Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Raining cats and dogs......

Rainy days are great for storytelling!  This past weekend my family and I enjoyed a number of terrific performances at the Three Apples Storytelling Festival, held in beautiful Bedford, MA. We were regaled by marvelously gifted tellers of every style, warm and snug and spellbound inside Bedford's beautiful First Parish Church, as the rain poured down outside and all around us.  No better way to spend a rainy weekend!

I was so inspired by the high quality of these tellings, that I ran out yesterday (naturally, in the rain again) and pillaged my local library for collections of folk tales, spooky stories, ANY stories to read through and devour, in my never-ending quest for more, More, MORE stories.  I read on and off throughout the day, alternatively checking on my slow-cooked Rosh Hashona brisket, but didn't find the story I knew I was hungering for.  [This happens sometimes.  I comb through books, take notes, over-use Google, stretch the patience of the local librarians, reading and reading and reading until I find IT: that one story that makes my brain go CLICK.  At least for that week; the next week, I'm hungry again, and the search resumes.]

This morning, I was assembling story outlines and ideas for a series of Storytelling Classes for children that I'll be co-teaching in Dorchester with my good friend and fellow-Storyteller Andrea Lovett.  As I skimmed the various outlines, checking to make sure that they were age-appropriate for our intended group, my "Story-Sense" began to tingle.  My story-sense is similar to Peter Parker's "Spidey-Sense", only instead of helping me avert danger and fight crime, it lets me know when I've found a really great story.  In fact, I'd unwittingly stumbled upon what is probably my storytelling jackpot of the month.  Here he is:
 Yes, that is, in fact, a dog.  (Read some amazing facts about chow chows here.)  The story of Shippeitaro - like all the stories that grab me by the collar and yell "TELL ME!" - challenged me as a Storyteller, in this case because I am a devoted cat-lover.  Shippeitaro is one of those unexpected heroes who bravely and emphatically saves the day, despite being faced with some very nasty Bad Guys (in this case, Cats Gone Bad) that ordinary sensible human beings are really afraid of.  Also, I just love an unlikely, dopey-looking hero, don't you?  Here's how it happened:

Long ago in ancient Japan, a young samurai was forced (by rain!!) to spend the night in a haunted temple, where he accidentally overheard a group of evil man-eating cats yowling about their fear of "Shippeitaro".  The next day, he walked to the local village, where everyone was preparing for what he learned was an annual sacrifice of one of the local girls to the denizens of the very haunted temple he had just spent the night in.  Out of curiosity, the samurai asked if anyone knew who Shippeitaro was, and was told that this was the favored pet of the local lord.  The brave and sensible young man politely asked to borrow the nobleman's beloved chow, who proceeded later that night to heroically dispatch the feline fiends, thus liberating the village folk from the tyranny of nasty girl-devouring puddy-tats.

(This bare-bones variant is based on translations and retellings I've read by Lafcadio Hearn, M. Oldfield Howey, and Mary F. Nixon-Roulet.)

Now, initially, the idea of an entire community of people being ruthlessly terrorized by cats struck me as improbable.  Let me introduce you to my housemates, Mabel and Larry:

Tyranny in their case amounts to repeated elbow-licking when they don't get fed by 8AM on weekends. 

To be fair, cats do have an impressive heritage as dangerous carnivores.  One Japanese description of the cat refers to it as "a tiger who eats from the hand", according to Carl Van Vechten, author of "The Tiger in the House".  Living with these noble, if somewhat diminished, descendants of the saber-toothed tiger, I am occasionally reminded that if our respective sizes were reversed, my appeal to Mabel and Larry would instantly become nutritional rather than emotional.  Could it be that the love and adoration that I think I see in their stately yellow eyes is actually a measured consideration of how favorably I would compare to Science Diet Indoor Cat Formula?

Food for thought.

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