Tuck me in
When a child, hoping to prolong bedtime says, “Tell me a story!” a parent has to come up with something. The art of storytelling has to kick in. On the spot.
Your child wants a bedtime story, but it’s hard to think of anything night after night. So you make up some outrageous tale. Nothing is too wacky. Anything goes. The weirder the better.
I know the scenario well. For my daughter, I invented people and got into character. Accents and all. They would visit and tell her stories. One of our favorites was an English couple, Hildegarde and Harold. It was entertaining for both of us. And gave me material for days, even months or years!
How did Hildegarde enter my head? Old British sitcoms we watched back then on PBS likely had something to do with it. Shows like “Keeping up Appearances” and “Waiting for God.” Thanks BBC!
The best part
Alas, my characters and their stories did not translate into bestsellers. But ending our days with cuddling and giggling? That was the best reward.
“The act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.” — definition from Merriam-Webster
Many famous books, and series of books are a result of parents’ storytelling antics. They’re not always told at bedtime, and all aren’t sweet, charming stories for children. Some are quite disturbing. Dark, even. But they have something in common — crazy amounts of imagination. Crazy.
Sweeter than honey
“Winnie-the-Pooh,” by A.A. Milne
“It’s easier to lose a thing, than to find it.” — Pooh
Is there anyone who doesn’t adore the story of a honey-loving, innocent, cuddly, sweet bear named Pooh, and his buddies? Milne based Winnie-the-Pooh on his son, Christopher Robin’s teddy bear, around 1925. The other characters, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo were Christopher’s stuffed toys. These sweet, charming characters live on and have adventures in the Hundred Acre wood.
Mad as a hatter
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll (neé Charles Dodgson)
“How do you know I’m mad,” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the [Cheshire] Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Is anything nuttier than Alice in Wonderland? (That’s a compliment.) I’m in wonderment (ha!) of such imagination. It started in 1862 as a story told to the three daughters of friends (one named Alice) while on a rowing trip. Yes. A rowing trip.
A name that promises imagination
“Pippi Longstocking,” by Astrid Lindgren
“But I’m the strongest girl in the world, don’t forget.” — Pippi
The story was a request in the 1940s by Lindgren’s daughter who named the character herself. Pippi has red hair and freckles, an unusual personality, and superhuman strength. She is playful and capricious, and she doesn’t want to grow up. And, Pippi lives alone with her pet horse and monkey. Alone. Would this story publish today? Who knows.
A gentle giant
“The BFG (Big Friendly Giant),” by Roald Dahl.
The BFG settled himself comfortably in his chair and crossed his legs. “Dreams,” he said, “is very mysterious things. They is floating around in the air like little wispy-misty bubbles. And all the time they is searching for sleeping people.”
Roald Dahl wrote many extraordinary stories and this one from 1982 is no exception. The BFG is the story of a giant who captured dreams and kept them in bottles for children to enjoy while they slept. Dahl entertained his young daughters with the story. He even climbed on a ladder outside their window acting as the BFG to blow dreams through their window. Now that’s what I call an elaborate bedtime routine!
Going down the rabbit hole
“Watership Down,” by Richard Adams
“Animals don’t behave like men,’ he said. ‘If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”
This is an epic, serious tale of a bunch of rabbits searching for a new home. Adams improvised the story during long car rides with his two young daughters. They later encouraged their father to write it all down. Completed in 18 months, and published in 1972, he dedicated the book to his two girls. But I wouldn’t call this a children’s story. Not at all. Watership Down, the rabbits’ destination, is a hill in England, near where the author grew up.
An elephant in the room
“Babar,” by Jean de Brunhoff
In 1931 Brunhoff’s wife, Cecile invented a story of an elephant in the jungle. After a hunter kills his mother, he goes to a big city. (Ugh. Horrible. Can you say, Bambi?) He meets An Old Lady (her official name) who gives him clothes, a place to live, and an education. A talking, sophisticated, upright (uptight?) elephant. Can you tell I’m not a fan of this story? Many aren’t. But I have to credit the Brunhoffs for their eccentric imagination.
Imagination and artistry
These two go together like pen and ink, pencil and paper, arts and letters, rise and shine, like … well, you get the gist.
As long as there’s imagination, there’s storytelling. Here are a few others. And I’m sure there are many more. And more to come. Always.
- “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle,” by Betty MacDonald
- “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,” by Rick Riordan
- “Thomas the Tank Engine,” by Wilbert Awdry
- “Just So Stories,” by Rudyard Kipling
Have you made up any crazy stories? Or have you listened to any? Do you have a favorite outrageous tale?