Crafting Personal Vision in Telling Folktales

Crafting Personal Vision in Telling Folktales
By: Heather Forest

This article is written by Heather Forest and is C. 1998. This is an excerpt from her article by the same name that has been republished with permission of the author.

My interest in folktales began with an enthusiasm for the folksongs I sang in my early teens. As a budding guitarist of fourteen, I learned to sing along with folksong records and taught myself the words to old tunes from folksong books. I never learned to read music formally, but there was enough music in the air due to the folksong revival of the sixties, that I was able to learn the songs by ear. I especially enjoyed ballads because they had a plot. My favorite moment in singing any song was the very last moment of the song, the “edge” between the song’s last vibration on the guitar and silence.

It was a magical stepping off place back into my everyday life. The sense of completion at the last breath of song was totally satisfying and I recall singing my way through the many verses of a ballad just to arrive at the end moment. Singing could transform my mood. Once I’d traveled through the song, I arrived at a new place in time. I’d spent the time well. Those moments would never return. I was that many minutes older, but somehow, compared to my daily chores in the house where I grew up, the minutes spent were renewing. The songs were my company, my friends, and my solace. They were things I was too young to understand. The child in me still celebrates that last moment and the journey. Now the songs have widened into tales.

In my early twenties, when I began to create my own folksongs based on the ballad form, I found the public library to be an endless source of inspiration in the 398.2 folktale section. As a child, I had always enjoyed reading mythology and folktales. As a budding composer I discovered I could wander the world reading plots from cultures around the globe and create songs out of them. When a plot touched me deeply, I would set it on my creative back burners and just think about it for a long time. Some stories sat silent for months, others years.

Eventually I would face the tale and try to understand my attraction to it. As in a dream, I thought, I’m probably everybody in the story. Maybe there was a sense of familiarity about the tale, as though it was really about something that happened to me. Or, maybe there was something I needed to learn from the tale. Maybe it healed me. Maybe it made me face myself, by telling it again and again. There is a freeing anonymity and at the same time, a revealing vulnerability in telling a folktale.

Heather Forest weaves a spell with the magic of words. She is both a prolific author of folktale books and an expert, noted performing artist.

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