World Storytelling Institute (Chennai)
Dr. Eric Miller, Director

Storytelling e-newsletter
Nov 2011

Dear Storytelling Friends,

Hello!  This edition of the WSI Storytelling e-newsletter includes discussion regarding: 

How can "fairy tale" be defined?  And,
Are there Indian fairy tales?
(In preparation for Austrian Storyteller Helmut Wittman’s visit to Chennai on 23 and 24 Nov, featuring a free Workshop and Performance.)


Ways in which children drawing elements of stories, and discussing stories -- after a story is told -- can lead to children reading and writing.


First of all, Nov 2011 is proving to be a busy month for the WSI!

This past weekend (4 and 5 Nov), I led Storytelling Workshops -- with Teachers, and with Parents and Children together -- at One Up (a Library, Bookstore, and Experience Centre) in Amritsar. 
Info about One Up is here.

This coming Sunday morning (13 Nov), a six-session Storytelling Workshop (led by myself in Chennai) begins.  This Workshop will meet on six consecutive Sunday mornings. 
Info is here .

The WSI continues the Year of Storytelling (once-a-month) at the Oxford Bookstores in Chennai and Mumbai:

___This Saturday (12 Nov) at 5pm, Kanupriya will be Storytelling at the Bookstore in Chennai. 
The event Poster is here.

___This Sunday (13 Nov) at 4pm, Usha Venkatraman will be Storytelling at the Bookstore in Mumbai.
The event Poster is here.

Helmut Wittman, a Storyteller from Austria, is scheduled to be in Chennai on Wednesday 23, and Thursday 24 Nov.  The WSI is facilitating his visit -- which would feature a 2-session Storytelling Workshop, and a Performance (all for free).
Links to Helmut 's schedule, webpage, and photos, are here.
(If you might be interested in attending Helmut's Storytelling Workshop, please contact me, at 98403 94282.)


How can "fairy tale" be defined?  And,
Are there Indian fairy tales?

During his upcoming visit to Chennai, Storyteller Helmut Wittman of Austria will be telling us -- and will be teaching us ways to tell -- European fairy tales. 

Helmut has also expressed an interest in learning about Indian fairy tales.  This has prompted me to do a little research.

Two areas in which Indian and European fairy tales might differ might be:

1) In Indian stories, the magical transformations might be achieved by supernatural beings other than fairies (Europe seems to be the fairy capital of the world); and

2) The nature of the young hero’s/heroine's temporary isolation, early in the story, may tend to occur differently in European and Indian fairy tales.

However, please decide for yourself regarding these matters. 

And -- I would be most interested to hear and read any Indian stories that might strike you as a fairy tale.

Two collections of Indian stories online are:

Indian Fairy Tales (1912), by Joseph Jacobs, at .

99 Tamil folktales, collected by Stuart Blackburn
(collected in conversational Tamil storytelling sessions,
and translated into English), at .

To begin to define "fairy tale":

Folktales are created by communities (not by individual authors), and are passed down orally from one generation to the next. 

One type of folktale is the "fairy tale" -- which is also sometimes known as the "wonder tale".

Fairy tale characters are often like paper dolls, in that they tend to be very clearly defined, with no complicated emotions or mindsets.

Fairy tales tend to have a somewhat abstract style.  They tend to take place in landscapes that could be anywhere.  Such landscapes exist beyond historical time and place.

The material, glass, seems to have a special affinity to fairy tales (Cinderella’s glass slipper, the story of the Glass Coffin, the story of the Glass Mountain, etc).

Many European fairy tales do not have fairies in the story.  However, these fairy tales take place in a magical realm in which all matter can be transformed instantly.  Fairy tales feature magic of a peculiar mood and power.  This realm is the opposite of the laborious, scientific realm.  In fairy tales, just wishing can make it so (sometimes).

The characters in the fairy tales do not question how magical transformations are possible: rather, they unquestioningly accept the existence of supernatural characters who can exercise powerful magic.

A fairy tale protagonist typically interacts with other worlds (which may seem magic and strange to us).  This magic may be related to inner forces and/or supernatural powers. 

Fairy tales often portray the developmental stages in a young person’s life.  The magical transformations that occur in fairy tales often have to do with the protagonist moving from one life-stage to the next.  Thus, fairy tales are often coming-of-age stories.  They present the adventures of a young person as he/she struggles to find his/her way in the world.  The friends and teachers he/she finds along the way are often essential to his/her success.

In spite of obstacles and pitfalls, protagonists in fairy tales may accomplish a task, gain wealth, find a mate, and gain wisdom.  Sometimes, the hero/heroine undergoes trials which may lead to his/her inner and outer transformation.  The lead character of a fairy tale often moves to the next stage of life with help from magical friends.  And typically, fairy tales end with the protagonist's marriage.

Early in a fairy tale, the protagonist may seem to be a failure.  He/she can't do things like everyone else can.  This sometimes leads to the protagonist leaving his/her family to make his/her way in the world. 

I would ask, "Might this occur in Indian fairy tales also?  Might the heroes/heroines of Indian fairy tales set off on their own as much as is done by similar characters in European fairy tales?

It should be noted that even in European fairy tales, the isolation of the protagonist is often not complete -- often his/her mission involves helping his/her family members. 

The fairy tale protagonist often has a deep connection with the natural and supernatural worlds.  This character can often understand animal languages: he/she helps the animals, and the animals help him/her. 

It is the hero's/heroine's innocence, kindness, politeness, considerateness, and humility which helps him/her succeed.  On the other hand, wicked, rude, self-centered characters are punished.  The rewards and punishments that appear magically in fairy tales often seem to represent those characters' inner natures.

In summary:  Fairy tales often centre on a hero/heroine, usually poor at the start, who, after a series of adventures in which supernatural elements play a conspicuous part, attains his/her goal and "lives happily ever after" (Krappe 1930).

Further Reading

The European Folktale: Form and Function (1947), by Max Luthi.

The Folktale (1946), by Stith Thompson.

Science of Folklore (1930), by Alexander Haggerty Krappe.

"On Fairy Stories" (1965),  by J. R. R. Tolkien.  In his book, Tree and Leaf.
This essay also appears in The Tolkien Reader (1972).

"Definitions of Fairy Tales", . . . .

Indian Fairy Tales (1912), by Joseph Jacobs, at
and .

Preface to Indian Fairy Tales (1912), by Joseph Jacobs .

99 Tamil folktales, collected by Stuart Blackburn, .

Links to many collections of folktales, .

Thanks to numerous members of
the Storytell listserv, and
Storytellers on Facebook .


Ways in which children drawing elements of stories, and discussing stories -- after a story is told -- can lead to children reading and writing.

These days, many parents seem to experience a good dea1 of anxiety regarding the development of their childrens' speaking-and-listening, and writing-and-reading, abilities.

The fact is that, compared to young people in the pre-television age, interest in reading and writing often lags in today's young people.  Many young people today seem to prefer to play video games.

And yet, many parents feel that their children's language skills (oral and literary) remain key to those children fulfilling themselves intellectually and profesionally.

I have written elsewhere regarding

"Storytelling and Story-listening, and Children's Intellectual, Emotional, and Social Development"


"Using Storytelling to Facilitate Reading and Writing".

Here I would discuss three Storytelling-related activities that might facilitate the development of reading-and-writing by children:

1) Children drawing, adding letters and words to pictures, and making books.

2) Parents reading and telling stories to children at night.

3) Parents (and teachers) discussing stories with children.

1) Children drawing, adding letters and words to pictures, and making books.

As mentioned above, I recently visited the One Up Bookstore, Library, and Experience Centre, in Amritsar.  It was very interesting that a bookstore and library were combined.  But the thing that made One Up truly fascinating for me was its Experience room.  This is where I led Storytelling Workshops for teachers, and for parents and children together.

One Up's Experience room has a soft carpet, and numerous bean-bag chairs and padded stools -- as well as chairs-with-backs and tables.  Thus, visitors can choose their physical situation, and can be very comfortable -- as they read, write, and draw.

In the course of the Storytelling Workshops, I often ask people to draw aspects of the stories they are thinking about.  I have realised that drawing and painting is especially important for very young children (who can not yet write): when drawing and painting they can be active, expressive, and creative, as they explore the medium of making designs on paper.

As they grow older, children may add some letters and words to their drawings.  And they may staple, or otherwise bind together a number of their sheets of drawings.  Presto -- they have made a book!  (They could call it a "comic book", or a "graphic novel" if they might like.)

For children to develop the habit of reading, it is essential that they feel related to books -- including that they can make them.  In this way, children would not feel that books are alien to them, too difficult, and beyond them.

2) Parents reading and telling stories to children at night.

Another way to inculcate the habit of reading-and-writing in children is to read stories to them at night, when the child is in bed.  Telling stories without books is also very intellectually and creatively nourishing for the child: reading and telling can be alternated.

Even if reading to a child might be a tiring task for a parent, the effort truly should be made, at least from time to time.  Doing so is likely to have a strong positive influence on the child.  Children tend to do as their parents do, not what their parents tell them to do.

3) Parents (and teachers) discussing stories with children.

It is only natural that when parents tell and read stories to children, they might also discuss the stories with the children.  This does not just mean announcing the moral of a story to a child: the child learns a great deal more if he/she is encouraged to formulate the meaning of a story in his/her own words.

Perhaps such discussion might not best occur as the parent is trying to help the child sleep.  The discussion of the stories could occur some other time.

This discussion is so important because we want the child to think about, and to express, regarding what he/she might do if he/she were in the character's place.  In this way, a child develops his/her sense of moral judgment, concerning how to behave in various situations. 

Working and playing with stories -- including discussing them -- gives the child practice for living: the opportunity to develop his/her ability to think about situations from various angles, and to articulate these thoughts.  I believe this ability to articulate is something many of us parents dearly wish for our children to become capable of, in relation to both speaking and writing.


Best regards and wishes,

- Eric

Dr. Eric Miller
Director, World Storytelling Institute
0 98403 94282