Joseph Daniel Sobol,
The Storytellers' Journey:
An American Revival

(University of Illinois Press, 1999)

The Storytellers' Journey takes the reader through the birth, growth, and transformation of the storytelling community over the past 25-30 years. Historically, storytellers played an important role in many cultures, as those who kept the traditions, customs, myths and legends of the group alive through oral tradition. Over time, that role changed, and in some cultures, nearly disappeared. Storytelling became the province of teachers and librarians, as an educational tool to reinforce a lesson or a means to introduce children to literature. Through the revival process, storytelling took on a new professional dimension in contemporary culture.

Sobol, himself a storyteller, examines the evolution of the movement which he compares to the folk music revival of the '40s and '50s. The nucleus for the revitalization lies in Jonesborough, Tenn., home of the annual National Storytelling Festival and what is now the National Storytelling Member Association. Founded by Jimmy Neil Smith, a former journalism teacher, the festival was the first event that recognized the storyteller as a separate entity.

This is a scholarly work, looking at the phenomenon of storytelling on a number of levels: social, mythic, psychological and cultural. Beginning with a chapter called "The Archetype of the Storyteller," Sobol follows a chronological path to the present while analyzing the events, some serendipitous, that created the movement. He interweaves a number of comments from interviews with professional storytellers into the text, and the commentaries help leaven a densely written book.

Sobol's ideas and observations are interesting, and his work is meticulously researched. It is, however, best suited to readers with a specific interest in the subject. The writing is solid and thoughtful, but it will appeal most to those who have already taken the storytellers' journey, even if only in spirit.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 30 May 1999

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