N. has long loved books, but recently he has been particularly interested in oral story-telling. He wants to hear funny stories about our childhoods. He tells Tim meandering, plotless stories, often about trains, on the long walks (3 miles sometimes!) they take every day. He asks Tim to tell him stories called “The Princess and the Restaurant” or “The Princess and the Other Castle,” or “The Princess and the Five Sons.” A recurring character in these stories is someone called Princess Huka-buka.
I find making up stories on the spot incredibly difficult; I am not particularly creative in that way (that’s why I am a literary critic, not a novelist, much as I would love to write a novel!). I am self-conscious and can’t really let go of my judgmental tendency and just tell whatever occurs to me. I’m going to work on this as the summer progresses, because I’d like to get into story-telling more. After all, oral story-telling is the oldest narrative art and thus seems to offer a connection to an ancient way of being human. Tim seems to enjoy the challenge of story-telling, and also to understand better than I do that a child’s idea of what makes a good story is probably not as limited as an adult’s, so anything goes. Indeed, the sillier the better.
Tim has been reading N. a lot of Grimm’s tales recently, in a hard-core authentic translation, of course (the bizarreness and violence of which occasionally shocks my prim ears), so I guess that is in part where this princess theme comes from. Also, his best friends, who are sisters just a bit younger than him, like to dress up as princesses a lot.
“I like Princess Stories,” N. said last week, “but I don’t really know what a Princess is."