Ljungby International Storytelling Festival 2013

A reflection on the festival

Ljungby Museum If you are from Scandinavia, the chances are you will already know of Sweden’s major storytelling festival. If you are not, you may know as little about it as I did before arriving in the small town Ljungby in southern Sweden. (And if, like me, that amounts to nothing, the first thing to learn is that the L in Ljungby is silent.)

Telling in Gothenburg a couple of years ago led on to an invitation to this year’s festival, which is spread over five days in June. And when I arrived, I soon began to learn. For example, that, inspired by the Grimms, Swedish scholar and diplomat Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius, together with English philologist George Stephens, collected many folk tales and legends from the surrounding area. These were published in 1844 as Svenska folksagor och äventyr (Swedish Folk-tales and Adventures). I further learnt that a local storyteller and author Per Gustavsson had started the festival in 1990. And as I found on meeting him, Per is still very much part of the team. A few years later the success of that initiative led to the establishment of a storytelling museum in Ljungby. Of course the museum acts as home to the festival, but that is only one part of their wider work.

First, there is the actual museum. It is an interesting comparison to a number of Grimms-themed museums in the part of Germany where I live (and where the Grimms collected most of their tales). The German museums tend to have historical artefacts – which encourages a glass-case approach to the exhibitions. Ljungby is fortunate in having nothing but the tales themselves and consequently those are central to the hands-on experience of going round the museum. Powerful and inviting wooden and textile displays represent the local folk tales and legends which the museum staff of storytellers tell the visitor. Since the area is so rich in folk lore, the museum has also created a geo-caching option to discover the tales in the countryside – there really is an app for everything.

Second, as well as working with those coming to the museum, there is the outreach work by the team of full- and part-time staff – all storytellers – led by museum director Meg Nömgård. Storytellers go out into schools, into universities to engage in teacher-training, into the community to work for example with senior citizens. It was encouraging to see that there are still countries where tax-payers’ money is devoted to such an extensive programme.

Although the festival was an opportunity to hear well-known UK storytellers like Tuup and Sally Pomme Clayton, for me the most interesting and certainly most impressive aspect to the festival was the breadth of the five-day programme. Around 30 storytellers and 20 musicians took part. There was also a Nordic young-people's storytelling camp, the 19 teenagers coming from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark and the Faroe Islands. This was led by Monika Westin, a Swedish storyteller already awarded the festival’s Mickel i Långhult Prize in a previous year in recognition of her fine work with young people. In the evening there were oleo concerts with music included, during the day there were 45-minute solo performances by many of the tellers. There were workshops. And of course, as with any good festival, there were plenty of opportunities to meet and talk.

Admittedly much, though by no means all, of the telling was in Swedish, Danish or Norwegian. But even if your grasp of Scandinavian is limited, at least their English is always excellent.

This article will be published in the autumn 2013 edition of Facts & Fiction and is posted here with the editor's kind permission.


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You are a teacher? Read this: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling

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