A Storytelling Dilemma: Should We Make Corrections in Traditional Folktales?
By Rose Owens
“As we adapt old stories, should we try explain a discrepancy found in the
original by changing or adding to the original text?” This question was asked on STORYTELL Listserve by Karen Chace. The dialog that followed involved discussion of what is the original story, what degree of change should be made, whether or not we should change the story and how corrections might be handled.
A traditional story has already evolved through many versions. Some versions may be different from an earlier version because they have been translated from another language, were moved into a different culture or contain elements that some storyteller inserted because he/she didn’t remember part of the story or the story was changed to suit differing tastes. Folktales constantly mutate and evolve as they pass from one teller to the next. “How,” Fran Stallings asked, “are we to know which is the ‘original’ version?” And how can one be sure that the version in print is the “final” or correct version?
situation that existed when the folktale was collected may affect the quality
of the written version. Fran Stallings
shared the experience of Toshiko Endo, a storyteller from
There is a difference between connecting and adding details and changing the story. As storytellers, we add details to enhance the story and make it “ours.” Sometimes a story has a confusing detail that doesn’t allow the story to flow so the storyteller may add a transition that improves the texture without changing the weave itself. Sue Black says, “I look at stories like tapestries: over time, as they are moved from castle to cottage and back, they develop worn spots and holes in the fabric. As storytellers, it's our job to darn those holes, cover the worn spots, and make the tapestry vibrant and whole again.”
While many storytellers pointed out that oral stories are continually evolving, there were some storytellers who expressed concern that the changes we make may alter a traditional story. Richard Marsh said that “changing a traditional story to suit your own or your audience’s taste violates the integrity of the story and is disrespectful to the generations of tellers who have transmitted the story.”
Stories are always changing. The storyteller’s role has always been to tell the story and make it his/her own. Ultimately each storyteller must decide whether or not to make changes.
Appropriate way to make changes and connections were suggested by STORYTELL members.
“We have such diverse ways of keeping stories alive!” said Billie Susan Noakes. This is not surprising because storytellers are diverse. No definitive answer to the original question emerged from the dialog. However, each storyteller may choose to take the pieces of the discussion that have value to him/her and choose what changes to make or not make in the story. Our task as storytellers is to be true to ourselves and to honor the story we tell.
Copyright May 2006
Published in Storyline (Storytelling Association of