#storymooc: About a story I remember – and why

Today’s post will be – in English. ”Huh? English, howcome?” you might say – and I’ll tell you why: Well, it’s because this is also a post for my MOOC.
– Your… what?
– My umm, MOOC…?

OK, I’ll explain. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, and is a next-bigh-thing in distance-learning. I’m telling you, all ye stale old Swedish universities, trying to keep up distance courses – this thing’s here to stay, and their interfaces are beating the shit out of yours even as we speak…

(Sorry about that, the state of interface design for online learning platforms has been a pet peave of mine ever since I started studying at distance. Ask any distance student – we all know this to be true. And YES, this includes the school where I’ve studied usability and interface design. The irony…! I’d laugh if it wasn’t so damned tragic…)

But anyways. I’m taking a MOOC as extra-curricular activity, starting now and until just before Christmas. I know I shouldn’t have, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pass on this… It’s called The Future of Storytelling, I mean – you see my dilemma here, don’t you? How could I possibly not take it…? As every year, when October is starting to fade and November comes up, I start thinking of NaNoWriMo. I know I don’t really have time for it, and know it will only make me sad to fail again – for however human and understandable reasons, but it’s the same deal there, I can’t really just let it go. But when this course came up I decided in an instant – I’ll do the course instead. I’ll do the assignments if I have time for them, but if not that’s fine too. But I’ll learn something, filling my warehouse with inspiration and energy, and it will just be fun.

Storytelling is also more than just writing books. Today, with all information overload we’re living in and to one degree or another suffer from, anything that you want to get through to someone else will have to be ”storytold”. The first lecture of the course brings up a number of terms, among others there are ”hook, hold and payoff”, which is what every story needs to do, to keep their audiences. Now, any marketer out there who doesn’t get what THAT is all about? There’s a lot of talk of storytelling in other areas than strictly cultural these days, simply because storytelling appeals to our attention, and our attention is in a way the Holy Grail of our time.

It all fits together quite nicely: On one hand I’m studying linguistics and plain language and grammar and structure and all that, and on the other hand I’m now aiming to learn a bit more of what needs to come underneath the grammar. The content, the story itself. The key to the Grail, if you will.

So enough of the justifications already – I’m taking the course and that’s it – on to the first assignment, the real reason I’m writing this in English. I’m writing my respons to this weeks creative task here, because it’ll just be easier for me to keep track of it here, but I will link back to it from the course-forum to ”submit” my assignment.

***

So. Here goes:

The assignment is to retell a favourite story, and try to analyse what makes it such a great one.

One story I remember enormously from my childhood was the animated film Krabat that I saw in school as an 8 or 9-year-old. Today the animated film seems very simple and slow – but to me, back then, it was amazing. I have since read the book several times (it’s a rather classical story by German author Otfried Preussler),plus watched the movie remake they made a few years back. I love all of them, so I’m a total sucker for this story, one might conclude…!

It is set in medieval times, and starts with a poor orphan boy, Krabat, wandering around and singing christmas songs for food and hope of a place to sleep for the night. He starts dreaming of ravens calling his name, telling him to come to a mill in a village he’s never heard of. And after three nights of dreaming this, he decides to leave his friends and go look for the mill. He finds it, and although the miller is a scary old man, Krabat is happy to be accepted as an apprentice in the mill.

Krabat works hard and grows friends with the other 11 apprentices at the mill, but eventually it turns out it is no ordinary mill, and the miller is no ordinary miller. There are also lessons of black magic and the boys are in fact prisoners or hostages to the evil miller. Every new years eve one of them may challenge their master to a fight for freedom, but the master always wins this black magic challenge, and so the life continues in the mill, for another year. And another.

The apprentices are sometimes sent on missions to the surrounding villages, and during one of these missions he sees and falls in love with a girl, Kantorka. And in the end, of course, it’s the love that saves him and the other apprentices, and finally brings down the evil miller.

It’s a rather classical story. You have a hero being a poor orphan boy struggling against winter, homelessness and starvation. Just when he thinks he’s saved, it turns out he’s really gotten himself in trouble, and the real adventure starts – even if most of it consists of just surviving in the mill, and the evil millers lessons of black magic. When he finds love, finally he has one more motive than just staying alive – he wants to live again. And love leads the way, as it always does.

Already as a child I loved the parts showing the bonding between the boys in the mill, against the evil that had them captured. And of course the excitement of the dark and evil magic that the miller stood for, I think of all evil antagonists I ever read about in my childhood, the miller was the worst, darkest one, because evil was ”just” his nature, there was no motive, nothing to reason with. (I realise this is true for every witch or monster or whatever a child might read about, but somehow this seemed more ”real”, fictional as though it was. It was told as a historical story rather than a fairytale, perhaps that was it? I’m not sure – but it worked fine on me…!

There. A bit about my ultimate story!

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