Friday, March 30, 2012

Hunger Games - A storyteller's perspective

I like to look at things with a storyteller's eye. After watching the Hunger Games movie, I made a list of stories that came to my mind, and as the list grew, it turned into a set list for a Hunger Games-based storytelling performance!

But before I jump into telling more about it, let me explain how this post came to be.

The Hunger Games is all the craze these days. I have read the books, and enjoyed them quite a lot; they are perfect for the age group they are targeting (even though fans of heavier reading materials might miss the darker tones), and, much unlike some other bestsellers that shall not be named, have a point that is worth making. I also watched the movie, and once I got used to the jumpy-shaky camera, it was a very well done movie, and an excellent book adaptation. Yay!

What really amazes me about the Hunger Games, however, is its impact on young people. I have been talking to students between the age of 10 and 20-something, and observed how a good book leaves its mark on people. First of all, the Hunger Games start long and interesting discussions about serious topics. Second of all, they teach people, especially younger kids, about values like courage, friendship and honesty, and portray love as a deeper connection (as opposed to being obsessed with someone just because he is gorgeous, duh). My favorite thing was a note that one 12-year-old (reaping age, heh) girl wrote for her best friend: "If the Hunger Games was real, I would volunteer for you!". So I made a point of talking to "my" kids about the Hunger Games, and what they thought about them.
This generation just came out of the Percy Jackson era (which has similar positive effects on education - Greek Mythology is trending again!), so at some point in the conversation I asked them if they knew what myth the Hunger Games book as based on. They had no idea! When I told them it was a Greek myth about a hero called Theseus, the class blew up with excitement; that was the COOLEST THING EVER!

So, I started thinking about how I would link up the book with things that we storytellers are familiar with. I like to see popular things like this as windows of opportunity: we get a chance to connect the book with stories that surround it, and make young readers interested in other tales and other forms of storytelling.

So, for the sake of a storytelling brain exercise (and because I love compiling lists of stories), I started to make a list of possible topics for storytelling sessions linked to the Hunger Games. Here is the result of my musings:

1. Theseus
The books are admittedly based on the Greek myth of Theseus. The original myth is exciting, colorful, and a lot of fun to tell! Also, on a related note, Mary Renault's The King Must Die is one of my favorite books ever.

2. Rome
Anything Roman will be directly or indirectly linked to the world of the Capitol - mainly, gladiator games (this is where the archaeologist part of my brain kicks in and starts waving my unused MA around). This falls into the category of historical storytelling as opposed to traditional folktales, but sneaks a lot of Social Studies and History into the classroom. The legend of Camilla, for example, resonates really well with young audiences - fierce archer girl fighting against the Romans, rings a bell, anyone?

3. Appalachian stories
Not like they need any introduction in the storytelling world, but this could be a nice chance to make the new generation like them! District 12 has a distinct feel of Appalachia, and of one chooses the right tales, they go great with the themes in the books!

4. Archery stories
I absolutely love archery (that was one of the main draws for me to the Hunger Games). I did it for quite a few years, and started collecting archery-related legends, myths and folktales back when I was just starting out as a storyteller. As Katniss' weapon of choice, bow and arrow plays an important role in the books, and there are so many amazing stories that one motif could lead to...

5. Miners' tales
District 12 is a place for coal mining; mining as an old activity has a whole circle of tales, legends and superstitions related to it. I am sure any mining community would have quite a few of those...

6. Animal tales
We have no mockingjays or tracker jackers; but we do have old stories about bluejays, mockingbirds, wasps, and how they came to be. Part of the role animals play in the Hunger Games books is how they came to be (excellent background story by the way); some of the traditional stories are just as wild and exciting.

One book (well, three books) and so many stories! I can't wait for my school kids to hear this...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Kingdom of Blue Grass

1. Move to Tennessee
2. Get a gig in Kentucky
3. Drive.

Done, done, and done. Well, sorta done (I still don't drive on my own). Mary Hamilton and her husband Charles were awesome in many ways: one, they invited me to tell at their event in Lexington, and two, they took a six hour drive on Monday morning to pick me up, and then drove me all the way back, and then on Tuesday, they did it again. Whew! Six hours would be three countries where I come from.

The ride, however, was one of the most beautiful in my life. I love Tennesse to begin with, and I have always preferred mountains to beaches; but crossing the mountains in a radiant spring day was something that sounds awfully corny when written down so I shall stop describing it right now instead of going on and on about how I am seeing dogwoods in bloom for the first time in my life and they are oh so pretty.

I also saw all kinds of fascinating things on the road, like caterpillar tents and bluejays and buzzards and coal mines and the path of a tornado, and bright green endless fields with horses and cows and the occasional sheep. And the mountains all around, remindig me of a thousand stories that I have imagined in a way that they could have happened right on this road...

After a short visit at the grave of Daniel Boone (learning American history here!), I was ready for my performance. It took place in Lexington, in a very pretty house that on the inside turned out to be an art gallery, filled with pictures and sculptures from a Slovakian immigrant artist. We had a tiny, but very sweet audience, and a full two hours to tell. I decided I was going to make the most of it!

First I told the legend of Prince Csaba and how the Way of the Warriors came to be on the night sky. Then, following that path into the next story, I told about Tündér Ilona the fairy queen and her kingdom in one corner of Hungary (the corner where I'm from). Following the fairies I told the local legend of the Fairy Lake, and then a folktale from Transcarpathia about how Tündér Ilona turned mortal to save a man's life. The tale is called the Dream of Tündér Ilona, and is sweet and funny at the same time. I have not heard many Hungarian tales about fairies being silly, curious and easily distracted - let alone saying those things about the Queen herself! But there it is, and I love telling it.

After a short break and some story-swapping and talking, I was ready to do my second round of stories - that only consisted of one tale. It has many titles in Hungarian and I have translated it into many others for my English speaking audiences (currently I think of it as the Sisters of the Mountain); it is part folktale, part literary story, part history, part legend, and all-around an amazing experience for me every time I tell it. It takes place about 800 years ago; I would really love to write more about it, but it would be a spoiler from the third sentence in, so. I will have to record it soon!

The evening was a lot of fun; I saw smiles and eyes wide open from my little audience, and they made me feel like royalty. I was really, really happy that I got to share my stories in another amazing corner of the States, and were received with such open wonder! Seeing your stories appreciated is like seeing your children win a competition.

I am a bit sad I did not get to spend more time in Kentucky (school stuff, mostly, gotta stay on top of everything including my thesis). It is definitely on the list of my favorite places now.

To Mary and Charles: thank you! You are amazing :)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Aggressive Piglet Superstar

Aggressive Piglet (Agresszív Kismalac) is the hero of many Hungarian jokes. Aggressive Piglet is also a personality type: unable to admit whe he's wrong, bullying everyone around him, and completely oblivious to subtle hints - or, rather, hints of any kind.
Sounds familiar yet?
Yes? No? "What the heck?"

Well, fortunately for the rest of the world, many Aggressive Piglet jokes translate into English without a hitch. And because no one has been doing the global favor and injecting Aggressive Piglet into mainstream culture, I decided it was time Piglet made the jump onto the big stage.

Telling a Piglet joke is easy. Start telling it as any other joke, then randomly scream at people in your rudest voice. For some reason I have not quite figured out yet, the vast majority thinks it is funny to tell them that way.

Aggressive Piglet, no matter how cute and cuddly the name would lead you to believe, is not politically correct, not child friendly, and sometimes just all-around rude.

Here we go.

Piglet is sitting on a tree. Rabbit walks by.
"Piglet, what are you doing?!"
"I'm eating cherries!"
"But... Piglet, that's a pine tree!"

Piglet is riding a bike. He turns a corner, runs into a wall, falls over. Rabbit runs up to him.
"Oh my god!!! Piglet are you all right?!"

Pretty blonde walks down the street with a piglet in her arms. She meets a friend. Friend cheerfully: "Oh my god it's so cuuuute!!! Where did you get it?"
Piglet: "SHUT UP! I BOUGHT HER!!!"

Aggressive Piglet and sparrow are sitting on the tram. It's winter, bitter cold. Sparrow chirps up:
"Piglet, could you please close the window? It's cold outside!"
Piglet mutters something, stands, closes the window. A few minutes later he yells at Sparrow:

Pigler marches into a restaurant and plops down by a table. Waiter walks up to him, very politely: "I'm sorry, but this table is reserved."

Piglet walks into a train station.
"I want a round trip ticket!"
"Sure. Where?"


Piglet is driving a truck, and gets stuck under a bridge. The police shows up, the officer walks over to the truck.
"Hi there Piglet, are you stuck?"

Piglet walks into a bus station.
"I want a ticket!"
"Where to?"

Piglet travels on a bus. Old lady shows up. Piglet:
"Would you like to sit down?"
"Yes, please!"

Piglet shows up at the doctor's office.
"I got kicked by a camel!"
"Where did it kick you?"

Piglet to the doctor:
"I think I have anger issues."
"What makes you think so?"

Piglet walks down the street.
"F*** people, f*** cars, f*** streets, f*** lights, f**** city, I wish they would go up in a puff of smoke!... F**** SMOKE!!!"

Piglet is failing an exam. Finally the teacher decides to be nice:
"Fine, I'll let you pass with a D."

Piglet runs a red light, gets pulled over by the police. Officer:
"Piglet, that will cost you 200 dollars."

Piglet falls into a pit. Rabbit shows up.
"Wait Piglet, I'll get you a ladder!"

Piglet catches the golden fish.
"Piglet, if you let me back in the river, I'll make one wish come true!"

Piglet is cooking a golden fish by the river. Rabbit shows up.
"Oh my god, Piglet! That fish could have fulfilled three wishes!"

Piglet meets a nun and headbutts her.

And finally, the all-time classic:

Piglet needs a lawnmower. He decides to go over to Hedgehog and borrow his. On the way over to Hedgehog's, he starts thinking:
"I'll just stop by and ask him to lend me the lawnmower. Hedgehod is such a nice guy, I'm sure he'll agree. I mean, he is usually nice. Most of the time. He has usually been nice to me. Except once. I don't think he really likes me. He gives me those looks. I think he thinks I'm not good enough. I bet he doesn't trust me with his lawnmower. He will be all like 'Piglet, you are goin to break it'. I think he hates my guts. What a jerk. And that lawnmower is ancient, so what's the big deal? Just because he's always thought I was stupid, that's no reason to refuse me!"
Piglet finally gets to Hedgehog's, knocks on the door. Hedgehog opens is.
"Oh hey Piglet, what can I do for you?"

(The picture has been linked from this website. Check it out, it's cool!)