Kristina Elyse Butke
A Fairy Tale Childhood: Jim Henson's "The Storyteller"
This is a short blog series where I’m going to discuss my first encounters with fairy tales growing up. They’re not going to be reviews, but reminiscences of my earliest experiences with fairy tales and how they shaped me. Please enjoy!
Here’s another classic that was rerun on The Disney Channel while I was growing up! It originally aired in 1987 and 1988 on NBC and HBO, but once again, Disney likes to snatch things up, and that’s how I was able to watch it. While there was a spin-off series about the Greek Myths, I don’t remember watching that growing up—only the fairy tale version.
The Storyteller focuses on lesser-known fairy tales, and uses puppetry (this is a Jim Henson show, after all!) in its storytelling, and features narration by John Hurt, the titular character.
This was a show that simultaneously intrigued me and scared the crap out of me. A lot of it had to do with the puppets being used. I remember little devils and a strange-looking baby thing, and a ferocious griffin of some kind. But I also loved the stories the show told. The visual style of the series felt very unique to me—dark but welcoming at the same time.
Like Faerie Tale Theatre, The Storyteller enlisted the acting talents of celebrities to tell these stories. I remember Alison Doody, Joely Richardson, and Gabrielle Anwar in roles in this show, among other famous performers.
The Storyteller was an integral introduction of certain fairy tales into my life. “Sapsorrow” is a retelling of “Allerleirauh” (which is what my book Son of the Siren is based on) and “The Three Ravens” is a retelling of “The Six Swans” (which also influences Son of the Siren).
Standout episodes that I can remember even now include “Hans My Hedgehog” and “The Heartless Giant.” "Hans My Hedgehog" in particular seemed like a bizarre "Beauty and the Beast"-like tale, with animal to human transformation. To be honest, the hedgehog kind of scared me a little, but I had a crush on his human form. Ah, the fickleness of tiny children!
I hadn't watched the show in ages until back in America, probably in the 2010s, the series appeared available on Netflix. I watched all of them, including the spin-off about Greek myths, to get a sense of nostalgia and to refresh the stories in my mind once again. It's a great series and I hope to add it to my permanent collection at some point.
Have you seen this show? Do you remember watching it growing up? If you have any memories, feel free to share them in the comments.