Some Period Advice for Storytellers

To the best of my knowledge, there do not exist any period books specifically about the art of storytelling. If you happen to know of any (especially any that might be available in english), please do let me know! Still, even without a book specifically on the subject, I have found some useful tidbits here and there, and included some of them below. (If you have any other good examples, please let me know so that they may be included in future editions.)

The Rules of the Storyteller

The following excerpt was taken from Anne Pellowski's book, The World of Storytelling. This is a useful resource, though focused primarily on modern concerns, rather than SCA-relevant ones.

"Mahmoud Omidslar has translated the portions of The Royal Book of Fuwwa by Mulla Husayn I Kashifi (c. 1500 C.E.) that pertain to the training of storytellers.

How many are the rules of the storyteller? Eight. [The storyteller] must have studied the tale he wants to tell with a master... he must have repeated it enough times so that he may not get stuck. Second, he must start to speak eloquently and excitingly and he must not be plain and boring. Third, he must know what kind of narration is fitting for every assembly, when to stop and the like. He must mostly narrate things that people like. Fourth, he should occasionally embellish his narration with verses, but not in a manner that may cause boredom... Fifth, he should not make impossible or hyperbolic statements lest he lose face among the people. Sixth, he may not make sarcastic or critical remarks lest he become an object of dislike. Seventh, he should not forcefully demand payment and should not pester the people. Eighth, he must not stop too soon or go on too late but must always keep to the path of moderation."

Omidslar, Mahmoud. "Storytellers in Classical Persian Texts." Journal of American Folklore 97 (1984) page 28, as quoted in:
Pellowski, Anne. The World of Storytelling -- Expanded and Revised Edition. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1990, pages 208-209.

Although a few things here are not relevant in our culture (the need for a master, the prohibition against hyperbole), on the whole, this is very sound advice, and well worth paying attention to.

The Storyteller's Guild of Carolingia, having frequently made reference to these rules at our monthly meetings, eventually came up with "The Ninth Rule of Storytelling: Never apologize before telling a story." Your inexperience may make you a poor storyteller, you may have concerns about your voice, you may not have sufficiently practiced your piece. Despite all this, you may well pull off an excellent performance. If you don't precondition your audience to expect a poor story, they are less likely to perceive it as a poor story.

The Decameron

Bocaccio's Decameron, besides being a wonderful source for stories in its own right, also contains a great deal of useful advice for storytellers within it, both implicitly and explicitly. Since the frame story concerns a group of young nobles entertaining each other with stories, we can learn much from it about how storytelling was treated in that culture (14th century Italy). Many of the issues they faced as storytellers continue to be relevant to this day.

One of the Decameron tales does have a good example of how not to be a good storyteller. I have included a version of it below:

First Tale of the Sixth Day

Not long ago, there dwelt a gentlewoman in our city of excellent grace and good discourse. Such were the rich endowments that Nature had given her, that it would be a pity to conceal her name. Therefore let me tell you that she was called Madame Oretta, the wife to Signior Geri Spina. She was passing from place to place to visit her friends and acquaintances in the country, accompanied with diverse knights and gentlewomen, when a Knight chanced to overtake this fair troop. Since he knew Madam Oretta well, he addressed her kindly in this manner:

"Madam, this foot travel may be offensive to you. If it would please you as much as it would myself, I would ease your journey behind me on my gelding. And besides, I will shorten your weariness with a tale worth the hearing."

"Courteous Sir," replied the Lady, "I embrace your kind offer and I pray you to perform it. Therein you shall do me a great favor indeed."

Having the Lady mounted behind him, the kinight rode on with a gentle pace, and according to his promise began to tell a tale. This tale did indeed (of itself) deserve attention, because it was an excellent and commendable history. Sadly, this knight was as unskilled in the use of his wit as he was with his sword. He delivered the tale abruptly, with idle repetitions of some details three or four times, mistaking one thing for another, and wandering away from the essential subject. At times, he seemed to be nearing an end, only to begin once again. The characters of the story were so abusively nick-named, their actions and speeches so monstrously mishappen, that nothing could appear to be more ugly. No poor tale could possibly have been more mangled, or worse tortured in telling, then this was.

Madame Oretta, being a Lady of unequalled ingenuity, admirable in judgement, and most delicate in her speech, was afflicted in her soul beyond all measure. She became overcome with many cold sweats and passionate heart-aching qualms, to see a Fool thus trapped in a barn and unable to get out, although the door stood wide open to him. At last she became so sick that, converting her distaste to a kind of pleasing acceptance, she spoke to him merrily, thus:

"Believe me Sir, your horse trots so hard, and travels so uneasily; that I beg you to let me walk on foot again."

The knight, being (perchance) a better understander than a discourser, perceived by this witty taunt that his shot had gone very far from the mark, and he was as far out of Tune as he was from the Town. So, waiting until the company of friends she traveled with had arrived, he left her with them, and rode on as his Wisdom could best direct him.

This version is based on one taken from The Decameron Web (See Appendix B for info), and then edited by me.

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