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Reviewed by Claudia Coffey for Readers' Favorite
What is the most important thing we can ask our loved ones? What do Percival and the Fisher King, Jack and the Bean Stalk, and the mist and rains of Maui and Appalachia all have in common? All have a story to tell. All have a moral to teach. Jim May, teacher and storyteller, imparts many of the stories he has heard, and how he came to be a storyteller in Trail Guide for a Crooked Heart. His collection of “Stories and Reflections for Life’s Journeys” is full of tales collected from master storytellers of the world. We all love a good story, and this little book is full of them, even though some stories might need to be read a couple times to get their lesson.
Jim May has traveled from his Illinois home to many locations in the world, including Jonesborough, Tennessee, Banner Elk, North Carolina and Fife, Scotland, to hear firsthand the oral stories of the great fathers and mothers of tall tales and myths. He has sat before the fire, had supper and tea with Ray Hicks, who told wonderfully intricate Jack-Tales, Grandfather Stories and Appalachian Folk Tales, and Duncan Williams, who kept the oral tradition of the nomadic Travelling People of Scotland, and watched Jackie Torrence entrance Studs Terkel who always appreciated a good story, “tellin’ about Jack, the trickster and folk hero of the Appalachian and Celtic traditions”.
Jim even tells some stories of his own, including taking his 5th Grade students to watch The Herald Call of Prairie Sirens that takes place every spring on the Illinois prairie. The plains Indians learned to emulate the otherworldly calls and strutting of the beautiful Prairie Chickens mating practices in their ritual dances. Jim May, co-founder of the Illinois Storyteller Festival, told a sad story of Frederick, the German soldier, with a message of passive resistance as an alternative to war. The saddest story though was that of Jim’s own sister’s illness, and how Jim and the family came to terms to help her cross over with the help of Hospice, and through the Tibetan Book of the Dead that tells us: “This is all we have, this moment of life and goodness—this moment”.
Percival, on a quest from King Arthur, was to ask one question of the Fisher King to heal the king and bring his kingdom’s parched wasteland back to life. The question from the Holy Grail was: “Sire, what ails thee?” In asking that question, Percival’s quest was fulfilled and the king and his kingdom were healed. The author suggests that we all take the time to ask our loved ones this simple but significant question: “What ails thee?” This reader plans to follow that practice, beginning today.