Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Scary Season


I have been in the States for two months now, and one of those two would officially qualify as the Halloween season. The one before that did not, but most of it was spent gathering scary stories and assembling a seasonal repertoire, a sort of International Storyteller's Survival Kit for Halloween. Wherever we go, even if we happen to catch a "theme not specified" gig, the kids would see us and erupt in an ear-shattering "TELL US A SCARY STORY!" chorus that will not quiet down until we comply.

Well. We do not celebrate Halloween in Hungary. At least, not the way they do it over here.
I have to admit, American Halloween is actually pretty fun. If you have the right stories to go with it.
We (as the Tale Tellers storytelling group assembled from students and faculty) certainly do not lack opportunities to practice. Our Tale Tellers Tour just started last Friday and I have already done 4 performances. In five days. Yay!

Here are some of the highlights of the Halloween storytelling season:

1. There is virtually no Halloween gig without some (or all) of the kids demanding the infamous Golden Arm. I have to admit, I have never really liked jump tales, and this one especially annoys me for some weird reason. But since it seems to be in such a high demand, I managed to come up with a solution: I found a story that looks like the Golden Arm just enough for me to get away with it. It's called The Mummy's Hand, and it's a ghost story about a long dead Egyptian princess looking for her lost arm. It is also supposed to be true, which works for the story, and it ties into archaeology, which is right up my alley. Yay!

2. Teig O'Kane. I love telling Teig O'Kane. Yay to the scary fairies! I just told this story to 4th grade today. They loved it. This story would make such a great, Tim Burton-esque crazy road movie...

3. Talking about Tim Burton: Corpse Bride. I found two versions of the original folktale in the library (plus the one by Clarissa Pinkola Estés). They are in a book called Lilith's Cave. I am in the process of merging the two versions into one. The story makes for a great telling.

4. Werewolves. When it comes to Halloween monsters (and the supernatural in general), my favorties are the werewolves, there is no question about that. So for this season I developed a milder version of Sigmund and Sinfjoti from the Völsunga saga (minus incest and baby-killing), and Marie de France's Bisclavret (because you can't really get cooler than having a werewolf knight in King Arthur's court). I have great fun telling these stories. I especially enjoy describing the transformations.

5. Hoichi the Earless is another classic favorite of mine - a Japanese ghost story about a blind singer and the ghosts of a clan that perished in battle. Makes for a very good telling, and gets very creepy in the end.

6. Last but not least: being the only Hungarian storyteller in the United States (as far as I know) comes with certain responsibilities. We don't really have many Halloween stories, but we sure are good at creepy. The first story I developed is a historical piece about Erzsébet Báthory (a.k.a. the Blood Countess); it goes about 30-35 minutes, plus questions and answers, and tells both the legend and the historical truth. I also tell (to kids) a Hungarian version of Mr. Fox, and a folktale with witches and wizards that I have been telling since I first visited the States. I have a few short stories too, like an urban legends I learned from my grandfather (about stealing a cross from the graveyard).

I am in the process of developing some more; if not for this season, then for the next...


  1. Hello from CT. The Blood Countess sounds great for teens! I've been following your adventures. Hope to cross paths this year!

  2. I love telling Teig O'Kane, but I've never told it for children.