Cocky young man walks through the woods
Meets talking skull
Ignores skull's warnings and runs to tell Chief
Brags to Chief about talking skull
Skull won't talk
Chief has young man killed
Skull scolds young man
What fascinates me most about these tales, is that the Skull warns and censures the young man for TALKING. The moral of these stories, in fact, is that Talking Gets You Into Trouble. Or, condensed, Talking = Death.
How can a Storyteller tell this?
First off, it's a funny bit of irony that this particular story has survived for as long as it has, and spread as far from its source as it has; the Talking Skull motif is found in African-American tales and art (see cool sculpture below). So the story is ambiguous: on the one hand it warns us that talking is dangerous (as I quickly learned in elementary school), however we can read between the lines (so to speak) and understand that talking is what makes us who we are as human beings. Flawed, cocky, obnoxious, too clever for our own good, and inevitably mortal. But none of that will stop us from telling our truths, and getting into trouble for it.
That talking skull is a challenge - irresistible to a storyteller - to open our mouths and talk back. The Dead surely speak to us and teach us (if we will only listen), but their stories belong to us, the Living. We must tell their stories, and also add our own.... and pass them all along.
Let's Keep talking!
I found this image at ExplorePAhistory.com