Storytellers who are interested in the Völsunga Saga material have a number of sources, as well as a number of translations of those sources. William Morris, a late-nineteenth-century textile designer, J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, that Tolkien) and University of California archaeologist Jesse Byock have all translated the Saga. Of these, I prefer Byock. Morris is so late-Victorian elaborate that it makes my head hurt, Tolkein relies heavily on the alliteration that was a feature of Nordic poetry which also makes my head hurt. Byock simply tells the story.
Much of the Saga material is also found in the Lays (narrative poems) in the medieval collection called The Poetic Edda. The stories in the Edda are similar, but certainly not identical to the ones in the Saga and the various translators have made their own decisions concerning the action.
That’s where the tangled trails come in. In broad outline, the story I call The Fight of the Valkyries goes like this:
Sigurd the Völsung kills the dragon Fáfnir, follows the advice of seven nuthatches (small European birds), takes the dragon’s treasure and go finds the Valkyrie Brynhild, who is sleeping in a ring of fire.
But wait! The “Lay of Fáfnir” calls the birds “titmice.” They tell Our Hero to get the gold and take it straight to the hall of a man named Gjuki, who is the king of the Burgundians. They mention Gjuki’s daughter Gudrún and then talk about Brynhild. And “The Prophecy of Gripnir” has Sigurd going first to Gjuki’s Hall and then to find Brynhild. (BTW – Morris gives the avian speaking role to eagles!)
Once Sigurd finds Brynhild, he decides he loves her. She feels the same way and they exchange pledges before he rides to the hall of a man named Heimir, who is Brynhildr’s foster-father. There he spends his time doing fun happy warrior things – hunting, starting small wars – with her kinsmen. Once she arrives at Heimir’s Hall, they again pledge their love but she tells him they will never marry. He wanders off and ends up doing fun happy warrior things with two sons of a king named Gjuki. The three young men have so much fun that they pledge blood brotherhood and Gjuki’s sons take him back to their father’s Hall.
This is if Our Hero hasn’t already made friends with Gjuki’s sons before waking Brynhild.
Gjuki’s witch of a wife casts the spells that bind Sigurd to her daughter Gudrún. He completely forgets Brynhild, happily marries Gudrún and swears blood brotherhood with her brothers (if he hasn’t done so already). Then Gjuki’s wife, whose name is Grimhild, decides that her older son, Gunnar, should marry Brynhild. Everybody – even Sigurd who is still under the influence of Grimhild’s magic ale – thinks this is a wonderful idea so they all go visit Brynhildr’s father Budli. Budli is in favor of getting his daughter married off, but issues the standard caveat – if she is willing. Then they all go ask Heimir who gives the same answer. He also warns them that she will only marry the man who can ride his horse through the blazing fire around her own home.
Sigurd has already ridden through the fire once. What happens next? That’s for Tangled Trails Part 3
During my recent visit to Fort Union National Monument in New Mexico, I discovered that the ruts of the Santa Fe trail look more like a tangle of random arroyos than a tidy set of tracks across the short grass prairie. I am told that tourists often ask how to find the Santa Fe Trail while they are standing in one of those arroyos that are the trail.
I thought Google Earth might help me find the “real” trail. The iron tires of all those wagons, which were capable of carrying as much of 6,500 pounds according to Mark L. Gardener’s Wagons on the Santa Fe Trail published by the National Park Service must have left tracks that look like a road.
Not really. Those wagons may well have all started in Missouri (either in Fort Leavenworth or Independence) and followed one of two routes, the Mountain Branch and the Cimarron Cutoff. Many of the journeys actually ended at Fort Union, for much of the freight on the trail was military. But the trial, up close and personal is an enormous collection of nice straight lines.
In some ways, this makes sense. As a hiker and cross country I have often been on trails that turn into a confusing tangle, usually when hikers or skiers try to bypass a mud hole or find a smoother path. I’ve gone around a few mud holes myself. I have noticed the same need to go around mud holes as I develop the story of the great quarrel between the Valkyrie Brynhild and Gudrún, her sister-in-law. Brynhild, under the name of Brunhilda, is best known in her operatic form. She is soprano, often wearing a completely inaccurate horned helmet, in Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.” The trail that I am following has two main branches and in some places, those branches contradict each other.
The first of these branches, The Saga of the Völsungs, compiled by an unknown Icelandic author during the 13th Century. This work is primarily prose and was drawn from the oral tradition in the form of Eddic poetry which is, in its turn, based on oral tradition. The second of these branches is a set of Lays, skaldic poetry, that are part of The Poetic Edda, which was also compiled by an anonymous Icelander at approximately the same time.
And why am I comparing the literature of medieval Iceland with the Santa Fe Trail? Because both processes – the formation of the trail, mud holes and all and my decisions while I craft my story – involve decisions.
What to do? Which way to go? What do I use, what do I not use as I work on The Fight of the Valkyries, which will be part of the upcoming (September 20th, 6:30 pm) MYTH MOB performance in the South Mountain Community College Performance Hall. Some hear my decisions and those made by my fellow Mobbers – Liz Warren, Marilyn Omifunke Torres and Sulé Greg Wilson.
My mother read all six volumes of Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, while breastfeeding my younger brother. As a compulsive reader (yes, it runs in the family) she explained that Gibbons was just boring enough to put down when the baby finished eating. It was rare to see my mother sitting down without a book in her hand and she passed her love of reading on to her children. By the time my brother and I were in elementary school, the three of us – my mother, my brother, and I – often found ourselves working our way through the same book. It made for interesting dinner table conversations.
Even though we were no longer sharing a dining room table, Mom and I were still reading in tandem when Jean Aul’s Clan of the Cave Bear came out. We wanted to love that book! Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, romance, flint knapping! What’s not to like?
Aul lost us at the flint knapping. Pages and pages of flint knapping unleavened by anything resembling plot or even pre-historic sex. As my mother said, “she let her index cards show.”
The book was written during the 1970’s – researching meant going to the library, finding (which was not always easy) the necessary books, and sitting down with a stack of index cards. The procedure went as follows: 1) write name of book on top of index card 2) jot important notes and useful phrases on rest of index card 3) wrap stacks of index cards in rubber bands. While writing: 1) copy relevant information into hand-written first draft 2) develop some kind of method to keep track of citations (this is where the color coding helped) and 3) smoosh it all into a paper or a scene in a book or whatever.
I’ve done research like this and it’s really kind of fun. There’s something satisfying about a desk piled high with books and orderly little stacks of hard-won information.
Research is how I, as a storyteller, build the world in which my story lives. When the time comes to actually craft my story, I have to remind myself of my mother’s wisdom – don’t let your index cards show. The temptation is definitely there. How can I resist adding a detailed description of a Viking era turf house to my story? That’s what the people who told my material so long ago would have seen, right?
That’s index cards. As a storyteller, I have to remember to trust my audience, and my audience’s imagination.
How do you keep your index cards under control?
“Focus on images, not words.”
That’s good advice – and something I tell my Art of Storytelling students at the beginning of every semester. You need good images in order to tell stories.
But that’s not all you need. Think about those storytellers who create the cleanest and most evocative images for their listeners. Those tellers whose stories become your whole world. The ones who can make you forget that you are in a huge tent, along with a couple of hundred of your closest friends, sitting on a hard chair. As those tellers craft their stories, I am pretty sure that they make some very intentional choices about their use of gestures, voices, and words.
Intentional use of gestures does not mean that storytellers turn themselves into talking mimes, but some of the techniques in mime can certainly inform the gestures of storytellers. Intentional use of voice does not mean that storytellers turn themselves into actors without scripts, but some of the techniques in acting can inform the way storytellers use their voices. Intentional use of words does not mean that storytellers turn into out-loud readers, but some of the techniques of writing can inform the way storytellers use their words.
Which is the title of the workshop I am developing for this fall: “Use Your Words.”
A writer who veers from one point of view to another, a writer who mixes tenses in a random fashion, is a writer who pushes readers out of the story. A teller who makes the same mistakes has the same effect on listeners.
Serious writers can (should, and do) self-edit. They can (should and do) take their work to a writing group. They can (should and do) work with editors.
Admittedly, the process is not precisely the same for storytellers. The point here is not to create perfect sentences and commit the words to memory. (I tried that a couple of times when I was a student in The Art of Storytelling – at it was not a good idea.)
But storytellers can be aware of the pitfalls writers try to avoid by self-editing. They can develop the habit working within intentionally chosen boundaries – of tense, or point of view. They can also work with others storytellers, and many do. Storytellers also go to coaches and there are some very good coaches available.
In my 1-day workshop “Use Your Words” we will intentionally focus on using the literary techniques of writing and editing to craft stories pull your listeners into the world of your words.
Recently I had the opportunity to do a weekend storytelling project with very small group of nine- and ten-year-old boys. Before I even met these kids, I suspected that I should not try anything the least bit “school-like” with them. Who wants to sit indoors learning something on a beautiful Saturday morning in the mountains?
They turned out to be a great bunch of kids, but I was right about the school part! They would have much rather been on the ropes course with the bigger kids.
This was a challenge. Or an opportunity, depending on how I looked at it.
After telling the first story, I had everybody make name tags out of paper plates. My initial idea had been to use half a plate per name tag but the boys – still under the influence of David and Goliath, started referring to the paper plates as “breastplates.”
OK, turn a whole paper plate into a breastplate with your name accompanied by a drawing of your favorite scene from the story you just heard.
The drew a lot of bloody headless giants. They also talked about the story with each other.
My inner light bulb went on.
Leave the worksheets in the folder.
It was going to be a stories, crayons, and pictures on paper plates weekend.
Sequence a story? Let everybody draw their favorite part on a paper plate, punch holes in the paper plates, string them on a long piece of yarn in the proper order and hang it across the front of the room.
The 5p’s, beloved by the SMCC Storytelling Institute?
Outline your hand on a paper plate, decorate it while remembering People, Place, Problem, Progress, and Point.
Then listen to a story and draw your favorite person on a paper plate.
String everybody’s favorite person plates on another long piece of yarn.
And so on and so forth through the rest of the P’s.’
Not everything was a success. I had planned to have the kids make animal masks to go with Noah and the Ark. That was the reason for the paper plates in the first place. I even had popsicle sticks and glue so that the masks would have handles.
Gluing popsicle sticks to the edges of paper plates did not work so well.
When I wanted to punch holes in the paper plates to hang them on the yarn, I realized that the scissors at hand were not really up to the job.
When it was all over, my mall but mighty group of storytellers had taught me four important lessons.
First – paper plates are your friend. Heck, you can even use twelve of them for a storyboard!
Next – test your glue before you go.
And – know lots and lots of movement/story games. Make some up on the spot.
Finally – when in doubt, take a walk.
Thanks, guys. I had fun. I hope you did too.
When I was young, I lived in the land of the ravens. The Common Raven, (corvis corax) while an extraordinary bird, was indeed common in Los Alamos. The ravens of my youth were gigantic. And a glossy black. And extraordinarily intelligent.
Ravens are also tricksters, a fact I learned when I was a sophomore in high school. That was the year I enrolled in “Dawn Patrol” English which meant I trudged past three or four ravens at 7:55 am every school day. I always said “good morning” to those birds. One day one of them returned my greeting – word for work. He (or she) said “good morning” back to me.
I spent the next few days doubting my sanity.
Finally, after asking a few carefully chosen friends a few carefully chosen questions, I learned that one of the local families had adopted a baby raven. Once the bird became an adult he (or she) flew with the local flock, but returned each night to his (or her) human family. This, I was told, was a trickster bird who spoke English as well as Raven. Ever since that day, I have held ravens close to my heart.
Ravens are scavengers and the Los Alamos flock thrived on the local landfill, which closed a few years ago. Once they lost their primary source of food, the number of ravens in town declined.
And the crows arrived to take their place.
I have nothing against crows, but I have always wanted a picture of a Los Alamos Raven.
When I discovered that the crows had filled my old stomping grounds, I decided I could make do with a picture of a crow. Even that is not as simple as it seems.
Taking a picture of a raven is not as simple as it might seem. Crows do wander around on lawns and meadows in great noisy crowds but the presence – or even the idea – of a camera leads to their rapid and raucous departure.
At the end of one of my visits home, stopped on my way out of town for a final hike along my favorite trail along the edge of the canyon. I was carrying my camera but had completely given up on both the ravens and the crows. As I walked east, into the morning light I heard the single sonorous “grk” of a raven. I froze and peered up into the trees. There she was, between me and the glare of the sun, right at the top of a dead pine tree. Ever so slowly I raised my camera, only to discover that – for some reason – the viewfinder screen had gone utterly dark.
How could this have happened?
I tiptoed under the tree, turned back, and realized that I had pushed the wrong camera button. The raven had not moved. I turned the view screen on and lifted the camera.
She was gone. In those few seconds, she had lifted herself on silent wings and left the tree. I heard her call once more from somewhere down the canyon.
And I laughed. Because, while crows are brats, ravens are true tricksters.
I am currently developing stories for MiM’s upcoming Experience Scandinavia event on December 5 and 6. This will be another wonderful weekend of music, art, food, dance, and STORIES! I tell at 10:15 both mornings. So I am looking at all kinds of Finnish – Danish – Swedish – Norwegian – Icelandic folktales. And I have noticed something. The man who wins a princess as his bride must often pass some kind of test. What role does the princess herself play in this process?
There are at least four Scandinavian folktales where the princess does a lot more than passively wait for the guy who can win her father’s approval.
In the Norwegian story of Haakon Grizzlebeard, the beautiful princess is the test. In his English translation George Webbe Dasent calls her a “wicked hussy.” This sounds a bit Victorian but the Norwegian “det leie trollet” seems to mean “rent troll.” Clearly I have fallen into the land of idiom and would welcome information from anybody who actually knows the language.
“Rent troll” or “hussy,” this princess rejects suitor after suitor until she finally angers Haakon so much that he resolves to teach her a lesson. Haakon and his princess learn a lot about each other during this lesson. They have passed each other’s test.
Shortshanks, another Norwegian hero comes across a princess who is in danger of being carried away by a series of ogres. The test is provided by external forces – the ogres – rather than the king. The princess takes an active role in ensuring that her father recognizes Shortshanks as the man who has truly won the right to marry her in spite of his questionable origins (he arrived on the scene in a flying golden boat).
The test in the Icelandic tale of The Cottager and the Cat also involves external circumstances. When the hero and his cat reach the king’s palace, they are looking for a job, not a princess. It is the cat who deals with a plague of rats and the king offers the cottager a choice – either become prime minister or marry the princess. The young man takes the princess. (Her opinions on the subject are not included in the story.)
The Danish tale of Jesper the Hare Herder, Jesper deliberately takes on the challenge set by the king, that of successfully herding a herd of fifty rabbits. In this story, the princess actively assists her father in testing her unlikely suitor. Jesper must outwit both father and daughter to win his prize. This story ends with what is described as a merry wedding, although nothing is said about the “ever after” part.
All four of these rather active princesses remind me of women in both the Icelandic Family Sagas, the Íslendingasögur and the Völsunga Saga. In their oral form, both these narratives were developed by and for the same audience – the Icelanders whose ancestors had left Scandinavia to settle on an island in the north Atlantic.
The family Saga of Burnt Njál includes the story of Hallgerda, daughter of Hauskild. When Thorwald asks Hauskild for his daughter in marriage Hauskild warns the young man that the girl has a hard temper, but nobody thinks to ask Hallgerda what she thinks of the match. Even before the wedding, she expresses her displeasure and the marriage does not last long. Bride and groom quarrel, he slaps her face and is soon dead at the hands of her murderous foster-father.
Signy, one of the murdering mothers in the Völsunga Saga, outright informs her father that her marriage to the Siggeir, King of the Gauts, will end in disaster. His refusal to listen to his own daughter leads to death – starting with his own plus those of ten of his sons followed by those of four of Signy’s sons, her husband and herself.
So, in folktale, men who pass the tests that are actually set more by the princesses than their fathers manage to make it to some form of happily ever after. The Icelanders learned from their Family Sagas and wove into the great narrative of their heroes, the flip side of the lesson: if she does not want to marry you, it is not going to turn out well.
Attila. Bronze medal after an antique original.
Reading Mary Stewart’s historical novel The Crystal Cave, introduced me to the idea of building a completely believable world on the foundations of history, legend and myth. For me, her Merlin became the Merlin and her Britain the Britain. As I now craft my own tales from similar material, I try to reach that same level of believability.
Stewart placed her stories against the background of the Arthurian history of Britain in the Dark Ages. I am working with the Völsunga Saga. These two sources share a common historical theme -- the battles between migrating tribes of barbarians and the Late Roman Empire. In Stewart’s world, the Romanized Britons fight the Saxons. In the world of the Saga, the invading Germanic Tribes fight for their places in the empire.
The history is similar but the word “historical” can be misleading. Long after I first read Stewart, I learned that the British chroniclers of the era made little if no mention of Arthur and the legends of Camelot were not recorded until several hundred years later. In the same way, the Saga material is also only loosely connected with the records of its time. I suspect that the stories of the British Arthur, the Germanic Gundahar, and the Hunnish Attila all followed the same path from the actual event to the stories told about the event in gossip, legend, epic, and fiction.
A British leader bearins some form of the name Arthur could well have fought the invading Saxons. Slightly more than a century earlier, Gundahar, the leader of a Germanic tribe known as the Burgundians, established his people on the Roman side of the Rhine River. He acquired this territory by supporting the local would-be emperor. A Roman general loyal to the legitimate emperor hired an army of Hunnish mercenaries to fight the Burgundians and Gundahar lost his life in the subsequent battle.
Attila, the most famous of the Huns, took no part in that battle. His formidable army did not enter the empire until some years later when he swept through Roman Gaul into Italy where he was defeated. During his retreat, he took a bride but suffered a nosebleed and drowned in his own blood on his wedding night. That has got to be one of the most unexpected and dramatic deaths in all of history! Apparently Attila was in a drunken stupor at the time.
The separate fates of Gundahar and Attila were recorded in the chronicles of the time. The information is also compiled by later Roman historians who drew from those chronicles. Those historians and chroniclers shaped the material to fit their needs. One chronicler, writing eighty years after the death, reported that Attila had been stabbed to death by his bride whose name, Ildico, indicates that she might have been Germanic.
Historians and chroniclers were not alone in reporting and repeating the stories of what happened. Somebody shaped the set of Arthurian legends that finally appears in the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Somebody turned Gundhar’s death in battle into the scene in the Völsunga Saga where Gunnar lies in the snake pit, charming the serpents by playing his lyre with his toes. He died when the instrument broke, the music ended, and the snakes woke up.
Somebody crafted Attila's rather unusual death into his murder at the hands of his wife, Gunnar's vengeful sister Guðrún.
All these stories probably grew in the hands of the wandering merchants who carried gossip from place to place, the storytellers, and the praise-poets, the crafters of tales told to and about kings. Everybody from earliest chronicler to historical fiction to storyteller is doing the same work – taking what seems to have happened and shaping it into a believable compelling world. That is the work I saw when I read Mary Stewart’s book. That is the work I try to do.
Brynhildr and Guðrún by the Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860 – 1920)
In this scene from the Völsunga Saga, Brynhildr and her sister-in-law Guðrún are bathing in the river. Brynhildr – who is married to King Gunnar -- tells Guðrún, “My husband rode through fire to claim me. Your Sigurðr is nothing beside that. Go, wash downstream. I’m too good to use your rinse water for my bath.”
She was picking a fight.
Long before he met her, Guðrún’s husband Sigurðr killed a dragon, listened to the advice of a couple of birds and rode through a ring of fire to claim the Valkyrie Brynhildr. He woke her with a kiss and together they pledged eternal love. But Sigurðr needed more than a single dragon-killing on his resume, so off he went to make a name for himself. As he travelled, he fell in with Gunnar and his brother Hogni. The three young men pledged eternal blood-brotherhood and the two Burgundians took Sigurðr home.
Gunnar’s mother immediately plotted to add Sigurðr – and the dragon’s treasure – to her family. She brewed and served an ale that made him not only forget Brynhildr but fall madly in love with her own daughter, Guðrún. After the wedding, the scheming old queen decided that her son Gunnar should marry Brynhildr. But Brynhildr had returned to her ring of fire to wait for the brave man who had ridden his brave horse through the flames.
Her son was not the right man and his horse was not the right horse. At his mother’s urging Gunnar tried riding Sigurðr’s horse. The beast would have none of him. The old queen cast many spells and managed a shape-change between Sigurðr and Gunnar. The horse thought he was carrying Sigurðr through the flames. Brynhildr, when she woke, saw Gunnar and thought he was the right man.
After Gunnar married Brynhildr the two couples lived together in the same Hall. The magic had blurred her memory but Brynhildr suspected that something was not quite right. She kept picking fights with Guðrún.
Finally she goaded her sister-in-law into telling the truth – all of it. During the subsequent eruption, Sigurðr tried to bring peace to the Hall by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Brynhildr threatened to return to her family if Gunnar did not kill Sigurðr. Gunnar caved and had Sigurðr murdered in his bed. Brynhildr then killed herself and the two lovers rode to Óðinn’s Valhalla on the flames of their funeral pyre.
What a story. It’s like an opera. Wait – it has been turned into an opera! It’s also a story that with historical roots that reach back to the fifth and sixth centuries CE.
The chronicles of that time speak of a pair of sisters-in-law, one named Brunhild. The historical Brunhild and her nemesis Fredegnde each fought to protect her own son’s inheritance in Merovingian Gaul (which is approximately today’s France). Brunhild lost big-time. Fredegunde’s followers killed her in an especially gruesome fashion. They tied her to four wild horses and let the beasts run wild. The results were bloody, to say the least.
The story of the historical Brunhild is only one of the many bits of shiny information I gathered as I worked on my thesis. I was an academic pack rat. Finally, after reading reams of my prose, my advisor asked, “Why are you telling me this?” Clearly it was time to get organized.
So I procrastinated by binge-watching not only the “Lord of the Rings” but the making of the “Lord of the Rings. It turned out this was not actually procrastination but a vital step in understanding what I was trying to do. I had always known that storytelling is more than words. What matters is the movie inside my head. As I watched all the enthusiastic artists designing and building the world of “Lord of the Rings” I realized that I didn’t need external designers to help me build my story world. It was all in my dragon’s trove of random information.
Brynhildr lives on in popular culture. Googling her name produces pictures of substantial opera stars and scantily clad young ladies, all wearing horned helmets. None of these ladies have anything to do with my story world but something about the tale of the doomed historical Brunhild, who ruled as regent for both her son and her grandson and fought so fiercely to maintain her power, had entered the repertoire of the wandering storytellers of the era. They made changes, but the theme of battling sisters-in-law remained. My understanding of the doomed historical Brunhild helped me build the Brynhildr of my story world.
Research is fun! Procrastination is useful!
I grew up in a family of compulsive readers. My mother allowed my brother and me to read anything and everything we could get our little hands on. (I didn’t discover the high cupboard where she stashed the really good stuff until I was about twelve.)
This is not to say that there weren’t any rules associated with reading. My early interest in the New Yorker magazine gave rise to: “If you have to ask, you are too young to understand (so don’t ask)!” Reading instead of doing homework or chores was Very Bad and resulted in Confiscation of Books. And reading while unloading the dishwasher, setting the table or folding laundry was Inefficient and resulted in Shouting about Books.
Sometimes my mother, my brother, and I all tried to read the same book at the same time. In that case, the book in question could not be squirrelled away out of reach of the other readers.
When I was about eleven, Mom had to yell: “Harriet, do you have Euripides in your bedroom?”
I did. Not Euripides in the flesh (dude’s been dead for a long time), but in the form of the third volume of The Complete Greek Tragedies. This gorgeous set of four books arrived at our house courtesy of a book club (the Amazon of the 1950’s). Aeschylus was bound in light orange, Sophocles in a slightly darker shade of orange, and the two volumes of Euripides were in dark and darkest orange. Mom started with Aeschylus and I started with Euripides. Since she didn’t have to waste any reading time going to school, she caught up with me.
By then I had met my first murdering mother. I refused to return Volume III of The Complete Greek Tragedies until I had finished reading Medea.
(Even if Medea was the one who ended up crowded into the edge of the scene on the ceramics.)
Medea helped Jason steal the Golden Fleece from her father. She encouraged him to steal her, as well. She did her best to get rid of the man who had usurped the throne that should have been Jason’s. And then, in Corinth, she gave him sons.
She did everything she could for the man she loved and he dumped her to marry a princess. He also had the gall to reminder her that she was a “barbarian” and that his new marriage would benefit her children. As far as I was concerned, Medea had every right to kill that princess and her father (with a poisoned dress and crown no less). She also had the right to make Jason suffer.
She unleashed one bad-ass revenge on that husband of hers. Even though it grieved her, even though she did not want to kill her sons, she had no choice. Not only did she kill her sons, she refused to let Jason have their bodies.
We all look at stories through the lenses we craft from our own stories – those we have lived and those we have heard. At eleven, I had only the lens of my growing understanding that the world is not always fair to women to apply to Medea.
Now I see Medea through a whole set of lenses. The world was not fair to her, and her own actions and the expectations her culture backed her into a corner where all her decisions were impossible. She was a victim. She was a monster. She was a bereaved mother all at the same time.
I am beginning to suspect that these lenses, built from story and experience are a vital part of the process of working with the stories that are difficult to craft and distressing to tell. Understanding the lenses helps me understand the story.
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.