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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, January 01, 2008
    Turning tradition into invention
     
    The Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths is introducing me to whole new avenues of investigation and interest. Thrill, for instance, at his stimulating take on the Christmas story (quoted in a fine essay by Tony Baker):
    What sort of tale is being telled?....
    Supernatural and fantastic elements abound, but there is also a hard moral core deriving from generations of cultural warfare and a refreshing honesty about the shortcomings of local government under a one-party system. Are strange paranormal forces really seeking to redress the balance between good and evil, smiting down the mighty at the unexpected hour and leaving them cold crowdie to eat? Well, anything is possible if the storyteller is capable of acting as a true mouthpiece of the folk. Theirs is the ultimately radical voice, turning tradition imperceptibly into invention.
    Crowdie is a Scottish cheese made from sour milk and its quality may be gauged by the observation that the word crowdie is derived from crud. Griffiths uses the dialect of his adopted North-East, a language which he championed in his latter years, to stress the moral dimension described so powerfully in The Magnificat. He's modelling the task of all who wish to 'turn tradition into invention' (which connects for me with the Iona Community intention to find 'new ways to touch the hearts of all'). It's a profoundly local task, that of the storyteller deeply engaged with the people, the task of listening to and creatively re-expressing their voice.