Become lost in classic myths and legends told by Master Storyteller Odds Bodkin. Pre-teens to adults will enjoy The Odyssey, Beowulf (NEW), Hercules, Sir Percival, Viking Myths, The Iliad: Book I (video) and David and Goliath, all told with unforgettable characters and music. Find out more here!
From a recent Susanna Schrobsdorff Time article, Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright:
“If you wanted to create an environment to churn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,” says Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Sure, parental micromanaging can be a factor, as can school stress, but Whitlock doesn’t think those things are the main drivers of this epidemic. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from,” she says.
In my life I meet families all the time whose kids have grown up with my audio stories. At some point the parents found them in this wild, busy world and exposed their children to them during their formative years. For instance, I just met Stephanie from Pennsylvania, a great mom who invited me to perform there a couple of weeks ago. Afterwards she wrote me a kind letter, part of which said,
“I am proud that in our modern age, your stories played a large role in my children’s lives for several years. I can’t remember if I told you that for years we imitated the saluting bedbugs, or that we created an elaborate drip-sand castle and forest at the beach for the lovely Bargaglina after listening to The Little Shepherd on the way to Cape May Point. And of course you know about the Odyssey on the way to the Bay of Fundy. Your stories were such a gift to my kids’ development!”
So maybe part of the cure for kids going off the rails is mythic storytelling. Old tales, filled with the struggles of men and women who are long gone but whose stories tell us that yes, life is rugged and has its dark times, but heroes are people who overcome those obstacles because they never give up. People who are driven by love or honor or just the deep motivation to survive.
And that’s just the story part. The other healthful factor is imagination itself, the natural sort our minds are capable of. When we imagine, endorphins are released into the bloodstream, much like a runner’s high. The cerebral cortex lights up like a fire, drawing on memories and feelings from deep inside, rather than stimulus from that social media cauldron beyond ourselves. It’s a creative act, and quite refreshing. Imagination in childhood becomes creativity in adulthood, and we live in times when creativity and adaptability are premium skills. If there’s one thing young people can count on in their futures these days, it’s rapid change. Unpredictable change.
For younger kids, fairytales operate in the same beneficial way. The Little Shepherd is one I just performed for three hundred K-2 public school kids last week. For twenty-five minutes they sat, still and quiet, for this longest story in the show, all of them lost in fantasy. What’s the value of that? Well, as Bruno Bettelheim wrote in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairytales, “While the fantasy is unreal, the good feelings it gives us about ourselves and our future are real, and these good feelings are what we need to sustain us.”
“Oh, Hercules, I find your story so exciting!” effuses Persephone, Hades’ unhappy wife. Hercules has landed in the Underworld, a place he didn’t expect to be.
“Do you?” he asks, disgusted at the situation. He’s been telling his life story in order to get out of here and go to Olympus. Persephone, Hades’ unwilling wife, longs for news of the living, which until a moment ago Hercules was. But now he’s dead.
Hades doesn’t like his wife’s tone. “Oh, hold your heart back, Persephone,” he says jealously, wondering if this confession business was a good idea. He tries to make Persephone happy, but considering that he’s raped, abducted and imprisoned her here in the Land of the Dead, it’s a hard sell. She hates him. “He won’t be here long.”
Hercules has lived a hard, terrifying life. The last thing he wants to do is remember it for these two. “Let me go now and I’ll stop right here,” he growls sarcastically.
“Calm yourself,” Hades demands.
“Calm myself,” he retorts, getting angry. “Do you think it makes me calm to sit here and tell all this to you two dreary souls?” His voice has risen.
“Hades, he is rude!” she complains.
“Uh, yes,” Hades responds, “Hercules, shades like you typically do not speak here. If you’d like me to remove your voice…”
“No, no, no, I’ll calm myself,” the dead hero replies. “Oh, yes. I learned to do it. Took a long time…”
This is the fictional setting I use to tell the myth of Hercules. Only the characters speak. There is no narration from me. Just Hercules, Hades, Persephone and a host of other voices from Hercules’ sad, shattered life. That and a full, ongoing score on 12-string guitar with an introduction on Celtic harp. The tale is a long one, but it’s filled with humor, tragedy, adventure and in the end, hope. And I hope you’ll join me this coming Sunday evening, April 23rd at 8 p.m. in Cambridge, MA to hear it and imagine along with me. The venue is Grendel’s Den. Enjoy a mythic Greek meal, good drinks and some adult storytelling!
Tickets are here.
Is your child or grandchild a good imaginer?
Build your child’s imagination away from the screen now. Save $74 on Odds Bodkin’s amazing audio stories with music from world cultures. 10 classic story collections plus epics––The Myth of Hercules, The Hidden Grail, David and Goliath and the 4-hour Odyssey! All for $99.
Coming soon! BEOWULF: THE ONLY ONE. A heroic tale brought to life in spoken word and music.
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What makes modern kids intelligent and adaptable in such a rapidly changing world? What is a critical factor in the educational system that gets short shrift? I think it’s teaching kids to imagine, as a basic skill. Learning numbers is necessary, and we all need to learn them, but considering the amount of cheating going on––web assisted, in colleges across America––I would humbly submit that these cheating kids do so because they’re unappreciative of the hard work of learning, and the reason that learning is such hard work for them is because digital life has robbed them of something.
Native human imagination.
It doesn’t happen on a screen, but within the brain itself. The true nature of intelligence––the human ability to look around at the world, see what needs to be done for survival and imagine solutions––includes the inventiveness to make the inventions themselves that solve the problems. Even if those inventions are not machines or technology, but social processes.
Learning theories abound out there. Once long ago, during a Door to Imagination Workshop I was offering, a woman educator sat back, rather startled, and said, “What you’ve described here is a genuine learning theory.” I’ve never forgotten that. She was right, I think, in that the simple act of imagining builds neural nets in kids’ brains. It doesn’t really matter what they’re imagining, as long as they’re tapping this hidden gift they’ve all been born with. Imagination in childhood becomes creativity in adulthood. And vision. And drive. The stories don’t matter. The neural activity is what matters.
I’ve been in the business of telling stories to kids since 1982. It’s not that I’m trying to use fairytales, myths and legends to convince kids that those old stories are real, because they’re not, although they all carry ethical lessons. No, it’s because I know that archetypal stories carry a pulse that’s ancient and strong enough to get modern, digitally-distracted kids to imagine them in the first place.
Not by watching.
When kids imagine, their brains light up, according to PET scans. The learning theory is to forge new, underutilized, under-myelinized neural connections to build their basic intelligence structures. Wasn’t there some presidential election where “the vision thing” was an issue?
It doesn’t matter what the kids become in life when they grow up. It’s how they approach whatever they become imaginatively, so they can run clear-eyed scenarios for their futures, take stock of what’s going on around them (we are in unique times, I must say) and use their creative minds to fix the problems and survive.
To explore samples of how this learning theory works, I invite you to visit the new www.oddsbodkin.net and purchase storytelling audios that appeal to you. I get letters from twenty-somethings all the time who grew up with my stories. Out of the blue they email me, thanking me for being turned into imaginers.
Maybe we can’t smell as well as dogs, but we can paint mind pictures across our potential futures. Dogs can’t do that. Nor, as far as we know, can any of the other beasts with whom we share our fragile, biologically crafted Earth.
That’s our burden as the supposedly smart ones, we humans.
Long ago I read Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book, Evolution’s End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence. In a section on storytelling I found an astonishing quote: “This imaging is the foundation of future symbolic and metaphoric thought, both concrete and formal operational thinking, higher mathematics, science, philosophy, everything we consider higher mentation or education.”
By “imaging” Pearce refers to an invisible wonder at work inside us––the human ability to create novel mental images. Not on screens that we view, but in our minds’ eyes. “Mentation” is a fancy word for general mind use. What he’s talking about is what takes place in kids’ brains when they engage in creative story play (using toys to tell themselves stories) or when they listen to others tell them stories. In both instances, PET scan studies reveal that kids’ brains literally light up when they’re doing this. They’re firing up a sophisticated intra-web of brain cells that once they’re stimulated lock themselves in place and slowly build with other ones into flexible, creative knowledge that lasts a lifetime. They’re lassoing memories to assist in creating their images and learning new words that fuse those dreams with growing literacy. Not only that, their emotions are at work. The more emotion, the more vivid the imagery and the more indelible that memory becomes.
So as Einstein famously said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” On the surface it seems counter-intuitive that parents reading kids something as non-scientific as fairy tales, or kids listening to them if their parents don’t have the time, might well build the neural nets that will someday enable those same children to master mathematics, science, philosophy and formal operational thinking.
Pretty interesting. Instead of drilling children on numbers, letting them dream makes them better at numbers later.