Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The True Tale of the Black Knight

"Tell us stories about the Black Knight!"

They really got me with that one.
The first time we met, I told them the story of Dame Ragnell (they are studying the Middle Ages this semester), and they greatly enjoyed it; interestingly enough the most exciting character for them was the Black Knight, who asked Arthur the question and threatened to kill him if he didn't find the answer. So, naturally, they decided they wanted to hear more about him.

And here I was with one week to solve the riddle: Who is the Black Knight, really?

There is a bunch of Black Knights in legend and lore; knights, especially evil ones, generally enjoy wearing black. My favorite Arthurian novelist, Gerald Morris, might have a word or two to say about that; but the question still stood: where could I finf the true story of the Black Knight?... In one week?

There was one other person I knew of: THE Black Knight, the one that conquers all other knights, and wins every fight in the end. Yeah, I'm talking about Death. There is a story about a princess who would only marry the perfect knight, the one that could kill all others - and she ended up being carried away by exactly that person. There is an amazing song about it, Der Letzte Tanz (The Last Dance) by Schandmaul.

Anyhow, back to my quest. I doubted a whole Story Club could be based on the Black Knight being Death, so I kept on searching for more apropriate and more... alive candidates.

Remember one very important thing: Children are always right about stories.

So without further ado I present you our very own personal Black Knight: Sir Breunor.
He was interesting enough to tell about; we could start with how he became a knight (and slaying a lion in King Arthur's court was something the kids just loved to act out - Guinevere ran screaming around the Round Table pursued by a roaring lion until Breunor (or, Bruno, as we called him) killed the beast, and got knighted for his deed). We went on with the tale, and it was an absolute win: the little girl and the knight were an amazing couple, constantly yelling at each other and calling each other names until they gave up, the girl got kidnapped and rescued by a whole team of Arthurian knights, and they became best friends forever.

And this is not all. To my utter surprise, there is another story about a Black Knight, and that Black Knight is nobody else but the grandson of our very own King Arthur! If it wasn't for the kids' request I would have never found the Renaissance romance of Tom a'Lincoln and his two sons, the Black Knight and the Faerie Knight. It's a tragedy, really, but a very colorful and well written one. And because I discovered our very own Black Knight (Bruno or not Bruno) had a brother (well, half brother), there was a straight linw to walk from Black Knight to Faerie Knight (which, by the way, is the lamest name ever for a knight, according to my kids), and from faerie knight to faerie princes, and so we ended up with the story of King Cormac.

It was amazing to watch them act the story out. It was as if they knew what was going to happen the moment I started the tale; most of the time I didn't even need to tell them, I could just sit back and watch as the story progressed. They just felt their way through the entire story. I gave Cormac a string of bells I use for storytelling, and he shook them every time he needed to, and they figured out the tale on their own. It was really a fascinating sight - a story, thousands of years old, and they had no trouble coming to the same conclusion it originally had. Once it was finished, we talked about what makes a good king and why, and they all agreed that good kings talk to people and listen to their problems. They also agreed the bells were awesome, and I had some trouble untangling them before I could tie them back around my ankle.

I think I learn just as much from these kids as they learn from me. Now I know a lot more about the Black Knight, and he'll remain just that, our very own Sir Bruno, with his half-brother the Faerie Knight, who has the lamest name ever. Sometimes, just sometimes, fairy tale villains turn out to be so much more than just an evil guy in black armor...

God is a birl

"You know. Boy and girl. Like snails."

I swear I was not the one who brought the Bible stories up. It was the third meeting of the Story Club at a certain international school in Budapest, and my adorable eight-year-olds decided to take matters into their own hands, and requested stories from the Bible. They brought the book too, a colorful and easy-to-read kids' version of it, and told me they had been reading it and found it very exciting, and they were almost at the end now. It was fascinating to see the sheer enthusiasm they had for reading through the greatest story of all for the first time in their life.

The Story Club is a colorful bunch. Kids from all corners of the world, native and non-native English speakers, from different backgrounds, cultures, families and languages. And they work perfectly together. They are amazing, creative, friendly and lively. I honestly have no idea if they are having more fun at the Story Club or I am.

One of the boys opened the book on the first page, and started to read the story of the Creation. Since they made it their own rule that they are going to act out every single story we tell, as soon as the tale begun, we were in need of a God. This was the moment when the question of God's gender became an issue. They pointed out that "in this book, God is a he" (since he was picutred as the stereotypical old man with the long beard), but they also knew quite clearly that that's not the whole truth. And then, snails came into the picture, and the group cheerfully agreed that God was a birl.

Chosing one of the boys to create our own story universe, we went on with the tale. One girl ran to the light switch and turned it off and on, illustrating light and darkness. Pillows made the clouds, and the blue carpet was excellent for water, with the green sofa rising from it, forming firm ground. Animals and plants were never a problem for such a creative bunch.

And then we got to Adam and Eve. Adam was a bit shy, and stood next to God, listening to the story; Eve, on the other hand, did an excellent job of acting like she'd never seen... well, anything before. She poked and prodded at things like pencils, bags, pillows, walls and people, and she made funny squealing noises when something surprised her. One little girl with an amazingly deep voice volunteered to be the snake; another boy became the angel with the flaming sword. I couldn't help but smile as one of my favorite books came to my mind.
(Good Omens, what else.)

After we got through creation, we went on to Noah's Ark. All piled onto the green sofa, we floated on the blue waters of the Great Flood Carpet. There are several folktales about animals on the Ark; we acted out quite a few of them. Why the dog's nose is wet; why cats sit on the threshold; why the woodpecker's head is red. When floating on the Ark got boring, we decided to skip to King Solomon.

I know it's not a Bible story per se, but I've always loved the tale of The Butterfly that Stamped. And it has King Solomon in it. And the Queen of Sheba. And genies, which I had to explain to the kids - to my surprise they didn't know the story of Aladdin. Anyhow, we got into the story of the King and the butterflies, and the parents waiting for us outside the door could hear the whole group chanting "Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!". We got a great King with a magic ring, a very smart little Queen, and an amazing genie who could lift the whole palace into the air.

In the few mintues left at the end of the story club, we finished with the tale of Moses dividing the Red Sea (the folktale version of it, where a girl has to walk into the waters first in order to show God the bravery of the people). It was a much more quiet story, and the kids watched in awe as one of the girls walked across the blue carpet with determination in her eyes. That story has a lot to think about. "God doesn't give you a miracle until you give something from yourself first."

I was not planning on bringing Bible stories to them; when I asked them one week earlier what kind of stories they wanted to hear, I was expecting to hear 'dragons', 'princesses', 'fairies', or something along those lines. But they said Bible, and so Bible it was.
We had great fun.

I can't wait to hear what they'll come up with next time.