Over the course of my storytelling life, I have marveled at how kids react to villains.
Depending on what that character is doing, kids turn on a dime. They will love that character right up until the moment he betrays them, and then that character is dead to them.
They don’t care what happens to the villain as long as he/she gets their comeuppance and they are happy to punish the character in whatever horrible way the story decides.
Rumpelstiltskin is a great example of this.
|actor Robert Carlyle as Rumpel in Once Upon A Time|
He shows up at Anna’s great need, and spins the straw to gold. The first two times he takes baubles from her. The kids find the little elf man funny. Whenever he is about to appear I make a specific sound and hand movement.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! (My hands open and close as I move them in a circle. This happens every time the little man is set to appear. By his third appearance, they have this down to a science and they take over doing it in the story. I become the audience for them.)
He has a funny voice and gestures, and moves in a quirky manner. He sings a little song as he spins, and they start doing it with me by the the second time through. They adore him.
Then he crosses that line from savior to sinner. He asks for her baby in return for his services.
The children gasp in disbelief and shock. They can’t imagine he’s serious. They beg Anna not to agree. She speaks to herself, but really to the sea of shocked children,
“What if the king is lying? Maybe he won’t marry me. Even if he does marry me, maybe I won’t have a child. Some people don’t have children. The future could be anything, but right now? Right now I’m in trouble.”
So, she agrees to give up her child. The children are upset. They still spin gold with the little man, but the tide has turned. They are no longer looking forward to seeing him.
The next series of events unfolds until the queen has a baby. Usually one or two children whisper, “Oh no.” under their breath.
I continue, “Then, one morning, she heard a sound she hadn’t heard in almost two years. What sound was that?”
The children make the sound, but they are not enthusiastic about it.
When he shows up to collect the baby, they are now pulling for Anna to get the right name. Some kids, the ones who know the story, can barely hold themselves together. Most of them don’t remember the name. Those who do are trying to reassure their classmates sitting around them that it is going to be all right.
The first two days she does not guess correctly.
Then, the maid arrives with the little song that breaks the whole story open.
“My lady, I saw a strange little man. He was dancing around a fire and singing this little song.”
Today, I brew
Tomorrow I bake
On the third day
The queen’s baby I’ll take!
The queen must guess
This game she can’t win
For my name is RUMPELSTILTSKIN!
At the end of this little song, the audience lets out a collective breath and the kids get really excited.
The queen says, “Thank you.”
I give the audience a knowing look and say, “A few hours later, you know what she heard.”
Now, up to this point in the story, whenever the children made the dinging sound and the hand movements, they mirror the way I did it with exactly the same gestures. Some of them actually stop making the sound after he asks for the baby. They want no part of bringing the little horror back into the story.
This last time, however, when they know Rumpelstiltskin is about to get his comeuppance, they all lose their collective minds.
The exuberance with which they start making that sound, and the forcefulness of their hand motions is amazing. It always startles the educators and adults in the room. At least, it startles the ones who aren’t participating. The grown ups who are participating are just as excited as the kids.
That horrible little man who they loved so well at the beginning of the story is about to get his little green clad butt kicked, and they cannot wait to see it.
Personally, I always felt sorry for Rumpel. I mean, he was helping Anna out. True, he did get greedy at the end, but if her father hadn’t told that horrendous lie to begin with, she wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.
I always thought he got a bum rap.
The kids in my audiences don’t have this problem.
I wonder if I would have had their experience if I’d had a storyteller tell me the tale as opposed to hearing it on a record. I wonder if I would have felt the same if I’d had that little man in my body and voice as he betrayed the helpless girl who was at the mercy of an exaggerating father and greedy soon to be husband.
I’ll never know. My audiences, however, are not the least bit confused about why he should get punished.
The last half of this year I was telling social justice tales in schools. These are stories about people with power taking advantage of people who had no sure way to face them.
The children had no trouble identifying when the person in power was doing something wrong. In fact, they would yell at him/her.
When one character decided he didn’t want poor or ugly people around him, I heard about it vociferously from my audience. When one character stole from another, I heard about it. The kids had no patience for injustice. They were quick to call it out and let me know it was no bueno!
My favorite moment was when the West Wind stole cornmeal from Willa and offered her a ratty old tablecloth as a a fair trade when he could not return it.
I said, “Willa looked up at the North Wind, then she looked at that ratty tablecloth and said…”
Before I could get the next line out of my mouth, a third grader sitting a couple of rows back shook his head and said, “Bro!”
The kids around him nodded. That was the only possible reply one could give to somebody taking something valuable and then offering you a big rag as compensation.
I replied, “Pretty much,” and went on with the tale.
I was quite proud of our children all across the country.
I hope, as they get older, they keep their ability to recognize injustice, cruelty, liars, hatred, and intolerance. I hope they call it out when they encounter it. I hope they feel the same outrage in the world around them if they witness the abuse of power, and I hope they choose to stand agains it in times to come.
Happy Telling –