Odds Bodkin:
an alternative to The Tick

An interview by Jen Kopf,
August 1995

Once upon a time there was a curriculum designer and outdoor adventure guide who loved what stories and imagination can inspire.

The gentle, bearded man was known as Odds Bodkin. He lived in the Big City known as New York, trying to extend his creativity as a writer and musician.

One day (through his fairy godmother, perhaps -- who knows?), Odds was invited to be the resident storyteller at the Interlocken Center for Experitential Education in New Hampshire.

The magic of the country worked on Odds and his wife, who moved their family to New Hampshire. Today, Odds roams the land as a storyteller, bringing tales of wonder, suspense and adventure to children in many villages and towns.

That, says Odds from his New Hampshire home, is how he came to continue the tradition of oral storytelling.

With more than 100 different voices and tales from every corner of the Earth, it's a quest that has a strong place even in the days of Nintendo, Power Rangers and The Tick cartoon.

It's more, way more, than a sedate book reading.

"My storytelling shows are, really, for those parents who don't think their kids will sit still for two minutes," Odds says with a laugh. As a dad, he should know first hand what works.

Original music helps, played on Celtic harp, 12-string guitar, piano, recorder and percussion instruments. A versatile voice that dances between a growling buffalo and an Indian princess in "The Buffalo's Wife," a Native American myth, draws them in.

Then, Odds says, he has his audience.

"After a few minutes, you can tell they're not really looking at me anymore," he says. "Their imaginations get underway, and they can see it all. They see the story through their own mental imagery. They see the seascapes, the castles, the giants, the dinosaurs in their own minds' eyes, and they have an immediate grasp" of what the story is about.

The creative process that Odds goes through when he finds, or writes, a new story, is basically the same every time. "There are two Muses at work. The first brings together the story and voices, the elements of plot, the ebb and flow of emotions that are in any good story," he says. "The second is the musical Muse. I sort of find a place in me somewhere where the music finds its match with the emotions of the story."

Odds is best known for his collection of recorded performances of children's tales. USA Today recently named his storytelling library one of the 25 best gifts in America. But he's expanding into a more adult level of myth as well. For a festival on philosopher Joseph Campbell, Odds created an active telling of the Arthurian legend of Percival and the fisher king.

"For three months I sat around and played guitar" to work out the story, he says, laughing again. "Sounds glamorous, doesn't it?"

He just completed a four-hour epic retelling of Homer's The Odyssey for ages 10 and up, and may be commissioned to give the same treatment to The Iliad.

Grown-ups and older children aside, Odds spends much of his time on works for younger children -- a calling he sees as extremely important. His recordings even go so far as to target specific age ranges for the listeners, something Odds says is crucial.

"When you have something for ages 2 through 5, they are much more delicate creatures" than are older children, he says. "There are things they just are not ready for, certain emotions and vocabulary and complexity of the story."

Odds also explores the wide pool of cultural influences that creates the myths of different people. "There's a huge multicultural push for artists in this country," he says, "an attempt to answer in artistic form the arrival of so many different people. It's sort of a cliche, but there's beauty and wisdom in everybody's culture."

There are also, he says, "very exciting" similarities between the myths of cultures that otherwise are widely divergent. "The motifs are everywhere, ever repeating. It provokes a lot of curiousity."

And, contrary to what some adults worry, that curiousity has not been dulled for small kids -- they just need a chance to be exposed to a breathless and wide-eyed storyteller.

"With TV, kids are highly visually stimulated," Odds says. "They won't sit still for a calm delivery, they won't take a third-person, detached-voice narrative. But I haven't met a crowd of kids yet who don't respond to someone triggering their imaginations."

[ by Jen Kopf ]

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