Seeds of Tellers – The secret nature of tales

In previous articles, we spoke about the project Seeds of Tellers in itself and why we can use tales to promote oracy, and we also spoke of the concepts and meaning of “seeds” and of “tellers”. But we may ask ourselves, what are tales exactly and why do we tell tales?

What are tales and why are they so important?

All over the world, from immemorial times, parents have told tales to their children. But people have also told tales to other people, regardless of age or gender. Of course, there are different tales in different languages, but the same action has been repeated generation after generation  everywhere. How come all of humanity has been doing the exact same thing all over the world and all over time?

Telling tales is natural.

One can argue that telling tales is an intrinsic part of being human, and one might just be right. Tales are the medium by which our ancestors have been transmitting important life lessons and information. Myths and other legends are all tales in their own right, and a lot of them carry a message. Their message may have changed over time, but their core values remain.  

Tales may often speak of bravery, of compassion, of intelligence over brute strength, of the importance of love and family, of bad deeds and their consequences, of laughter and happiness, of incredible journeys and difficult trials, of magical wonders even but also, of evil and tears. They paint the world with simpler colours, they show us the different aspects of humanity. More than that, they allow to explain the world and to connect with other through a common culture.

What makes a tale a tale?

A tale is basically a narrative, usually fictional, that may feature a morale at the end, or at least teach a morale or a lesson. Nowadays, a lot of tales are used as warnings, especially to teach children not to do some things or to provide them with a sense of security and wonder.

Their narratives are generally short. We can sometimes recognise a tale with the short customary beginning and ending sentences. The famous “once upon a time…” is only one of them. And usually, it ends with “and they lived happily ever after, the end.” These allow the reader or listener to immerse themselves fully in the tale’s world and to know when to emerge out of it. But not all tales start or end with these sentences.

Tales often have some recurring themes or elements. Older tales often feature animals with human attributes and attitudes. They usually represent one exacerbated character trait, such as greed, intelligence, strength, etc. They can be seen as a colourful mirror of humanity. The main recurring animals change according to the region where the tale originated. In central Europe, some of the most viewed animals are the fox and the wolf who represent the eternal fight between cunning (fox) and brute strength (wolf). This fight is often featured in old tales. Princes and princesses also often feature in old tales, generally as a goal to reach for someone from a lower class. They either want to become one, or to marry one. Also, the hero of tales is often confronted to trials in order to obtain what they want or need.

Pixabay: picture by DarkWorkX

Pixabay: by Prawny

Nature and certain places have a big importance as well. The forest is typically a particularly important place. It represents danger, the unknown, the hidden. It is the place where hunters hunt their preys, but it is also the place where you can hide. It is the place where you can get lost, but also the place where you can find the most unexpected help. The forest is symbolically important and plays an almost sentient role in some old tales. Nature and plants by extension can play a sentient role as well.

There are different types of tales, from etiological tales that explain the genesis of something, to fairy tales, facetious tales, etc. Tales that explain the origin or the state of something are more numerous than we might think. In that category, we can even find narratives that are not traditionally perceived as tales, such as the myths of gods or the creation of the world as we know it. They can take the most unexpected forms, and all of us may refer to tales daily without realising it.

Where do tales come from?

Tales usually originate in oral tradition, but one may find tales in written form, illustrated form or adapted on screen as a movie, an animation, or a series as well.

Tales were not always as cute and happy as we know them nowadays. Tales today are mainly oriented towards children, but a couple of centuries ago, they were darker, had more sombre meanings and were more oriented towards an adult audience. Many famous tales have been revisited by Disney and now have lighter stories with happy endings. This has a reassuring effect on children. But their original version was not always so bright and shiny. Some very dark subjects and themes used to be tackled in tales, such as cannibalism or murder.

Why are tales so important?

Regardless of their original meaning or evolution, tales have been a constant in all of our childhoods. We all know them; they are part of our cultural horizon from a young age. They brought us wonder and a sense of familiarity. They still inspire numerous people everyday. This is why tales were always told and will always be told. They could almost be said to be like a grand-parent: familiar, wise and reassuring. They bring us pure emotion and involve us in a world where the rules are different. We know that in the end, whatever the trials, the heroes will prevail and even though they are weaker, their intelligence or benefactors will help them overcome their challenges. They encourage us to push through difficult times and to do our best. They allow us to face our anxieties in a safe environment, where we know that everything will be alright in the end. They touch our heart and stay with us long into adulthood. This is how tales are so powerful, and why we should continue to tell tales.

Related projects:

Adapted ebooks to support disadvantaged learners’s literacy

Create a methodology to use comics as a pedagogical tool for inclusive English language learning.