I hope to present students with as many enjoyable and interesting storytelling moments as possible. I believe that if students are going to love to read and write, they will be at an advantage if they have a positive relationship with oral language stories, both in the telling and listening. I believe that the mythological principles below can become a foundation for a lifetime of writing and reading.
The Heroic Journey: This is the map of most good stories. It represents a take off point for the imagination. It reflects the fact that we all are on a journey through life (each one of us as heroic as Ulysses), and gives students a story structure. Some major elements of the Heroic Journey are below:
Problem, Wound, or Call: This element initiates the journey. This changes the hero/heroine’s life dramatically. He/she must take up the journey to change/respond to the situation: Cinderella’s intolerable home life, Luke Sky Walker’s enslaved home planet, the death of Harry Potter’s parents. On the other hand, some heroic characters merely take up a quest to seek adventure – they are “called,” or “chosen” or respond to some inner destiny.
Mentor(s): The principle helper/guide/teacher. The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s. Luke has Yoda. Harry has Dumbledore. The mentor will help the heroine/hero solve problems, overcome obstacles, and defeat demons. Mentors are usually both kind and challenging (tough love)… The mentor role reminds us that we are not alone and should look for help and allies in real life.
Test(s): This is where we build the character of the hero/heroine. Does she/he show qualities of compassion, bravery, and intelligence under pressure/duress? And yet, paradoxically, the most interesting heroes/heroines are imperfect.
Reward, New Learning, Magic: If the hero/heroine passes the test(s) she/he is rewarded with something: magic, information, power, new insight…that brings to solution the problems set out earlier in the story:.
Problem Solved, (Climax): This is the moment of transformation where the character uses her or his new found power to achieves his/her goals, escapes danger and death, and wins in the end, solving the problems laid out earlier in the story. Cinderella gets the prince. Harry Potter becomes a powerful wizard. Luke destroys the death star.
*Paradox: This is a fascinating and intriguing contradiction in the story that is surprising, confusing but functions to take the reader or listener deeper into the meaning of the story and also into the meaning of life.
Dressed in cinders and rags Cinderella is the most beautiful sister, because she has the most beautiful heart.
The young Luke saves his home planet because the “force” is more powerful in him.
Even though the orphan Harry Potter doesn’t know it yet, he is predestined to grow up to be a most powerful wizard.
• Beauty falls for the Beast.
• The fool is smarter than the king.
• The youngest/smallest prince is the best warrior.
• The baby girl is stronger and less afraid than the big boys.
The element of paradox helps us all enjoy the mystery and surprise of the story and of life, and helps us learn not to judge others or ourselves too quickly, too harshly, or by our appearance and status in the world. The concept and playing out of paradox in the story defeats stereotypes.
*Accepting the paradox that every human being, including ourselves, is imperfect can be a wedge against bullying and oppression of all kinds.
I tell stories to children because I learned many years ago that nothing in my ten years of experience as a classroom teacher held my elementary student’s attention like a story.For some twenty-three years now, I have made my living as a professional, full time storyteller. That storytelling produces a singular, intensely vital experience in my listener’s imagination continues to be reinforced nearly every day of my professional storytelling life.
I remember a particular occasion telling stories to an auditorium full of primary-aged students (grades k-2). After the program was finished, the students filed past the front of the stage where I was standing and greeting a few as they passed. One second grade boy walking by, looked at me over his should and shouted in mid step: “Thanks for the movies!”
I am reasonably sure that he was responding very literally, simply and profoundly to the mechanism in the brain (the cortex where complex thought functions) that produces images in response to oral language. Joseph Chilton Pierce and others have theorized that the brain is activated by oral language in a manner that causes neural brain cells and neural pathways to be stimulated (and even to grow, creating new, neural pathways, etc) in a way that is not possible when image and language are artificially coupled as in television, dvds, computer screens, in which case the most creative part of the brain shuts down because the image is ready made, not personal, original or connected to the viewer’s personal, internal, neural life.