Retold by Laura Simms.
Codhill Press: ISBN 1-930337-05-1
Book Review by Karl Hallsten.
I was pressed one morning, getting ready for a 6 hour-workshop I was presenting the following day, when a package came. I had ordered a new release by Laura Simms, The Robe of Love: Secret Instructions of the Heart, at a bargain price on the Internet just two days before. Laura had mentioned she had just gotten her copy on the Storytell and Healing Story listservs and I had gone in search.
I set the book at the far end of my desk to wait for free moments to peruse it and tried to get refocused on my work. Time for a break, I said, as I poured a cup of coffee and sat down with the book for a few minutes.
Laura resists the temptation that befalls many storytellers when they commit their oral stories to writing-translating them into literary language. Her imagery is captivating. I have only heard her tell one story and that on an audio tape-but as I read, vivid images of her flowing, rhythmic body and voice joined the words rising off the page.
I was struck by the condensation of the text-a point I was making in my workshop on telling Biblical stories-truly a case where less is more. Watch the story unfold as she begins the “Mistress in Disguise.”
“A handsome prince, who lived in a fortified town by the sea, was told by the elders of his Kingdom that it was time for him to marry. Obediently, he dressed in armor, saddled his horse, and went in search of a bride. He traveled from palace to palace and cottage to cottage, but to no avail, She who he sought, he could not find.”
I was hooked-I had to travel with him and the other lovers, lost, found, abandoned, disguised, and adorned, with hearts joined, pierced, broken, and healed. Simms has gathered, and in some cases translated to English for the first time, 14 stories about men and women’s universal foray into and out of relationships from as many places and cultures. The stories were ones I was unfamiliar with except for some brief discussions of a couple of them on the listservs. It is a worthy selection with varied form and genre, each adding to the complex perspectives of the theme.
One might wonder what I have in common with a handsome prince, dressed in armor and saddled on a horse—but in these beautifully crafted folktales the metaphors abound and the connections are strong.
In the Afterward, that forms the other half of the frame with the Forward in which these exquisite works of art are hung, Laura relates a bit of her own foray into the rich texture of human relationships. In the midst of relating what was a complicated personal entanglement, she says, “My mind was a washing machine of anxiety, regret and desire.” Have we not all at one time or another been sloshed around in those elements?
And so several hours later I came to realize that my day had been spent in marvelous, frivolous, abandonment to story. My workshop participants would hopefully gain by my serendipitous encounter with great storytelling and new glimpses of the human condition. I secured the book at a bargain rate, but I am convinced, it would have been a great bargain at full price.
I did find that in what is otherwise a beautifully put together book, I had to use a magnifier to read the very small typeface.