Untellable Tales: Femininities – Scottish Storytelling Centre

Hosted by Kleio Pethainou with Guest Contributors.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Scáthach, Warrior Queen of Skye. The Gyre-Carling, crone of the Highlands. The golden-haired Grecian girl, her purity tainted. Cailleach’s creation of Ailsa Craig. And, of course, the misunderstood romanticism of the Selkies. You may know their names, but are you acquainted with their stories? More importantly, how familiar are you with their real stories.

As diverse and distinctive as the tales maybe – they share a common thread, a female-centric narrative, where, for better or worse (often worse) these incomprehensibly powerful and magnificent women remain fixtures through cultural history, their stories told across generations. But how diluted have their tales become? And how have the aspects of rape, murder and torture been swept aside to keep their stories pleasing to the masses. Is it more important to preserve the original tale, or broaden the reach.

Tales which, for many, are untellable, too shocking to share – but perhaps hold the key to understanding the cultural issues we have failed to heed, even from the stories we have been sharing for centuries. Hosted by story collector Kleio Pethainou, this evening serves as the first in a potential series of Untellable Tales, as a panel of storytellers retell their favourite pieces, usually with one or more aspects that some may find ‘unsavoury’.

In no finer home than the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the significant purpose of preserving these tales, either in their original form or re-shaped, the intentions of the Untellable Tales are an honourable one of preservation, as well as education and enjoyment. Tools to warn, engross and share with children, visitors, kings and rabble alike, stories are revered in this space.

Naturally, the methods and styles of storytelling vary, but every teller makes a significant impact – though the echo of the Storytelling courtyard means a touch of projection is required. From the more lyrical, beautifully constructed tale of the Gyre-Carling or Selkies, to the personal, tone reflective sharing of Ailsa Craig’s creation myth – there’s a style for all audiences.

The catalyst for a series of Untellable Tales, this initial show centres on Femininities as a part of the Edinburgh Tradfest. But for some, in a rather peculiar way, the untellable tales themselves still feel a touch in the dark, or rather in the light – any familiar with the more loathsome aspects will recognise the editing of tales at first telling a more digestible manner, and questions of authenticity and adaptation from authorship are rightfully raised, with humorous telling’s or edit to shift the story to a contemporary audience occurring throughout the evening. Never detracting, it instils a personal stamp on the tale, with various Storytellers communicating their unease with the subject matter of the story, or the connotations its impact has had over history.

For centuries, the tales and words of women have been profited on by men, and where the origins of some of our most intimate and favourite fairytales have male names stapled to their publishments, it is the women of the hearth, whether at home with children or sharing gruesome tales for a coin or meal in the tavern, who own these tales. As the audience hears the exploitations and punishments the semiotic nature of folklore speaks volumes. Of men terrified of a woman’s autonomy and sexual independence, of the instilled and irrational fears of old age, and the distortion of tales originated by women, for patriarchal propaganda.

Challenging the status quo and mechanics of sharing tales of sexual assault, murder and genocide for a younger audience all take centre stage for the event’s second half – where the audience is invited to share thoughts and queries with the Storytellers. It offers an insight into the construction of stories and the varied nature of a profession many have a stereotyped image. And with diverse levels of experiences and inspirations across the board, it’s a promising and worthwhile start to the preservation of folklore, and a fitting way to open conversation to the advancement of the craft.

Untellable Tales returns to the Scottish Storytelling Centre on June 6th, with a topic of ‘Otherness’


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