Thursday, 18 October 2012

Reading in the Arctic

I paid a visit to the cathedral today. The cathedral we call it in Orkney, partly because it's the only one in the county, partly because St Magnus Cathedral is the most beautiful anywhere. In my opinion. 

I peered at the book held down by the butt of a rifle beside the statue of John Rae asleep in the Arctic, but couldn't make out the title. In Fatal Passage it's reported that Rae always carried a copy of Shakespeare with him wherever he went, so it may be that. Shakespeare in the Arctic, a thought to conjure with. "Blow winds and crack your cheeks ..."  It won't be Oliver Twist anyway, I imagine, since Charles Dickens joined in the howl of outrage at John Rae when he reported that the earlier expedition of Franklin to find the North West Passage ended in starvation, death and cannibalism.  Next year is the bicentenary of John Rae's birth. Maybe that will help to put the record straight:

Readers' Views

"Reading takes me to places I can only imagine and lets me meet people I would never know." Anonymous comment

"Reading is important to me because it's breathing for the brain. I learnt to read when I was three." Anonymous comment

Oral versus Written

I'm having a great conversation with Tom Muir, the Orkney Storyteller about the differences and tensions between the oral and written traditions.

"Some of the stories that I tell are from purely oral tradition, but most of them were written down. This did save them from being lost, but it also raises another issue. The book is a very powerful thing and once something is written down and published it takes on an air of authority and becomes ‘right’. 

I experienced this in the Faroes several years ago when I was working with my friend Lawrence Tulloch from Shetland running a workshop on telling stories. It became apparent that while Jakob Jakobsen saved many stories from oblivion, he had inadvertently created a monster in the form of the ‘right’ version. Stories are communally shared between families and districts, with variations from place to place. What many modern Faroese people didn’t appreciate was that the versions written by Jakobsen were only his version of one telling of the story. He would have found other variations of the same story on his travels but just selected the one which is now considered to be the ‘right’ version of the story and anyone who tells it differently is ‘wrong’. 

For this very reason a lot of American First Nation storytellers are reluctant to have their stories written down; to them the important thing it that they are told. While this is a nice thought it does leave the story vulnerable to be wiped out should the storyteller die without anyone else taking up the story."

You can hear Tom and other storytellers at the Orkney Storytelling Festival from the 25-28 October. Here is the link: 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Tell me your stories about reading; share your experiences of Orkney Libraries; let me know your favourite books and tell me why you like them.