Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finn Mac-very-Cool

I'll tell you up front: I'm not Irish. I am a lot of things but Irish. I am Hungarian, Moravian, Swabian and probably a couple of other things, but Irish is not one of them. And my hair is dark blonde not red. There, illusions shattered. Moving on.

Here comes the BUT.

BUT, I was telling Irish stories today anyway. Because high school just finished off Greek mythology, moved on to the Hero's Journey, and somebody had to tell them about the Fianna before that window of opportunity closes forever. We really should have a strike force of storytellers just for that.
The first class was mostly girls, the second was mostly guys, which made the gig all the more interesting. Of course one does not simply summarize the Fianna in one hour (oh gosh is anyone else picturing Sean Bean as Finn right now?... I am.). I had to cut right to the bare bones of the whole thing: Finn's birth and childhood, the (not)burning of Tara, the birth of Oisín, and Oisín's journey and return, up to St. Patrick. I was cutting details to keep the teenagers engaged, but I was also trying to present the general atmoshpere of Fianna stories, the heroes and characters, the best-of moments (Finn and Goll meeting, for example, has always been one of those for me). It took about 50-55 minutes each time to get through that much, and then I had 5 minutes left to tell them where they could read more Fianna stories, and why they should go read them right frakkin' now. They seemed genuinely interested. Any time a teenager displays an approving facial expression as a result of a story is a completey victory in the big book of high school education. Some of them were actually smiling.
It's usually the small clues like that that keep telling the storyteller that she's doing something right. Guys shushing each other. People who pretended to be asleep raising their heads and watching with intense curiosity at the most exciting parts of the story. Soft chuckling at humorous lines. Someone punching the air in victory when she walks in and sees the storyteller. People volunteering to come back for more stories.
I truly love telling in high school.

I know I have been fangirling over the Fianna every time I get, but I have to make a short side note here. We have been spending long hours in the storytelling program with discussing multicultural telling, cultural sensitivity, and all the issues with telling stories from cultures other than our own. It is always an interesting discussion, and a tricky one, and most of the time we just agree to disagree on most of these matters. Also, other countries and other cultures have other ideas about the same questions, which just makes everything all the more difficult.
The only thing I know is that I literally grew up with the Fianna. I can't evern remember when I read the stories for the first time, but they have been with me for the past twelve-fifteen years. I have read, re-read, re-re-read, told, and re-told them to friends, family and strangers; I have imagined them from beginning to end like a movie, I know all the characters inside and out. Telling them feels as natural as telling about my own childhood or the place where I grew up; and not only natural, but also kind of warm and fuzzy, especially when I get to share the stories with a bunch of laid-back high schoolers who are hearing them for the very first time. (And tomorrow I will have two more classes to do the same!) And let me tell you, these stories work. They work really well. They have everything this age group needs - adventure, epic fights, magic, romance, humor, and the occasional Irish saint. They like hearing them, I love telling them - it is a win for everybody.

How is that for a Hero's Journey.

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