“Brunhild Watching Gunther Suspended from the Ceiling on their Wedding Night”
John Henry Fuseli
Excerpt from The Nibelungenlied (c.1200) translated by A.T. Hatto:
“His attendants, both man and woman had left him. The chamber was quickly barred, and he imagined that he was soon to enjoy her lovely body: but the time when Brunhild would become his wife was certainly not at hand! She went to the bed in a shift of fine white linen, and the noble knight thought to himself: “Now I have everything here that I ever wished for’. And indeed there was great cause why her beauty should gratify him deeply. He dimmed the lights one after another with his own royal hands, and then, dauntless warrior, he went to the lady. He laid himself close beside her, and with a great rush of joy took the adorable woman in his arms.
He would have lavished caresses and endearments, had the Queen suffered him to do so, but she flew into a rage that deeply shocked him – he had hoped to meet with ‘friend’, yet what he met was ‘foe’!
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘you must give up the thing you have set your hopes on, for it will not come to pass. Take good note of this: I intend to stay a maiden till I have learned the truth about Siegfried.’
Gunther grew very angry with her. He tried to win her by force, and tumbled her shift for her, at which the haughty girl reached for the girdle of stout silk cord that she wore about her waist, and subjected him to great suffering and shames for in return for being baulked of her sleep, she bound him hand and foot, carried him to a nail, and hung him on the wall. She had put a stop to his love-making! As to him, he had all but died, such strength had she exerted.
And now he who had thought to be master began to entreat her, ‘Loose my bonds, most noble Queen. I do not fancy I shall ever subdue you, lovely woman, and I shall never again lie too close to you.’
She did not care at all how he fared, since she was lying very snug. He had to stay hanging there the whole night through to dawn, when the bright morning shone through the windows. If Gunther had ever possessed of any strength, it had dwindled to nothing now.
Fifty-one years ago, I read Das Nibelungenlied for the very first time, and was amazed. I thought mediaeval literature was cosy, funny, vaguely dirty stories - Chaucer, in other words. This definitely isn't. Nor, although some of the names are the same, is it Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is mythical, symbolic, heavy. This is a bit more like Icelandic sagas. Whatever you do is going to bring disaster. Laughing today, weeping tomorrow. One death now, many more in a while. The poem tells you that, all the time. Kriemhilt is beautiful - so bold warriors are bound to lose their lives because of her - and you keep on listening because you want to know exactly how and exactly why and what they said as it happened.
It's old, and it's dark, and the main characters shine as they move through it. There is loyalty, there is vengeance, there are two women in competition with one another. Sounds pretty modern to me!
But judgement, as always, lies with the listeners. Come. Listen. Judge.
Lisa Kenwright, who runs Mister Rook's Speakeasy in Frome, will be telling Goblin Fair, a tale of her own devising, on March 15th. [She knows what we're like, because she came and told her own version of Mister Fox on February 15th...]
On April 16th, Mike Rogers will be delving into his own past and bringing us his version of the Nibelungenlied, the earliest of the great German mediaeval epics, which he studied as a student, and which has never entirely left his mind. [Elements of it made their way into Wagner's mind, and contributed to Der Ring des Nibelungen - but so did a lot of other things! This is the real German mediaeval version, though it feels a lot older.]
On May 17th, Janet Goring, aka Bluebird the Storyteller, will be taking us Around the World in Eighty Minutes, so get your stopwatches out - but don't forget to listen...
On June 21st, Mike O'Leary will be Walking Around and Falling Over Stories, which is what he claims to do all the time - he is a well-travelled and much-loved fixture on the Southampton story-telling scene, with a vast range and repertoire, and this is the first time he has come to us. Let's hope he brings his fan-club!
We can only see so far into the future, so the last thing that is predictable is Madeleine Grantham on July 19th, with Blow the Man Down, which sounds definitely nautical! [Possibly even naughtical!]
set us off with The Beginning of the World, and told us how Men and
Women eventually got to know each other, and found they could give
one another pleasure.
departed from the Valentine's theme completely, with a Chinese tale
of two brothers, which begins with a miraculous dog that can pull a
plough, and continues with the wicked brother destroying all he
touches in his attempts to copy [and cheat] his sibling, until the
monkeys take a final hand.
a new recruit, told us Tam Lin, the way he tells it, which was
certainly a tale for Valentine's, full of passion and suffering and
our headline guest for March, came over to see how we did things in
Ringwood, and gave us her version of Mister Fox, with a bit of
anthropomorphism, or lycanthropy, depending on which way you look at
it. She brought with her Leslie, from Frome, who told us about the
origin of the fruit that is the shape of the human heart, the
strawberry, and how it put an end to the quarrel between the First
Man and the First Woman, and if that hadn't happened, where would we
told a Kabyle story of the Nzemi, the Man Whose Trade Was Pleasing Women,
a tale collected by Leo Frobenius in The Black Decameron. [Some of
those present wished such a person could be made more generally
gave us the wisdom of the rabbi's wife, which sorted out a potential
problem for the newly-weds through food metaphors, while Raph
remained resolutely unromantic with Coyote Steals a Blanket, and Ian
took another view of other kinds of love with The Unicorn and the
Choice, choice, choice - so many out there, and which is the right one?
Or maybe you don't want to stop at one? Not even one at a time...
Even Darwin had to acknowledge that evolutionary changes in the area of increased sexual attraction don't always make practical sense.
We always make space for tellers from the floor, but this is one of those nights, like Halloween, when we welcome as many as possible to share stories. Go on! Give it a go! You know you've always wanted to!
And maybe you'll go away from the club with someone other than the person you came with...
Iron teeth are not just Stalinist dentistry. They are the sure sign of a Russian witch. Beware. Be very, very ware!
We are in Siberia. Home of Baba Yaga. Endless forests. Look at the picture. Birch trees, all identical, all different. No way to know your way. Only the noise of pursuit - unless it's just the trees in the wind. What do you think? Dare you believe it? Dare you not believe it?
Come with us. Come with our storyteller. She'll keep you safe. Probably. Nothing's certain, after all.
Except that you won't want to miss this evening... with Katy Cawkwell...
story, of course. And a bit of magic. And a bit of tradition – a
link with the past, with Christmases gone by.
you want Gawain
and the Green Knight.
It starts off at Christmas, in the court of King Arthur, where the
King refuses to sit down and eat until he has seen a wonder. If the
knights daren't grumble, their stomachs do.
But then, there
rides into the hall where they're not yet dining a Green Man, on a
green horse, with an axe in his hand, and he issues a challenge:
which one of these knights is bold enough to strike a blow at him, in
return for having a blow struck in return the following Christmas?
Only Gawain is
foolhardy enough to risk his life to keep up the reputation of King
Arthur's knights. But he thinks he's sorted the matter when he
strikes off the Green Knight's head with one stroke of the axe: no
However – and
here's where the magic comes in – the Green Knight picks up his
head, picks up his axe, mounts his horse, reminds Gawain of what he
has sworn to do, and gallops off into the night.
this something new from Pixar, or Peter Jackson, or even Spielberg?
No, it's in the theatre of your mind, in the cinema behind your eyes:
it's a story
– the oldest art in the world, before there was fire for them to
see to paint in the caves.
you can hear the whole of it told by Sarah Rundle, widely acclaimed
professional storyteller for everyone, and not just children, at the
Boston Tea Party in Ringwood, starting at 7.30pm on Thursday,
admission £5. Get there earlier if you want coffee and cake!
– when the unseen is all around us... but not the unheard, because
we have stories to make the hair rise on the back of our necks!
took us to China for both his tales. The late Mandarin Wang made a
ghostly appearance, turning the spout of the tea-pot to point at his
murderer! And later in the evening Lo Shin made a good bargain with
his purchase of words from the Wise Man in the market. By heeding the
advice he was given, he avoided death and disaster in a number of
ways, and by repeating two simple phrases to the magistrate
investigating the murder of Lo Shin's wife he was able to point the
finger at the criminals guilty of it.
told a version of the Lorelei story, the rock above the Rhine haunted
by the spirit of the woman who killed herself over her faithless
lover and then lures men to their deaths by the beauty of her song.
told the tale of a deserted house, told to him by the grand-daughter
of a woman who had worked there. It had belonged to a man who became
so possessive of his wife that he shut her away from human contact.
What happened next is left deliberately obscure: in any case, she
vanishes, and he is inconsolable. In response to his weeping and
prayers, she re-appears mysteriously. But for all his protestations
he has not changed, so, according to the bargain he had made, as she
returned to him, so he must go with her, and both vanish
mysteriously. An archaeologist, drinking in the same pub, [where else
does Mike get his stories?] relates the finding, by Wayland's Smithy,
just up the hill from the deserted house, of two bodies from the 19th
century, a man and a woman, the woman's skull damaged by a sharp
blow, and yet her skeleton has its arms round the man, tight, very
finished the evening with Mary of Eling, the tale of a zombie in a
churchyard to the east of Southampton Water.
of Salisbury and Juliet of Frome listened – but who knows who else
Goring, aka Bluebird the Storyteller,
came all the way from Portsmouth to tell us stories – and what a
range of stories she has to offer!
began with the tale of The Handsome Young Sailor and Betty Mundy, a
full-bodied fairy lass who gave the aforesaid youthful and
well-favoured tar three magic gifts, an ever-full purse, a travelling
cloak, and a summoning horn, out of which he was swindled by a
scheming princess from Stephen's Castle. Instead of reproaching her
contrite swain, Betty showed him the secret of the nose-lengthening
apples and the nose-shortening pears, by means of which he was able
to recover the magic treasures, and, recognising that, as a man, he
was not really fitted for responsibility, he agreed to place his
future in Betty's hands, in recognition of which [and you can check
the OS map if you don't believe this] Sailor's Lane leads to Betty
Mundy's Bottom. [Mike O'Leary's book of Hampshire Tales contains a
version of this story.]
Janet told us Why the Sky is Far Away, a Nigerian folk-tale which
has been retold by Mary-Joan Gerson. She followed this with a Celtic
story about a young mother whose baby is taken by the Sidhe, and who,
with the advice of a wise-woman, manages to recover the child and
live happily ever after.
second session began on a much more personal note, as she discovered
and explored the fate of her great-uncle Henry Whitmore Turner in the
First World War, and visited those acres of war-graves that stretch
across France and Belgium, and saw the fields of corn where the
plough still disinters remnants of humanity.
she told us how a travelling fellow found a wishing-well, and with
his wish spread the well's powers into all the water that falls from
the sky. Open your mouth when it rains – you may be lucky! [But –
be careful what you wish for...]
the third session, Raph told us of The Remarkable Coincidence, and
then gave us The Sword and the Trumpet, in which communication
triumphs over simple aggression. Maddie followed this with The Island
where Dreams are Made, from the Western Isles. Alan shared his
personal regret that he had not asked in more detail about his
great-uncle's connection with the Angels of Mons, and told us that
story. Jason, with an excellent crow-impersonation, gave us his own
story, The Boy who Turned into a Bird, and Mike told his 10-day old
story, The Truth about Nettles, to finish the evening.
shared with us a pick'n'mix selection from his storybag. First came
some tales from his Oy!
tour, including Torch-Woman looking for her baby, as she also goes
looking for food; the Inuit custom of 'dousing the lights', with all
that implies, especially the male moon forgetting to eat as he
pursues the female sun, and thus getting thin and pale as he crosses
the sky. Then there were the rival sisters, one of whom fools the
other into eating her own children. After that came the jakata tale
which shows how we are all the instruments of karma, because it has
no hands, and teaches us not to mess with quail, because they have
long memories and many favours to call in. In the story of The Girl
[headgear unspecified] Cliff is still looking for an ending that he
finds both convincing and satisfying [though he did give us one].
Everybody loves Skeleton-Woman [especially with Cliff playing the
drum], and nobody could resist the story of Amaterasu, which you can
read here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaterasu
session saw Nicole make her debut as a storyteller, in a way which
made everyone think she'd been telling for years. We were quite
prepared to believe she was an old man from the Appalachians who
wished he'd been stolen away by the Nunnehi when he'd been young [he
had the chance...] and then he wouldn't have been old and creaky and
cranky. You can read about the Nennehi here
No one could
have followed that, but Maddie had to, and resorted to three Hodja
tales [they always go round in threes, for self-protection] including
The Washing of the Cat, the Bath-House, and the Sausage after which
Raph told us how Coyote persuaded Mouse to exchange certain
body-parts with him, and the consequences. Mike closed with Little
Dog Turpie and the Hobiyahs, in Leila Berg's version, which you can
You may have seen Cliff before - he's been around a while, as even he will admit! He does the Wickham Festival, he's done The Larmer Tree, he's been at The Art House in Southampton, at The Barge Inn in Honey Street on the Kennet and Avon Canal, London, Reading, Cambridge, Salisbury, and all kinds of places in between.
And now he'll be in Ringwood on August 17th, tellling A Mixed Bag - all kinds of stories from his themed tours of the past few years, together with some that have never made it on to those programmes. There may be Tales of Ra from Egypt, there may be a Red Riding Hood variant, something from the Kalevala, The Padisha's Daughter Who Married a Donkey's Skull, Skeleton Woman...
The only thing predictable is that the stories will be worth listening to!
of brightly coloured threads of narration and description Paul wove a
dazzling tapestry of stories from the world of the Arabian Nights.
Under the guidance of the old woman who looked after them, the
orphans Masud and Miriam brought back the mysterious Bird from the
land of Gibur to the Garden with the Fountain of Laughter and the
Fountain of Tears, during which adventure it was the girl who saved
the boy, and not vice versa – but after that, the bird just sat and
watched the stars go by, until one day it said, “It is time!” and
Hassan the Archer was taken on an expedition to find the Lost City of
Iram by a Sheikh who knew a lot more than he did. They found it, but,
of all the treasures there, they could only take a small box of red
sulphur, which nevertheless had the power to transform everyday
objects into gold and jewels. Riches and luxury were a poor
compensation for Hassan, whose wife and children had mysteriously
disappeared in his absence.
the Magnificent's fascination with the Lost City of Iram enabled him
[with the help of the Oldest Stork in the World] to find it under the
desert sands, but all he could do then was contemplate it, until
Death, the Destroyer of Friendships and the Breaker-up of Feasts,
took him, and he was buried in the city he had sought, and the djinn
covered it again with the sands they had removed at his behest.
things change, and Mahmud the Merciful succeeded to the throne of his
father, known as the Merciless, and found, in the depths of his
father's prisons, an old man with a small box of red dust, who had
refused to divulge its secret to the former ruler, and, even as the
new sultan released him, so a large bird arrived in the city,
followed by a young man and young woman, whose identity, gentle
listeners, I'm sure you can guess.
if all that hadn't been treat enough for an evening for the thirteen
of us gathered in an upper room, John played guitar in our first
interval, and the last session brought another five stories: Janet
told The Businessman on Paradise Island,
Alan told The Car and the Horses,
Misha told The Fish in the Grass, the Buns in the Trees,
and the Sausages in the Lake,
Raph told The Slippers of Abu Kassim
and Mike raced through The Princess with the Golden Hair
from Howard Schwartz's Elijah's Violin.
... and The Lost City of Iram, and many another Tale of the East will be brought to us on Thursday, July 20th, starting at 7.30 p.m., by Paul, one of our regular tellers, who also tells at Southampton and Salisbury Story Clubs.
The future is always subject to change, but we have fixed on some things:
In June, Maddie will tell us stories related to Trees.
In October, our regular in-house tellers, Maddie, Raph, Paul, Mike, Alan, Darren and any others we can attract, will celebrate Samhain, or Halloween, or whatever you want to call it, with a selection of stories appropriate to the season.
In November, we will again present Epic in an Evening, which this year will be the story of Hercules, from his birth to his death and his deification.
Who else will be coming, and what they will be telling, we'll let you know as soon as we do.
headlined, with Something
in the Water,
a collection of stories about monsters and magical creatures. He
introduced us to the Onamazu, the giant catfish responsible for
earthquakes, and Kashima, the thunder-god, who [mostly] keeps it
pinned down under a big stone. Read more here.
there was the Umibozu, the spirit who enjoys wrecking ships, and
haunted the dreams of young Akiko, until her grandfather told her
about Baku, the Dream-Eater. You can read about them here and here.
his second session, Jason took us to such exotic places as Pakistan
and Northumberland, telling us of the Lake Saif ul Malook and the
love-story that took place there, and of the River Wear and the
Lambton Worm. Read more here and here.
Starting at 7.30, two intervals, finishing at 10 - get there early, please, so you can be ready with coffee and cake to hear Jason Buck, whom you will already know from previous performances, including his part in Loki Live.
Something in the Water is a collection of stories about the strange creatures believed to live in the rivers, lakes and oceans of the world, from the giant fish that causes earthquakes in Japan, to the shape-changing selkie seal-folk of Scotland and the [almost] unkillable wyrm that terrified the English countryside. Jason also explores some of the facts behind the real animals that have inspired some of the legends.
Graham Rogers posted this on the Facebook page of The Sting in the Tale:
Many of you will have heard the sad news of Pete Gritton, who died last week in Spain. For many years he performed in the Sting in the Tale festival, New Forest Storytellers, Heads & Tales storytelling club, Jigfoot band and took part in many other events and theatrical performances. He was a lovely storyteller and talented musician, with a passion for Vikings and Norse sagas, a commanding presence and wonderful sense of humour. His storytelling and music must have left an impression on thousands of people and he will be sadly missed. However, our loss is Odin's gain and if you gaze up into the moonlit sky this Spring you'll surely hear all those in the great hall of Valhalla, in Asgard, roaring with laughter as Pete tells his tale of Loki and Thor.