#NSSM15 Guest blog by John Kirk

Storyteller John Kirk specialises in creating stories, storytelling and leading drama workshops for schools, libraries and museums. We invited him to tell us about how he approached retelling George and the Dragon which is just one of the many stories in his wide-ranging repertoire. For further information see http://www.john-kirk.co.uk/

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Go Go Dragons!

In March 2015 I was contacted by a school in Norwich about telling stories relating to Dragons to link to the school’s involvement in the Go Go Dragons Project.  We decided I would tell my version of The Golden Legend, “St George and the Dragon” and a version of “Beowulf”.
The choice of story was important.  Although it is quite short and simple, I think the story of St George and the Dragon has a deeper message about facing fears and overcoming difficulties.  On the other hand Beowulf represents a huge challenge to me as a storyteller.  The narrative is action packed but I want to allow the words to tell the story.  What links these stories is English-ness and Dragons.

Dragons are wonderful creatures.  They have existed in stories around the world for hundreds of years and everybody has their own ideas about them.  I suppose that my idea of a Dragon is formed somewhere between “The Hobbit”, “Puff the Magic Dragon” and a painting my parents had of The Golden Legend (George slaying a classic green Dragon) but I am also a fan of the film “How to Train your Dragon” in which the animators reimagine these creatures as anything from elegant to ugly.

The problem with Dragons is that they are a generally unfriendly bunch.  To St George and Beowulf they represent an evil that threatens a way of life.  For young children, anxiety about the Dragon may need to be managed (telling them that George will be victorious) but with older audiences building the description of a terrifying beast with an element of peril can be gripping.

To help young audiences understand the story I try to keep the same simple description throughout the narrative.  This is a technique used by Homer in “The Odyssey“.  Repeating simple descriptions of characters and locations also helps me remember the story!

Through choice and repetition of language I assist understanding but concentration can be a challenge for young audiences.  In many of my stories I use different devices which allow the audience to refocus after a period of time.  In a story like Private Peaceful this may be a song or some music.  In St George I am mixing imaginative play and drama activities into the story as audience members become knights.  Another technique I enjoy is to slide into characters (in A Christmas Carol I use elements of costume, my voice and small physical gestures to play 13 roles!).  Done badly this could be confusing particularly where differentiation is subtle (in a story like “The War Game” I take the roles of four different soldiers).  In the case of Beowulf I have devised a short story in which the dying hero remembers the deeds of his life.  This is complimented by a role play storytelling session in which the audience have the opportunity to explore the story through drama.  Involving a whole group in such an activity can be a very memorable storytelling experience.

If I do strike the right balance that means my stories appeal then it is difficult to qualify the impact of a storyteller.  By invigorating stories with expression, props, costume and activities I hope I play a part in honing my audience’s appreciation of live performance and that I enthuse and excite them with language and stories.  The legacy of such a simple exchange as sharing a story could be almost as fantastic as a Dragon itself!

This guest post was provided by John Kirk. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

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