Big Sister: Really?
Big Brother: Bet you don't.
Me: I do.
Big Brother: No, you don't.
Me: Yes, I do.
Big Brother: No.
Big Sister: What is it then?
Big Sister: What's the rules?
Me: Whoever jumps the highest wins.
Big Brother and Big Sister exchange a look.
Big Brother: Fine. I'll go first.
He jumps. Big Sister jumps. I climb on the sofa.
Big Sister: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CHEATER!!
Me: I never said that I couldn't jump off something.
Big Brother: Fine then, I will jump off this chair. And be higher then you.
Big Sister: What? Why not?
Me: THOSE AREN'T THE RULES.
Big Sister: What? Those are different rules for you then us.
Big Brother: Well that's not fair.
Me: (With as much 3 year old sass as I can muster) Well, its MY game. So it's MY rules.
Big Sister: Then I'm not playing.
Big Brother and Big Sister leave
As irritating as this must have been for my older siblings (they have never let me live this one down), that is what child led play would look like. Let your child invent new stories where there is the same line about a big fat pig running down your trousers in every other sentence. In fact, encourage it. Get them to tell you how things work. Enjoy them sticking 23 dinosaur stickers in exactly the same position, or pour out the glue so the paper disappears. This is them playing. Hang out with them and accept what they are offering. The world that will open up for you both will be a truly magical one. One where a golden unicorn gets to Salsa.
Felicity Goodman in a Voice Teacher, Playologist and Storyteller in Manchester, U.K. To find out more about her work please visit felicitygoodman.co.uk