The Psychologist October 2009
The Psychologist is the monthly publication for members of the British Psychological Society. See www.bps.org.uk/join, or www.thepsychologist.org.uk to subscribe as a non-member.
psy 10_09 p850_853 killick:Layout 1 15/9/09 15:57 Page 851 eye on fiction on through word of mouth (although through interplay between language and they may have become texts at various image (Thomas & Killick, 2007). The points as well). Traditional stories include teller may call upon the rhythm of the myths and legends, historical tales and words as well as some specific phrases ‘fairytales’ (also known as ‘wonder tales’). that are remembered exactly, and they A small proportion of wonder tales such may create strong visual images as Snow White or Cinderella are very associated with the story – storytelling is familiar today, partly because they have not only about listening but also about been transferred to other media and ‘seeing’. The teller may be said to ‘inhabit’ transmitted to wide audiences in novel the story and to take listeners on a forms. Riddles and journey. Such proverbs are fragments processes have much of the oral tradition still in common with “A story is a treasure commonly used today. well-known memory chest of sign, symbol, It is possible to trace techniques. Indeed, image and metaphor” many of these stories back the writer Doris through the generations, Lessing has claimed during which time the tales that literacy may have have evolved considerably while still had a negative impact upon our ability retaining a significant core identity. to remember. Without easy access to The fact that the same stories retain information provided by literacy there a widespread popularity and an appeal was more effort and success in across generations, and often across committing tales to memory (Lessing, cultures, has suggested to many that 1999). there is something archetypal about The storyteller role involves a number these enduring tales and that they must of aspects; the teller is part teacher, part resonate with something deep in the preacher and part entertainer with human psyche. different storytellers emphasising these Many writers, such as Sigmund elements to different degrees. The fact Freud, Bruno Bettelheim, Joseph that a storyteller can select or change the Campbell, Ernest Bloch and Clarissa story to suit the needs of the audience Pinkola Estes have speculated about how adds to the storyteller’s power to engage. such stories may reflect aspects of the The expression to ‘spin a yarn’ reflects the psyche and may facilitate the resolution fact that storytelling was often used to of internal conflicts or provide an arena help time to pass more quickly when for wish fulfilment. Although it has been people were engaged in laborious, alleged that he took his ideas, largely repetitive and boring activities. However unattributed, from the work of Julius a teller’s function is not only to distract Heuscher (Pollak, 1997), Bettelheim has and to entertain. In many cases it is clear been particularly influential. He suggested that there is an intention to instruct (or in that these stories provide a means of some cases mislead), inform or influence transmitting unconscious role models through the meaning inherent in the tale to children and thus helping children and transmitted in the telling. through the various stages of psychosexual development. His idea was ‘Telling’ tales – what are stories that, by identifying with the heroes and really saying? heroines they encounter in these stories, A story is a treasure chest of sign, symbol, children rehearse strategies for dealing image and metaphor. A staple component with such delicate issues as separation of many storytellers’ repertoires are from their parents, failing to meet with traditional or ‘folk’ tales. These stories their parents’ expectations and rivalries come from a mainly oral tradition, passed with peers. Stories allow difficult issues to be examined in fantasy without provoking too much anxiety (Bettelheim, 1976). In a contemporary analysis, Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994) wrote of such stories Simmons, J. (2004). Dark angels. London: as ‘wise, ancient, surprisingly Cyan. sophisticated blueprints for our full Sunderland, M. (2000). Using story telling development as human beings’. as a therapeutic tool with children. These tales are often elaborate Bicester: Speechmark. Thomas, T. & Killick, S. (2007). Telling metaphors of transformation and tales: Storytelling as emotional literacy. frequently have an identifiable Blackburn: Educational Prining hermeneutic function. The message that Services. they convey is often deeply implicit but Zipes, J. (2006). Why fairy tales stick. New sometimes, as in Aesop’s fables, laid bare. York: Routledge. The Brothers Grimm collected many The essential ingredients may remain the same, but every telling of a story is a unique creation that will reflect the storyteller’s mood and their response to the physical environment and the audience. The story is conveyed not just verbally but also non-verbally, and the amount of eye contact, the tone of voice and use of gesture will be modulated and adapted in response to the reactions of the listeners. The style in which the story is told will reflect the content of the story and the personal style of the storyteller. Some storytellers are typically quiet and intimate in their style whereas others make expansive and animated gestures and use a wide vocal range. Thus storytelling is largely improvised and interactive. In order to make the experience intense and the story vivid to listeners, the teller may provide the sensory detail and information about how the characters are thinking and feeling. Stories are ‘remembered’ by the teller JAMES MENDELSSOHN, WWW.BEYONDTHEBORDER.COM monographarchive/Monograph36.pdf McClellend, D. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand. Oatley, K. (1998). Emotion. The Psychologist, 11, 285–288. Oatley, K. (2008). The mind’s flight simulator. The Psychologist, 21, 1030–1032. Pollak, R. (1997). The creation of Dr B: A biography of Bruno Bettelheim. London: Simon & Schuster. read discuss contribute at www.thepsychologist.org.uk 851