The FAM: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller

And so it shall be that this work-week on Coilhouse begins and ends with Jim Henson. This week The FAM presents one of the greatest television series of all time, Jim Henson’s: The Storyteller. Only lasting 2 seasons the first was broadcast in 1988 and starred John Hurt as the titular storyteller. This was followed up two years later by a second season focused on Greek myths, which lasted for four episodes and featured Michael Gambon in place of Hurt. Today’s FAM features five episodes of the superior first season [Note: All episode descriptions come from wikipedia, ’cause I’m lazy]:

“Fearnot”: From an early German folk tale. The Storyteller recounts the adventures of a boy who goes out into the world to learn what fear is, accompanied by a dishonest but lovable tinker.

“Hans My Hedgehog”: From an early German folk tale. A farmer’s wife drives her husband mad with her desperate measures to have a baby. She says to him that she wants a child so bad, she would not care how he looked even if he were covered in quills like a hedgehog. That, of course, is what she gets: a baby covered in quills, as soft as feathers. His mother calls him ‘Hans My Hedgehog’ and she is the only one to love him; his father grows to hate him for shame. So eventually Hans leaves for a place where he can’t hurt anyone and where no-one can hurt him.

Deep inside the forest, for many years Hans dwells with his animals for companions. One day a king gets lost in Hans’ forest and he hears a beautiful song being played on a bagpipe. He follows the music and finds Hans’ castle. When Hans helps him to escape the forest, then king promises that he will give to Hans the first thing to greet him at his castle – which the King secretly knows to be his dog. Instead, it turns out to be his beautiful daughter, the princess of sweetness and cherry pie. Hans and the king have made a deal that in exactly one year and one day his prize (the princess) shall be his.

“Sapsorrow”: From an early German folk tale, this is a variant on Allerleirauh by the brothers Grimm. There is a king, his dead wife, and his three daughters. Two are as ugly and as bad as can be, but the third, Sapsorrow, is as kind and as beautiful as her sisters are not. There is a ring belonging to the dead Queen, and a royal tradition that states that the girl whose finger fits the ring will become Queen as decreed by law.

“The Heartless Giant”: From an early German folk tale. A heartless giant, who once terrorised the land before being captured and imprisoned, is befriended by the young prince Leo who, one night, sets him free.

“The True Bride”: Based on an early German folk tale, The True Bride. A Troll had a daughter, but she left straight off, so the Troll took Anja, an orphan, to replace her to wait on him hand and foot.

I was 8 when these originally aired and two things made watching them a difficult proposition. The first was that the episodes came on dangerously close to my and my brother’s bedtime. The second was that we did not have television. That is, we had a television and VCR, but no cable or reception. My grandparents next door, however, did and we would give them a cassette so that they could record them for us. We must have watched these episodes dozens upon dozens of times, pushing the magnetic tape well beyond its intended lifespan — every story then taking place behind a veil of falling “snow”.

Henson and his team did a phenomenal job with the puppetry and make-up; and Anthony Minghella’s writing is top-notch. Tying it all together is Hurt, whose gravelly delivery is pitch-perfect. With his curmudgeonly dog, voiced by Brain Henson, at his feet he manages to outdo some of the visuals using only his words and that wonderfully expressive face. Time has done nothing to detract from the quality of the series, and upon watching them again, I find that they enthrall me just as much now as they did when I was a child. The low quality YouTube feed even manages to evoke that VHS-like haze on everything. Maybe I’ll put on some footie pajamas later and take this nostalgia trip as far as it will go.

14 Responses to “The FAM: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller”

  1. Ben Blench Says:

    I have this on DVD and I absolutely love it. Different edition for Europe, I think – mine only has 5 episodes on it, 3 of which (A Story Short, The Luck Child, and The Soldier and Death) aren’t mentioned here. The one that really sticks in my mind (from when it first aired) had loads of little demons with shiny, red faces. Great stuff. It confuses the fuck out of young children though.

  2. Ben Johnson Says:

    Last I checked, the entire series (along with the second Greek Myth series) is available for instant streaming on Netflix.

  3. Shay Says:

    I loved this series when it came out. I’ve watched them all many times. I wish there were more shows like this…

  4. Patrick Says:

    Caught these for the first time on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised by how consistently excellent the first season was. Wasn’t a huge fan of the second, though.

  5. Claire Says:

    I still love this series even as an adult. Henson was a genius and I wish there were more kids shows like this around now. Looking forward to the Dark Crystal sequel!!

  6. jer Says:

    i barely remember this from when i was just a little kid!
    thanks for putting it back out there again!

  7. Rachel Says:

    God, this cheered me up so much.

  8. Siobhan Says:

    Ohhh, I simply loved The StoryTeller, especially Sapsorrow (wanted her pretty gowns SO much as a child, infact still do!) The Soldier and Death is perhaps the most memorable to me, Death scared the crap out of me as a child.

  9. fortheloveofthestars Says:

    The Storyteller was an amazing work! John Hurt is one of my idols. He is in so many movies/shows I love and he always brings this fantastic quality to them. Between the Storyteller and Prof. Broom he’s my dream grandfather. Fear Not and Death and The Solider are my favorites, the Gryphon, the devils and the swamp monster and my favorite puppets. SO GORGEOUS.

  10. Patricia Says:

    This is my favourite work of Jim’s, IMHO the best work he ever did. It’s truly wonderful for all ages. Everyone I’ve ever introduced to it loves it, and those who already know it remember it fondly from their childhood. It stands the test of time so well because the stories are timeless and hold universal truths. Light and dark are balanced, a lot is done with a little. It’s simply good story telling :)

  11. Ragdoll Says:

    We have been watching this show streaming Netflix on Xbox recently. It really makes me wish that CGI animal battles were never invented. Puppets and actual props make for a more interesting show.

  12. fortheloveofthestars Says:

    Ragdoll- “Puppets and actual props make for a more interesting show.”

    They really do. It’s one of the many reasons I’m such a huge Farscape fan. So many onset effects. Ever see the show? It’s also a Henson joint. Pilot, one of the puppets will blow your mind.

  13. Jp Says:

    Does anybody know about an episode with a guy that has no legs????? I also remember something about bowling in that episode!!! Maybe bowling with a skull, or bones??? Anybody? Thanks a lot

  14. Ross Rosenberg Says:

    Jp – That’s “Fearnot”, the first episode in the playlist.