One of my favorite things to do as a storyteller? Looking up several versions of the same tale, and building my own from them. It is kind of like a make-your-own ice cream thing.
One of the stories I am working with recently is most commonly known as The Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen. It belongs to Aarne-Thompson folktale type 953 ("Old robber tells three stories"), and I have managed to find about a dozen different versions of it, most of them from Scotland and Ireland. Interestingly enough the story also shows up in the Grimm Fairy Tales, but it was edited out after the 6th edition (it was No. 191 until then).
There are many things to love about this story, and it is a lot of fun to tell. In order to show some of my build-a-story process, here are some details:
1. The protagonist is known as the Black Thief, Red Conall, Conal Yellowclaw, or the Byzantine Brigand in different sources. In my version, I call him Red Conall, the Byzantine Brigand, because his red hair is an important plot point in the story, and "Byzantine Brigand" just sounds too awesome not to include.
2. In some versions the three lads are Conall's own sons whom he tries to keep away from becoming robbers themselves (Conall himself reformed in his old age). In other versions they are three princes sent on a quest by an evil queen. While both versions carry a lot of emotional weight and possibilities, I tell the second one, because an old, wandering former master-thief taking three exiled princes under his wings is just too interesting to pass up. He definitely becomes a father figure that is willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lads.
4. You can never quite tell how much of Conall's stories are true, and how much he is making up on the spot. The last story usually includes a physical sign - he saves the baby's life by cutting off a little finger, and that's how the king knows it was himself, since he is missing a finger too. I like to imagine that Conall just looked at the king, saw the missing finger, and took a chance on it. It is never said in the story when I tell it, but kind of implied, that Conall is just pulling a Scheherazade, making up tales on the fly in desperation to save the princes' lives. You have to be an awesome storyteller to get away with that three times in a row.
(Scheherazade at least always had a day to think ahead...)
Anyhow, fun story, many possibilities. I really enjoyed assembling my favorite version.
Here is a short list of some of my sources:
Johannes Bolte & Georg Polívka: Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- u. Hausmärchen der Brüder
Grimm, 1913. (Der Rauber und seine Söhne)
Italo Calvino: Italian folktales, 1992. (Three Tales by Three Sons of Three Merchants)
J.F. Campbell: Popular Tales of the West Highlands Vol. 1, 1890. (Conall Cra Bhuidhe)
J.L. Campbell: Stories from South Uist, 1961. (The Byzantine Brigand)
Wilson M. Hudson: Tire Shrinker to Dragster, 1968. (An Gadaí Dubh: The Black Thief)
Joseph Jacobs: Celtic Fairy Tales, 1892. (Conal Yellowclaw)
Andrew Lang: The Red Fairy Book, 1890. (The Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen)
William Thackeray: The Irish Sketch Book, 1843. (The Black Thief of Sloan)