I’m considering the sequence of events that have led to me writing this book, a departure in narrative form from the previous collections of folk tales published with the History Press. It was 10 years ago when my first volume was published and it still surprises me, 4 books and one-in-the pipeline later that I am an author at all, my background being in oral rather than written literature.
As a traditional oral storyteller for more than 30 years my work had been to tell rather than write. However, a particular set of circumstances led me to write my first collection of folk tales, its success allowing me to respond to the demand for further books. It was then that my years of research, telling, and above all, listening to other storytellers stood me in good stead, with a vast repertoire in my head to plunder. The challenge became that of ruthlessly editing amongst a vast ocean of choices, and in doing so another vista emerged. I describe that process by using the image of a mosaic, through its gradual creation to its final form. For me, each story is a tessera – one of the tiles used to create the whole picture - discrete, perfect in form, and with an inherent versatility in how it can be placed. How I juxtapose this wealth of tesserae to form chapters, forming the structure of an entire book, allows additional perspectives beyond the individual stories, leading to a greater vision than the sum of its parts.
How then, to work with the mythological form of narrative rather than folk tales? As I explain to my storyteller students, myth and folk tale are different kinds of story, their forms being quite different. Folk tales have a beginning, a middle and an end. Discrete and wholly visible at a glance just like tesserae, they are convenient for the sound bite telling that modern times demand in our fast, full and increasingly visual culture. Myths, however, have a different shape, with no definite beginnings or endings as each element reaches back into a past with another cast of divine characters, who have all been borne thither on a ripple from events in yet another cycle of stories. The story entitled ‘Monster Menagerie’ demonstrates this complexity. My choosing to include the story of Bellerophon and the Chimera started with my fascination with the archaeological find in Dorset of the mosaic depicting our hero slaying the monster (more tesserae!). That one image from a moment in the story led backwards to the discovery of how and why the Chimera came to be, its lineage of monsters a reflection and parody of the monstrous actions of the gods themselves. It is this mythological form that allowed me to explore their story as much as those of mortals and divinities.
Above all, my journey with this book has imbued me with a sense of wonder at the richness of the narrative legacy from all those peoples and cultures who made Britain and Ireland their home over the millennia. Whether this was due to invasions, trading, or seeking a place of refuge, I live in a place where representatives of all the major European mythologies have come to rest. Like the geological strata of these lands, they are the bedrock of our culture and continue to be added to in their infinite variety and commonality of our human concerns and values.
By Sharon Jacksties