Departments

About Works In Progress

Robert's Raves
Robert Rodriguez's popular series examining story elements and themes in tales from around the world.

The European Scene
Sam Cannarozzi's articles on European feativals and happenings.

Story Types
Articles on specific stories, genres, and types of telling.

Tips and Programs
How-to articles.

Festivals
Reports on some of the best.

Reviews
Of recordings, books, games, and other stuff.

Panel Reviews
Listen in as a group of reviewers debate and discuss their reactions to the latest releases.

Joe's Page
Contributions by and about the late storyteller Joe Healy

Our Contributors

Submissions
We know you'd like to write for WIP! Here's how to do it.

 

 

 

Book Review

The King and the Lamp
by Duncan and Linda Williamson
Canongate Classics, An Imprint of Canongate Books
United Kingdom, 2000.
Reviewed by Robert Rodriquez.

In her most illuminating introduction to this delightful and remarkable collection of traditional narratives from the traditions and culture of Scotland's Traveler folk, folklorist, collector, and storyteller Barbara McDermitt verbally paints a most eloquent portrait of the true importance and vitality of the art and role of the storyteller in the larger context of Traveler history, and the continued use of storytelling to instill Traveler values from one generation to another. This is, in essence, what makes this book much more than just an anthology of twenty-six unconnected and disparate tales, as worthy as such a volume would be in any case, but a truly priceless glimpse into a tradition that, until the late 1950s was hardly known even within Britain itself, and even less so outside the United Kingdom. If Traveler raconteurs are said to be among the very best in Britain today, then Duncan Williamson is acknowledged to be one of the true masters of the Traveler tellers in this narrative fraternity of excellence. Anyone who has been truly blessed with the good fortunate to hear this masterful ballad singer and yarnspinner knows that he or she has been in the presence of a wordsmith of the highest quality and that when listening to Williamson, a door is opened into a magical world of wonders and treasures beyond description.

In a sense, this collection could be said to be the "best" of Duncan Williamson, because all these tales have been included in eight previously published volumes of stories from his truly incredible repertoire, which by all accounts numbers well
over seven hundred tales encompassing everything from Jack tales and wonder tales of an international nature to ghost stories, classic ballads, animal fables, local legends, Christmas related stories, and personal or family stories derived from Traveler history and their ongoing struggles to keep their traditions alive, often facing an indifferent or hostile outside world where uncertainties, hardships, and even physical perils often met these hardy folk at every turn of the road. Picking favorite stories from this grand assemblage of narrative gems is not easy, but real stand-outs might include tales such as "Jack and the Devil's Nurse", "The Hunchback and the Swan", "Mary and the Seal", "The Broonie's Farewell", "I Love You More than Salt", and perhaps the best rendering of the tale type here involved, "The Giant with the air of Knowledge", which also just happens to be the longest story of this treasure trove. In a story such as "The Bay and the Boats," the reader actually gains a valuable glimpse into Traveler history, beliefs, and the true cultural importance that stories hold for this proud and hardy folk, whose love of family, reverence for elderly folk and their ancestors, and belief in passing these on to their children is paramount in their traditional value systems.

In their simple and yet powerful verbal imagery and very turn of phrase, each tale is a microcosm of how Travelers have lived for centuries, how they have kept their culture and traditions alive and from generation to generation, and how they have managed to cope with modern life and the outside world. If this collection is a tribute to the abilities of Williamson as a raconteur, it is also a tribute to those who have gone before. As it is, the entire volume has been dedicated to Williamson's own grandmother, Bella McDonald, a master teller in her own right, many of whose tales Williamson so well remembers from his own childhood. McDermitt's introduction is well worth the reading; so, too, is Linda Williamson's afterward. In their own special manner, both McDermitt and Williamson give a perfect and magical symmetry to this delightful collection of some of the best tales to be found an this or any other side of a Traveler encampment. Whether it is a Faerie legend, a "Burker," story from Traveler history, a Jack tale, or a barnyard animal fable, this collection, from beginning to end, smacks most resoundingly with one encompassing concept: Barrie Mooskins, a Traveler term meaning, what else, a very good story. And that is indeed what the Williamsons have given story lovers here: a very good bunch of stories, and a lot more besides. Folks, this is as good as it gets --no brag, just fact.

—posted September 2003

 

Special Features

Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.

The Disney Stories Debate

What Are the Rules?

Variations on Storycrafting: Thomas the Rymer