Sunday, June 26, 2016

Long tales for a short night - Night of the Museums in Hungary's first Story Museum

Night of the Museums, happening every year around Midsummer Night, has become one of the big events for storytelling in Hungary. Year after year I have been performing in different venues for amazing audiences. This year, for the first time since it opened, I had the pleasure of telling stories in Hungary's first and only Story Museum and Workshop.

The Museum as tiny as it is marvelous; it is housed in a historical building just below the Buda castle. Walking in, one encounters a tiny inner courtyard with a World Tree (still a sapling), and a Fountain of Life; over the front desk, a giant, friendly-looking, colorful centipede marches across the ceiling upside down. In the front room there are reading nooks, storytelling nooks, coloring tables, and walls full of word magnets. Walking into the exhibition, one first arrives to a blue-and-twilight chamber decorated with the silhouettes of traditional Hungarian fairy tale characters - the Prince, the Princess, the Witch, the Magic Horse, etc. There is also a pile of pillows with fairy tale phrases on them; children can pair the pillows with the silhouettes. Moving into the next room, we arrive to my favorite part of the museum: The Dark Forest. The entire space is criss-crossed with tree branches, and kids can play hide-and-seek while also challenging all of their senses: They have to reach into tree trunks to identify objects by touch; smell bottles to find a particular scent; lean over a star-filled well to pick out an animal sound; and they can even climb up to an elevated platform to a gryphon's nest, and watch the giant egg change colors as they touch it. They can climb over the top of the trees to get to the next room, where they have to defeat a dragon with  a fast-paced touch screen game, dress up in fairy tale costumes, learn more about dragons, and finally sit on a royal throne. I was having tons of fun just sitting on a pillow in the forest, watching children play.

The storytelling happened in a different venue: The inner courtyard of the historical building next door. It was cool, even on this very hot June day, and the audience could sit on small box-like chairs or bean bags shaped like giant green and red apples. In the back corner there was a crafts table, but they were very polite and quiet through the storytelling, and I had a microphone that helped me be heard over the background murmur. I had a nice audience of maybe thirty people, kids and parents/grandparents alike.

I was invited to tell stories of magical journeys - my favorite kind. Right before my performance, there was a Q&A with a very popular Hungarian children's author who writes adventure stories about pirates, and islands, and dragons. Listening to the Q&A I gleamed a lot of useful information about what my audience was the most excited about; once I was on stage, I used what I learned to pick the best stories, and color them in similar ways.
First, I told The King's Daughter Who Lost Her Hair; one of my favorite stories, and also one that always goes over well with children. Since they talked a lot about magical plants in the Q&A, and it involves a voyage across the sea to a mysterious island inhabited by talking flowers, it fit right into the theme. Next, I told the tale of the Princess of Tomboso, mostly because the green-and-red apple pillows reminded me of it, and also because it does involve a sea voyage and a distant island. This is also one of my ever-favorite tales, one that I also included in my book under Teleportation. I love watching kids roll their eyes every time Jack makes a stupid mistake, and I really enjoy the sassy princess too. Last, but not least, I told Fionn Mac Cool in the Land of the Big Men (also included in my book), where I had kids and parents alike helping me remember all 8 of Fionn's magical helpers...

Despite the fact that all three tales were very long (as journey tales often are), and some of the kids were very young, they followed all three with rapt attention. It was a very nice audience, primed and ready for sea monsters, and giants, and flying witches, and all kinds of adventures. I especially felt lucky that I got to tell some of my favorite tales, and see that the kids liked them just as much as I do. Definitely a win-win.

If you are in Hungary mid-June, don't miss out on the Night of the Museums. It's full of fun things like this.


  1. Sounds very similar to some of the events they have at our local Ice House museum. Everything sounds perfectly charming!
    Barbara from Life & Faith in Caneyhead

  2. That sounds like a fabulous place to visit - even if you're not a kid. My niece would love it.