Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Tale within a Tale & Two Tasty Teasers!

Nothing is more common form in old-fashioned books than the description of the winter fireside, where the aged grandam narrates to the circle of children that hangs on her lips story after story of ghosts and fairies, and inspires her audience with a pleasing terror.
 —M R James, 'An Evening's Entertainment' in Collected Ghost Stories, Wordsworth Editions, 1992.
A frame story or narrative is simply a literary device that uses one story to frame or introduce one or more other stories. The character in the framing tale is the narrator of the subsequent tale that is also usually a stand-alone story in its own right. These stories give a sense of oral tradition and generally establish an absorbing introduction to the narrative. This literary technique has a long history of use with the earliest evidence found in the Westcar Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian text which dates to the Hyksos period (circa 20th century BCE). The story it relates is known in English as King Cheops and the Magicians. Other famed collections include One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, The Decameron, and Canterbury Tales. While these particular titles have narratives which frame multiple stories, the tale within a tale structure has also been used in novels, individual short stories and plays. 
Unsurprisingly, it has also made its way into tales of the 19th century!

Charles Dickens frames his Gothic A Madman's Manuscript with two brief paragraphs (albeit set within the larger frame of The Pickwick Papers) describing the scene for the reading of an old clergyman's manuscript. The introduction reads as follows:
He had taken a few turns from the door to the window, and from the window to the door, when the clergyman's manuscript for the first time entered his head...drawing a small table towards his bedside, trimmed the light, put on his spectacles, and composed himself to read. ..the paper was much soiled and blotted. The title gave him a sudden start, too; and he could not avoid casting a wistful glance round the room...
 —Charles Dickens, 'A Madman's Manuscript' in Gothic Short Stories, Wordsworth Editions, 2002.
The tale then concludes mere moments before Mr Pickwick's candle expires 'without any previous flicker by way of warning'!

Consider, also, the introduction to 'There was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard' by M R James in Collected Ghost Stories, Wordsworth Editions, 1992.
This, you know, is the beginning of the story about sprites and goblins which Mamilius, the best child in Shakespeare, was telling to his mother the queen, an the court ladies, when the king came in with his guards and hurried her off to prison. There is no more of the story: Mamilius died soon after without having a chance of finishing it.Now what was it going to have been? Shakespeare knew, no doubt, and I will be bold to say that I do. It was not going to be a new story: it was to be one which you have most likely heard, and even told. Everybody may set it in what frame he likes best. This is mine...
A tried and tested technique, a tale within a tale continues to tantalise, and any story which makes use of this device would make an interesting addition to our Tales of Mystery, Suspense and Terror anthology! (Send us your submissions, the deadline is 31 May 2014.)

This blog post was written in the spirit of the April 2014 A-Z Challenge whereby a post is written every day during the month of April (with the exception of Sunday). The theme of each post is meant to correspond with a letter of the alphabet in sequential order. Tomorrow's post will be on U. For details and to visit the A-Z Challenge website, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment