Following in the tradition of storytelling throughout the ages of humanity, storyteller Gail de Vos captivates her audience with tales that hit home. On October 15, our Junior and Senior High students were fully engaged as she told old and new tales. Perfectly timed with the upcoming Halloween atmosphere, Gail told her version of urban myths like ‘The Exploding Toilet’ and ‘The Vanishing Hitchhiker’.
Gail explained that anyone that has ever made up an excuse, engaged in gossip or told a friend about a book or a movie, is a storyteller. Like the way we improvise, elaborate and spin words to suit our ‘audience’, Gail explained how the most effective stories are those that are modified to meet the present time and place. Gail told a story that she performed for a Halloween Graveyard event at Fort Edmonton Park. She craftily incorporated surrounding sounds, scents and objects to increase the ‘fear factor’ of the tale. Readers may have heard the story of the sunbather who woke up with a cheek full of hatching spiders, which is a contemporary adaptation of an ancient cautionary story. Gail told about the 60’s version of the story, which was told with effect to girls with elaborate beehive hairdos who might end up having spiders nesting in it if they didn’t wash their hair more often.
Gail also delved into ancient characters who have stood the test of time and how their stories vary by region and culture. There are many stories told about La Llorona (Weeping Woman), who watches over the lake where she drowned her own children and herself, variously drowning children or protecting them from drowning and/or murdering men, who represent the husband who rejected her. The Golem, from Jewish folklore has appeared in 6 major comics in the past 2 years. The Vanishing Hitchhiker is a 400 year-old-story that has taken on many forms including the 1960s hit ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’. Gail set her version on Alberta Highway 2 near Blackfalds. Canada’s Sasquach and the First Nations’ Wendego also fit into that category.
Gail talked about the current fad of ‘Legend Tripping’ – going into haunted houses and other scary situations – as well as the vicarious version, where we watch YouTube videos of other people doing it. ‘Bloody Mary’ (locking oneself in a dark bathroom and performing the ritual expected to call the murderess through the mirror) is a form of this game that is familiar to many of our students. As our students were not able to name a local haunted house, more creative means have likely been found for Legend Tripping possibly involving the forests surrounding our town.
Comics, graphic novels, animated movies and even computer games are all in the realm of Gail’s interest in popular culture. She explained how ballads are stories told in song and that Disney’s Mulan started out as an ancient ballad. She warned of the danger of progressing from enjoying old and new myths to immersing oneself and losing perspective as in the case of the Slenderman tragedy earlier this year.
Gail de Vos is a professor at the University of Alberta, an award-winning author and a leader in the international storytelling community. She specializes in Urban Legends – those tales we almost believe are news until the truth comes out. She has published several books including the following, which we have in our library and which I’ve linked to their Goodreads entries:
- Tales, Rumors, and Gossip: Exploring Contemporary Folk Literature in Grades 7-12,
- Storytelling for Young Adults: Techniques & Treasury,
- New Tales for Old: Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults (co-authored with Anna E. Altman),
- and her story ‘Room for One More’ can be found in the seasonal favourite Ghostwise: a Book of Midnight Stories collected by Dan Yashinsky.
We feel very fortunate to be able to host a literary artist thanks to the Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers festival, which covers expenses. We cover artists’ fees with the income from our annual Scholastic Book Fair.