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Medieval Storytelling

Last year I participated in an AHRC workshop on medieval storytelling. The workshop was not what I expected, but It was an interesting experience. Although not all of the stated aims were met, but again from my experience that is not unusual.

The focus of the workshop was on storytelling for children in general rather than on the retelling of medieval stories for a modern audience at keystage 2. There was some discussion of adaptation in terms of what needed to be removed from the ‘original’ medieval tale, but not much about what needed to be retained in order to keep a sense of the medieval world.

For me the modern adaptation of stories created and told within the medieval period depends a great deal on the reason why these stories are being adapted for a modern audience. If the purpose is to give keystage 2 children a sense of life in the medieval world then much of the ‘original’ story would have to be kept.

Adaptations of these stories should be recast in language accessible to children and yes they would on occasion have to be rendered less sexually explicit, but on the other hand removing all religious references and recasting gender roles would mean that the modern retelling no longer reflects the medieval culture within which these stories were told. Such heavy recasting is of course perfectly acceptable if you are simply telling a story without placing any educational constraints on it.

Adaptation, retelling, recasting – however you want to think about it has a long and well accepted tradition. What matters is why you are telling the story in the first place.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Medieval Storytelling

  1. I would agree. There are several children’s books I’ve seen in the past that downplayed the educational aspect (Frida comes to mind) to make the story more “consumable”…. but I’ll also seen plenty that don’t remove the religious aspect. As a child who grew up in a Buddhist household, it always just felt like any religious part of a story (or magical part), and so was accepted without a second glance as just being part of the fiction.

    1. Thanks for commenting Alex.
      I must admit that I prefer the books that keep in the religious/magic aspect of ancient cultures and i believe it can be done without being heavy handed. In some cases it has led to books being classified as fantasy rather than historical fiction which is an interesting development in its own right.

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