The art of storytelling is as old as humankind and forms an integral part of a country’s culture and history. Children learn to love their bedtime stories and even know them by heart; adults who watch Television Soaps are daily following the storylines of their favourite characters. In the book under review here, we are presented with 33 stories, which are quite short and easy to read. From the beginning, the reader’s attention is caught, and there is even an element of suspense as you wait to see what will happen. In ‘The Takeover’ it is real fear and apprehension which builds up. Always the sign of a good story, when as well as being curious you also actually care about the outcome.
We are told in the Foreward that the Storyteller’s mission is to lead people to a window. He will, through his words, enable them to look out, but it is up to them to interpret the stories in their own way. However, there is a lesson in each one, which recalls to mind the great Jesuit writer and philosopher, Anthony de Mello, and of course Jesus himself whose parables were stories with an inherent message.
Some lessons are naturally more obvious and straightforward than others. In ‘The Red Rose Clan’ it seems clear, almost from the beginning that walls are not always beneficial, but the predicament of the wall in ‘The Wall and the Ivy’ is not so apparent. There is some ambiguity about how the poor wall feels at the end with regard to his earlier decision.
The importance of empowering people rather than giving handouts is extolled in ‘The Giver Who Began by Asking.’ Bóthar would approve! And in the story ‘From Saint to Troublemaker’ we are challenged in a somewhat similar manner to look at the issue of charity versus justice. Other stories cover issues such as the non-importance of material things, the proper use of time, taking others for granted, and the problem of unquestioning obedience. This latter calling to mind the events in George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the enabling of the Nazi regime in Germany. These are important lessons for life, and it is a tribute to the writer that he challenges as well as entertains.
Some of life’s lessons are indeed heart-breaking as witnessed in ‘The Enemy’ and my own favourite contribution ‘The Unlikely One’. This is a beautiful, evocative story which tears at the heartstrings and shows Flor McCarthy’s empathy with all God’s precious creatures.
These stories would prove excellent resource material for use in the classroom with both younger children, eg ‘Too Much Too late’ and older adolescents, eg ‘The Hardest Step’. ‘The Well’ addresses the reasons for attendance at church in a very thought-provoking way.
Almost everything in this book asks us to go beyond the surface of life and look at what lies beneath. How do we distinguish the appearance from the reality? This for me would be one of the major themes which are addressed. The author takes direct swipes at the cosmetic industry in the stories ‘The Mirrorman’ and ‘Perfume’.
I think as well as the window, mentioned, above we are also asked to look in a mirror and of course a window can reflect back our own image. Do I see myself in these stories and do I feel uncomfortable at times if I do?
I thoroughly enjoyed The Storyteller and could have gone on reading more. All of life is here and as such, it is not all comfortable reading eg., ‘The Hounds’ and ‘Another Kind of Light’. It can be approached on so many levels, for reflection, group and retreat work, as a means of education and a method of self-analysis. Highly recommended.