Sometimes we come across something by pure chance and we know immediately it is going to be relevant and important for the rest of our lives. When I was in my college years it was music-wise Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut album, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love and Björk’s Medulla. Film-wise it must have been Kill Bill, Big Fish and Absolute Giganten, a German film from 1999 by Sebastian Schipper set in Hamburg about the urge to have to leave it behind and break out into the wide world – under the name Gigantic it was shown in the Goethe-Institut in 2015 with English subtitles. When I read online in 2010 that the main actor Frank Giering had died aged 38 I left my desk immediately at work in Staines to have a moment to myself. Later I followed the few online obituaries, and someone posted he had been watching Absolute Giganten when it came out and had been jealous about not being 16 when seeing it first – I had been 16 and I am quite sure I know what the author of this comment meant.
It is later through your twenties that these very important somethings cross your way less (or go under between all other things changing your life) and while you might become more confident trusting your intuition when meeting new people, the wonders with real impact find you less frequently. I would like to count a trip of a lifetime from Bangkok via Cambodia to Vietnam beyond these, a very spontaneously bought ticket for the Lady Gaga concert of her The Born This Way Ball tour in Twickenham, the release of the fourth Franz Ferdinand album and seeing Kate Bush in Hammersmith. But you get the idea: There is assurance and confirmation already set in the planning which takes the surprise of your experience already away.
Discovering the Crick Crack Club and their Fairytales for Grown Ups in London two and half year ago though was very unexpected and I am still astonished about the impact it has on me: An evening of storytelling in the Soho Theatre about the Russian witch Baba Yaga by Xanthe Gresham Knight made me so incredibly happy by giving me an immense feeling of warmth and knowing that I was at the right place at the right time that I became not only hypnotized for the evening but addicted and have tried to join every single storytelling in various locations in London since. Work, travel and health sometimes got in the way but I feel reminded every time I go that this is why I am going to work, why it is worth caring about the world and everyone’s well-being. I want to go so far to say that listening to stories live is now responsible for a big part of my sanity.
I was there when the Crick Crack Club started the Epic Sundays once a month in the British Museum and here I am once again under the red moon in the Lecture Theatre for another session of Myths Retold. The stories told here have a historic context and often go along with a current exhibition – currently it is Living with Gods. Today I am alone and that is okay; both museum and storytelling work well on your own.
We are taken to ancient Greece by Ben Haggarty this time who founded the Crick Crack Club in 1987 and will give a Q&A today afterwards. I have not read Homer as I never knew where to start, what translation to read, what edition with whose comments and because every time I look into it again I am overwhelmed by the sheer endless canon of Roman and Greek Mythology. And we indeed hear of numerous Greek gods and goddesses, of nymphs, centaurs and titans, Olymp and ambrosia and the winged, egg laying personification of hunger in its most terrible form.
You can never visit the British Museum too many times and every single time I am taken back to when I came here first as a tourist admiring Brad Pitt’s original costume from the film Troy, just upstairs in the Grand Hall. On that trip I decided that one day I would live in London and leaving Hamburg behind.
It is in the Q&A where I learn a lot I did not expect: That writing has only been around for 5000 years but that oral storytelling must have been around since people met at fires after dark, that the written word has taken the fluidity of a story as a written word can be referred to and been used as proof while before it was retold and developed back and forth – not only the traditions of bards but the Old Testament and the surrounding myths in Judaism and Christianity are named examples, pushed in the background by the authority and establishment of a book. I think of my literature studies in Dresden beginning with reading the Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs) in Middle High German and my head spins.
I learn how important the dark is when telling a story to get the acoustic response (breath, rustle, gasp, laugh) from the audience and adapt the style of narration, about the storytellers of our times (preachers, politicians and stand-up comedians), the theory of us all being Homo Narrans (homo sapiens being a misleading term as the human is not wise by default but always narrating), microphones making a storytelling too static and the whole genre not working when filmed (Girolamo from Michael Ende’s timeless book Momo comes to my mind) and also about breaking the fourth wall. I learn that most storytellers earn their money from being invited by private schools since the Brixton Riots in 1981 spread nationwide and led to a reorganization of the education sector and that children learn speech and language and its control and emphasis actually far before learning to write and read and further that a storyteller has to develop empathy for all characters in the story while an actor just has to concentrate on a single role.
I am also confirmed that ancient myths and their sources are indeed so vast that they will all contradict themselves at some point and I agree that it is not important which are true because all variations are possible – have them all instead and remove reduction. I learn that myth is a big work requiring big thinking and mythical and mythological thinking is what is common in all human thinking.
Honour and Respect.
***** out of 5 stars
The exhibition Living With Gods closed, general access to the British Museum is free.
The Crick Crack Club’s Epic Sundays at the British Museum continues.
The Crick Crack Club runs a crowdfunding project via https://chuffed.org/project/30years