The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

SHEILA DOUGLAS


3. Scotland on the European Storytelling Map

The European storytelling map is of course part of a world map and I’m sure if there’s life on other planets it would extend to them as well. Storytelling is the oldest and most universal art form and for any country to deny or forget that it has a story tradition is for it to deny or forget that it has cultural roots. But like other parts of folk culture nowadays even when its existence is admitted, it is usually regarded as belonging to the past and if not moribund at least on its deathbed. The great upsurge of interest in folk song – and our song tradition is also narrative – that took place in the Sixties has passed almost unnoted by the commercial and the academic world but as in ages past, its impetus is still felt. Storytelling is also going on – and I am involved in that, as I have been with folk song – and if you wonder what that has to do with medieval and Renaissance Scottish culture I would say – everything. The most spectacular of the stories are those great wonder tales that seem to be enacted against a medieval landscape of strong castles and great forests, high mountains and silvery streams, humble cottages, country villages, fairs and markets. When you come to study the stories you find this is a psychological rather than a geographical landscape, but it could be based on a folk memory of medieval times when oral tradition prevailed. The characters of these stories also seem to hark back to a medieval social order with kings and queens, magicians and ogres, old wise men and women, poor woodcutters, shepherds and fishermen, reflecting a society where there is a great gulf between rich and poor, noble and plebeian. Violence is rife and magic is needed to overcome threats and difficulties.

It was in 1973 that I first became aware of the European storytelling map and the fact that Scotland was a part of it. I had known before in theory that storytelling was an international, indeed a universal human art form, but I had not made any systematic study of this or experienced any illustration of it. What started me off was something almost accidental and nothing to do with discovering old manuscripts or literary evidence, but directly resulting from the Folk Revival. I was organising a folk festival in Perth as part of the third Perth Festival of the Arts and I decided to have a workshop on storytelling as part of it. This was something new to Scottish folk festivals but something that seemed to me to be part of folk tradition. Several storytellers came along, including the Stewarts of Blair, Willie MacPhee and Stanley Robertson, all renowned storytellers and all friends of mine. Most importantly the workshop was attended by Dr Hamish Henderson, of the School of Scottish Studies, the leading figure in the collecting and study of Scottish tradition. It was he, who as far as I was concerned, opened the magic door for me, revealing a whole new world. With the lightness of touch that only he can bring to academic

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