Jamie Crawford: Storyteller

‘A great success’

Sally Packer, Roedean

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FREE STORIES

 

A NOTE FOR TEACHERS

Below is a selection of the traditional stories I tell. You can tell them for entertainment, for discussion, as a springboard forartworkstorymapping or creative writing. You can get your students to retell them.

 

Like most traditional tales, the stories here are part of a common inheritance, so feel free to use them as you wish. Storytellers find

their stories where they can but, as there is honour among thieves, I have acknowledged my sources where apporopiate.

 

For more stories on the internet please visit my links page.

 

FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN

The Magic Box

The Glass Mountain

Party in the Sky

FOR OLDER CHILDREN

The Vanishing Hitchhiker

The Magic Pot

The Unexpected Bag

St. Dunstan and the Devil

Orpheus and Eurydice

A drop of honey

The Pedlar of Swaffham

 

The Magic Box

 

An old man was digging in his garden one day, when DOUNK his fork struck something hard underground. He dug away until he found a big old wooden chest buried in the earth. He dragged it out of the hole and into his kitchen. The chest was locked, so he called his friend the locksmith to come and have a look.

The locksmith said, ‘Hm, I think I might have a key to open this old fellow.’ Around his belt he wore a big bunch of keys of all shapes and sizes. He took the largest, oldest, rustiest key of all, put it into the lock and turned the key. With a whirr and a click the lock opened. The farmer and the locksmith raised the lid of the chest and looked. Inside there was a black wooden box. They lifted it out. The box was locked.

The locksmith took another key from his bunch and turned it in the lock. The lock opened. They raised the lid of the box and inside the box there was another box.

And inside that box, was another box.

Every time the locksmith opened one box, he found another slightly smaller box inside, until at last he was holding a tiny golden case in the palm of his hand.

 It was fastened with a tiny silver lock. And the locksmith took a pin, stuck the point of the pin into the eye of the lock and wiggled the pin between his thumb and forefinger.

The lid of the tiny golden case opened.

The farmer and the locksmith peered inside.

And what they saw there was so special, so precious, so magical, that they decided to keep it a secret.

And they didn’t tell anyone else.

They didn’t tell me.

So I can’t tell you.

And there ends my story.

But not my question.

What do you think was in the magic box?

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The Glass Mountain

 

A man walked into his garden one day and noticed that some of the apples on his apple tree were missing. He asked his sons to catch the thief and that night the eldest boy sat under the tree with his gun.

Ten minutes later he was asleep and when he woke up  the next morning there were more apples missing.

The following night it was his younger brother’s turn. He sat under the tree with his dog and his gun but in five minutes both dog and boy were asleep. The next morning many apples had gone.

Finally, the youngest son sat under the tree. He kept himself awake by holding the point of his knife under his chin so that whenever he nodded off… OUCH! (Don’t try this at home, kids.) In this way he kept himself awake until midnight, when a beautiful silvery-white horse glided into the garden and began cropping apples. The boy took a rope and caught the thief. Then he mounted the horse and let it lead him out of the garden.

All night they rode through the woods. In the morning they came to a great glass mountain. Its peak was lost in the clouds but the foot of the mountain was surrounded by people trying to climb up it. The sides were so smooth that no-one could get up. They came rolling back down with a bump.

The white horse found an invisible path going up the mountain and carried the boy to the very top. There he came upon a palace and in the palace was a princess.

She said to the horse, ‘Where have you been these three days and nights, you naughty creature?’

‘He’s been stealing my dad’s apples, that’s where,’ said the boy.

‘Thank you so much for bringing him back,’ said the princess. ‘I’m stuck up here without him.’

They fell in love and were married and lived happily ever after.

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Party in the Sky

A story from Brazil

In the rainforest it was raining but on this day it was raining letters of the alphabet. All the animals gathered up the letters but none of them could read except Uluru the big black crow who lives at the top of the tallest tree. He put the letters together and they spelled out an invitation to a party in the sky.

A party… HURRAY! Then the animals realised that only those with wings would be able to get there. The birds were overjoyed but the other animals were very disappointed.

However, the frog had an idea. When no-one was looking he climbed into the guitar that Uluru kept in his nest. Uluru put the guitar on his back and flew up into the sky. When he got to the party, frog sneaked out and he had a great time up there. He partied hard all night long.

In the morning he secretly crept back into the guitar and Uluru put it on his back and started flying back down to the rainforest. Unfortunately, Uluru had eaten and drunk too much at the party and was feeling rather sick. So sick that the started rolling from side to side and flying upside down. And frog fell out of the guitar.

He fell down down down through the air and when he hit the earth he was broken into a hundred pieces. Uluru saw it happen and he felt terrible. So he went around the rainforest and picked up all the pieces. Then he sewed them back together with needle and thread. He put frog back together again and then breathed life into him.

Frog jumped up and hopped away.

That is why to this day frog has a patchy skin where Uluru sewed him back together.

 

(with thanks to Marion Leeper)

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The Vanishing Hitchhiker

One stormy night a young man was driving home when he was surprised to see a girl hitching at a sharp bend in the road. He pulled over, let her in and they drove off.

Although she didn’t talk much there was something about the girl that he really liked. But only a few miles on she pointed to a house set back from the road and said, “Just here please!” He stopped the car.

As it was raining hard now and the house was a few hundred yards away, the young man lent the girl his coat, and off she went.

When he got home he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He fancied her so much that a few days later he drove over and knocked on the door of her house. An old woman answered and when he told her why he’d come, she said, “I think I’d better show you something.”

The old woman took him to the churchyard nearby and there hanging on a new-looking gravestone was his coat.

The old woman told him that beneath the gravestone lay her daughter, who the year before had been run over at the bend in the road where the young man had picked up her ghost just a few days before.

 

(with thanks to Graham Langley)

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The Magic Pot

On his way home through the forest one evening, an old woodcutter found a discarded cooking pot.

He decided to take it home but as it was too heavy to carry he put his axe in it and dragged it.

When he got home he discovered that there were two axes in the pot. His wife had an idea. She fetched an orange, put it in the pot and brought out two oranges. It was a doubling pot.

She went and fetched a gold coin – all the money they had in the world. She put it in the pot and took out two gold coins. She put those back in the pot and took out four… and kept on doubling the coins until the little house was lit up with piles of gold.

The old couple were so happy they started dancing round together. The old man took the woman by the waist to swing her up in the air but then he tripped and she fell into the pot.

Out came two old women. They took one look at the old man and threw him in the pot. Now there were two old men.

Together the four of them built another little house beside the first, and the two old couples became neighbours. They shared all the money and lived happily ever after.

But what became of the cooking pot I have no idea. 

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The Unexpected Bag

A woman was quarrelling with her husband one day and got so angry that she poked out his eye and trod on it. Then the man poked out her eye and trod on it. Then the man’s mother started quarrelling with the woman’s mother and they ended up poking out each other’s eyes too.

By this time the neighbours had heard and they brought the family before the village head man who ordered the family to leave.

The four of them wandered into the desert. Suddenly the woman saw a little pile of stones ahead. The man told them it meant that a passing hunter had left some buried food or water there. So they dug down under the stones and found a bag. The man put his hand in the bag and pulled out an eye and put it in his head. He could see. Then he found another eye in the bag and gave it to his wife and she could see.

He put his hand in the bag again but there was only one more eye. Both mothers wanted it.

Who should get it?

 

(with thanks to TUUP)

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St. Dunstan and the Devil

A legend from Mayfield in East Sussex

St. Dunstan was a blacksmith. One evening he was working away in his forge when there came a knocking at the door.

He went and opened the door and there outside stood a slight figure in a cloak and a hood. “Can I come in?”

It sounded like a young woman.

“What do you want?”

“Well, I just wanted to see your work.”

St. Dunstan left the door open for her and went back to his work.

The woman came in and stood there. “Can I sit down?”

St. Dunstan cleared a space on a bench and returned to his work.

The woman edged closer to Dunstan until she was right up against him. “That’s a beautiful bowl you’re making.”

“Not for sale,” grunted St. Dunstan.

“Surely there’s something I could give you for it.”

St. Dunstan turned to look at the woman and then he noticed a hoof sticking out from under her dress. And although she was very pretty he now saw horns growing out of her head and a fine curling moustache sprouting under her nose.

And he guessed who it was. He picked up a pair of tongs that had been heating in the fire, and clamped the red hot pincers around her nose. She shrieked and pulled away, dragging St. Dunstan across the forge, through the door and out into the dark.

But he held onto the nose.

Now the woman had changed into a goat with eyes of fire.

But St. Dunstan held onto the nose.

Now it changed into a great writhing serpent.

But St. Dunstan held onto the nose.

Now it changed into a snarling pit bull with steel spines growing out of its back.

But St. Dunstan held onto the nose.

Finally it sprouted big leathery wings and rose flapping into the air. St. Dunstan held onto the nose as the creature whirled him round and round until at last he let go and Old Scratch (that’s who it was!) shot up into the dark with his nose all flaming. And leaving a trail of sparks across the night sky he flew, high above the sleeping fields and hills of Sussex, until he came down… in Tunbridge Wells! And there he cooled his nose in the waters.

And ever since that night, the waters of Tunbridge Wells have had peculiar qualities and powers… and a taste of rotten eggs! 

 

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Orpheus and Eurydice

There once lived a young man who could play guitar and sing so amazingly that even wild animals would lie down at his feet to listen.

But just a few days after he was married, his young wife was bitten by a snake and died. He was so upset that he decided to travel to the land of the dead and find his wife.

A witch told him how to reach the underworld through a certain cave. Down through the cave he went until he came to the river of death. The old ferryman who took the souls of the dead to the far side of the river at first refused to let him in his boat. But on hearing the guitar the ferryman was hypnotised into rowing him across.

On the other side was a huge dog with three heads that guarded the entrance to the land of the dead, but when the young man sang, the dog lay down and slept.

At last he came before the king of the dead and when the king heard the sweet music he agreed to let the dead wife follow the young man up to the land of the living, on condition that he not look back at her until she was above ground.

So back they went, with the wife just a few feet behind him all the way, as he crossed the river and walked back up to the mouth of the cave. As he came out he thought he heard her call his name and he looked round, a moment too soon, before she was out of the cave, and in that moment, she vanished back to the land of the dead and he never saw her again.

 

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A drop of honey

A shepherd is returning from taking his sheep up to the summer pastures. The sheep are up there happily feeding on spring grass.

 He comes back through the village on the other side of the valley from his own, and, passing the village store sees that the merchant has some honey for sale. Feeling happy, he goes into the shop and asks the merchant to fill his small pot to bring back to the family. The merchant dips his ladle in the big jar to fill the shepherds little pot — but his hand trembles... and a drop of honey falls from the spoon onto the floor.

 A fly descends on the honey.

 

The green eyed shop cat swats the fly with it's paw,

 

The shepherd's dog snaps at the cat and kills it.

 

The enraged shopkeeper, shouting 'What am I going to do about the mice?!' strikes the dog's head with the iron ladle. The dog keels over, dead.

 

'What am I going to do about my sheep?!' shouts the shepherd — and punches the shopkeeper in the face. The shopkeeper stumbles backwards and hits his head on a rock. He's killed.

 

Passers-by see the incident — rush into the shop, drag out the shepherd and batter him to death. They dump his body on the outskirts of the village.

 

Other shepherds returning from the hills by the same route find the body of their uncle that evening. They rush back and tell everyone in their own village that their uncle has been murdered.

 That night the villagers wreak a bloody revenge.

 It so happens that the river that flows through the valley is the border between two kingdoms. The King receives a message that last night his kingdom was invaded. He counterattacks...

 Ten years later the war has ceased but the men are all dead. No harvests have been sown or gathered. Disease and starvation are rife.

 A small boy surveying the devastation asks his grandmother why it all happened.

 She says: 'It started with a drop of honey...'

 

(with thanks to Taffy Thomas)

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The Pedlar of Swaffham

Near the market town of Swaffham, in an old cottage with an apple tree outside, there once lived a poor man called John Chapman, who used to go round the villages selling bits and pieces from the pack he carried on his back.

One night he had a dream in which a voice told him to go to London Bridge. The next night he had the dream again. When it happened a third time he packed his bag and set off for London Bridge.

It took him three days to walk the hundred miles to London, and when he arrived, he stood on London Bridge and waited all day for something to happen. But nothing happened. So he found a place to sleep on the river bank under the bridge.

Next morning he was woken by a voice calling him from the bridge. It was a baker who’d seen him hanging around the day before and wanted to know what he was up to.

John Chapman told the baker about his dream and the baker laughed and told him that dreams were all nonsense. Then the baker told John Chapman that he’d had a dream where he’d dug a hole under an old apple tree and found treasure. When John Chapman heard this he rushed back to his house near Swaffham, dug under his old apple tree, and found a chest full of gold.

 

(with thanks to Hugh Lupton)

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Books

We've seen a good couple of years for storytellers who have turned their hand to writing, and below are details of recently published books by friends of mine, and excellent tellers and writers they are too.

(You should find them all at www.amazon.co.uk or go to the individuals' websites on my Links page.)

 

The Ballad of John Clare by Hugh Lupton

Dedalus Books

It is April 1811. From among the dead in Helpston churchyard a voice speaks. It tells the story of John Clare, following him through the seasonal labours and festivals of a single year when he is seventeen years old.

It is a year of losses that will shape the rest of his life.

The Ballad of John Clare is a story that invokes the fields, woods, heaths and streams of Clare’s parish. But it tells of no rural idyll. It bears witness to the harshness of the poaching laws, the greed of the landed farmers and the grinding poverty of the parish poor. Murder, enclosure, abortion, transportation and disease all play their part, as do a vividly portrayed cast of village characters.

This is a story that conjures the landscapes between Peterborough and Stamford as they were two hundred years ago. And, moving through them, it introduces us to a fictional John Clare, awkward and hot-blooded in equal measure. We see him at the cusp of manhood, educated beyond his class, standing on the brink of a life that will be torn between suffering and rapture, beginning to find the poetic voice that speaks to us still.

"this beautifully crafted book... an exceptional evocation of an England lost." Kathy Stevenson in The Daily Mail

(I'd certainly agree with Kathy Stevenson there: The Ballad of John Clare is one of the best books I've read this year. J)

 

Mezolith by By Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank

David Fickling Books

10,000 years ago, the Kansa tribe live on the western shores of the North Sea Basin, where danger is never far away. Each season brings new adventure, each hunt has its risks, and each grim encounter with the neighbouring tribe is fraught with threats. Poika, a boy on the verge of manhood, must play his part and trust the strength and wisdom of his elders. This is a tale of beasts and beauty, man, magic and . . . horror.

"A fabulous graphic novel... brilliantly illustrated." Amanda Craig in The Times

"An evocatively written, visually stunning piece of work.Ben Haggarty’s dialogue is both terse and poetic, his narrative steeped in the power of legend, and Adam Brockbank’s art is the perfect complement. The vistas he draws of a prehistoric world are lush and breathtaking, and his grasp of pacing is little short of brilliant. Those who love graphic novels or just plain good storytelling owe it to themselves to buy this book."
James Lovegrove in The Financial Times

 

Devonshire Folk Tales by Michael Dacre

The History Press

This collection of traditional stories and tales, many of which are published for the first time, will delight lovers of Devonshire folklore. Some of the stories have been gleaned from residents of the county, whilst others have been developed by the author and have evolved through countless tellings.
All the tales within represent this large and diverse county throughout its long and distinguished history, from the founding of Britain itself by Brute the Trojan at Totnes, to recent reports of haunted roads and phantom hairy hands. Also included are giants, devils, witches, ghosts, fairies, spectral black dogs and a wide range of other supernatural phenomena, all exemplifying the vigorous and earthy nature of the Devon imagination down through the ages. It is a book of wonders, to terrify and intrigue, and leads the reader around this beautiful and fascinating county.

Michael Dacre has been a professional storyteller specialising in traditional tales and legends from the West Country for over twenty years.

Here is my own review...

This is a wonderful rich collection that really captures its author's idiosyncratic storytelling voice. It's very well researched but wears its learning lightly, with just the right amount of anecdote and personal experience in the mix; also plenty of scary stuff but often hilarious too. But what impressed me most, I think, was this: through constant placing of the action in the towns, villages, rivers, moors, tors and woods he knows and loves, Michael allows the stories to walk our imaginations across the landscape, immersing us in the feel of his Devon and mapping the realm of the ancestors onto the present day county through an eccentric criss-cross of homegrown songlines. It is the unfolding of this narrative topography that gives the collection its cumulative force and binds it together almost like a novel. Wendy's shadow illustrations are a delight in themselves and complement the stories perfectly. One of my very few quibbles with the book is that in one or two places (the slightly repetitive snippets in the Haunted Road chapter, for example) it could have done with a little editing down. Predominantly, though, we are in the hands of a literary storytelling magician. This collection would make a noble addition to any storyteller's library and also a good present for an older child or anyone interested in folklore and stories.

      

       

  ... and last but by no means least

 

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Folk Tales by Michael O’Leary

The History Press

Storyteller Michael O’Leary skilfully combines urban legends heard, as often as not, ‘from the bloke with the high-viz jacket’ encountered somewhere in the sprawling Southampton-Portsmouth hinterland, with the kind of archaic rural lore more readily associated with these counties. The author’s familiarity with his locale, conversational idiom and satirical wit (sparing no-one, storytellers included) make the collection a distinctively piquant read.           

 

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animation

Below is an animation by a group of students from Boundstone Community College in Lancing. It is their updating of a Japanese folktale that I told them during a 2007 summer school. My version of the story can be heard on my CD (www.cdvine.co.uk). The following text gives you the gist.

Issun Boshi

A childless woman said to herself one day, “I wish I had a baby of my own, even if it were no longer than the end of my little finger.” Nine months later she gave birth to a tiny little baby boy, no bigger than the end of her little finger. They called him Issun Boshi, which means Little One Inch.

Issun Boshi was quick and sharp and bright and his parents loved him tenderly. When he was fifteen they gave him three gifts: a wooden rice bowl, a pair of chop sticks and a needle as a sword, with a bit of straw for a sheath. He strung the sword and sheath about his waist. He carried the bowl on his head to the river. He placed it gently on the water, hopped in and with the chopsticks punted himself away. His parents waved farewell as they watched him floating away.

He came at last to the great city of Kyoto. There he set about looking for work. He went up to the biggest house he could find and knocked on the door. When it was answered by a servant Issun Boshi managed to slip past him and make his way to the lord of the house, a nobleman dressed in fine silk robes, who looked down at Issun Boshi and smiled. When his daughter, the princess, came into the room, she picked Issun Boshi up and slipped him into the folds of her kimono. And so he became her official companion.

One day the princess went on pilgrimage to the Kiyomizu temple and Issun Boshi went with her. On the way they were set upon by two Oni. (Oni are demons with horns and iron clubs. These ones were bright red with three toes on each foot, three fingers on each hand and three eyes in their heads.) One Oni grabbed the girl and the other raised its foot to stamp on Issun Boshi. As the foot came down Issun Bosh leaped out of the way, turned and pierced the Oni’s toe with his needle. The Oni shrieked with pain but Issun Boshi found himself scooped up by the other Oni and tossed into the air. As he fell this Oni caught him in its mouth and swallowed him.

Issun Boshi tumbled down into the Oni’s belly. There, he set about stabbing the stomach wall with his needle and soon managed to climb his way up the inside of the Oni’s throat, until finally the Oni gave a great heave and retched Issun Boshi, needle first, into the other Oni’s eye. One Oni fell against the other and they both collapsed in a heap and lay still.

The princess rose from the ground where she had fallen and called for Issun Boshi. There was no sign of him. And then she saw something stirring beneath the fallen Oni. Out staggered little Issun boshi, with his needle all bent. The princess picked up a magic mallet belonging to the Oni. Making a wish, she swung the hammer over her head and brought it down THWACK!

There before her stood a full-size Samurai warrior with a beautiful curving sword. It was Issun Boshi - little one inch no longer. Hand in hand they walked into the temple. On their return home, they were married and Issun Boshi’s parents came to the wedding.

And they lived well, and so may we.

 

This version ‘Issun Boshi’© Copyright text, Jamie Crawford, 2008. Please note anyone is free to tell this story or any traditional story I have written

down or that you have heard me tell.

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