Years ago, when my children were small, the instinct within surfaced. It was a thing that couldn’t be resisted, though other things sometimes suppressed it by sheer force. It beat against the bonds that Life imposed, like a wild bird caged. And in the end, it escaped. It materialised not as the written word, as might have been expected, but in the spoken word. Squatting down outside a shop, with the three kids sat on the pavement facing me, as we waited for my wife to finish work. The words came, unbidden, emerging from somewhere mysterious.
Not far outside our home town, in a woodland that a main road once passed through, racing carelessly towards a coastal town some twelve miles away. Back then, most of the traffic was in the summer, as people, families, groups headed for the sea and the amusements on sunny days. But now, a new, larger road pursued the coastal town, driven by its growth into a superport. It soared, climbing past the ancient site and the old road alike. And now that new road carried fleets of trucks as well as cars from all points inland. Yet the old wood still languished below, and what it held between the trees.
Seen from the road, small mounds dotted the littered floor of the wood. Unimpressive to those who didn’t understand the name of the location. “Seven Hills”. Not truly descriptive, perhaps, with the small size of the mounds that gave it its name. Those mounds, mysterious, attracting the imagination. Tumuli, burial mounds from the ancient past. And therein was the spark which gave birth to a tale that three children listened to, on warm afternoons, on a busy pavement.
I didn’t know where the story came from beyond the fact that the tumuli were there, in reality. A tale of dark forests and secret people. Of the world changing with the march of a civilization which would leave its mark for millennia. A story of a people who resisted the invaders, the brightly clad, armoured Romans. The tragedy of the primitive tribe battling against the irresistible force of progress, and perishing, falling. Leaders, courageous and bold, slain and carried back, to be buried in the ancient way, with such treasures as they might possess, and their weapons, whole or broken. Committed to the grave mound, the tumulus. And the people singing their sombre songs, little sagas. But in the end, the people failing, dying out, forgotten. Forgotten but for the lonely, untended grave mounds in the forest, in the small wood.
And the three children not only listened as the tale unfolded, an episode at a time, over many days, but they actually asked to hear it told. From the youngest to the oldest, with their differing understandings of what they heard, they were enthralled. Now, with years of growth and cares and concerns of their own, still there are times when, in a mood of reminiscence, they will recall and mention that tale-telling.
And here I must ask questions of you, whether you are a reader or a writer. Do you only read to your children or grandchildren (if you are blessed with them)? When they ask for a story, do you only ever reach for the written word? Do you, perhaps, even write stories for them, which you then read to them? When was the last time that you allowed free rein to your thought, released your imagination or even memory, and told a tale with no written aid? Believe me! There is no greater magic than the relating of the unwritten tale to the eager ears of children, a tale that sparks their imaginations and lets their own mind go beyond, to worlds created in that very instant. If you have the opportunity, try it for yourself. You will learn so much, about words, story telling, and the agile minds of children.