The Storyteller  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
see "Der Erzähler" by Walter Benjamin

The Storyteller is a live-action/puppet television series. It was an American/British co-production which originally aired in 1987 and was created and produced by Jim Henson.

The series retold various European fairy tales, created with a combination of actors and puppets. The framing device had an old storyteller (John Hurt) sitting by a fire telling each tale to both the viewers and to his talking dog (a realistic looking puppet, performed and voiced by Brian Henson) who acted as the voice of the viewers, and was written in a language and traditional style in keeping with old Indo-European based folktales (for instance the number 3 appears as significant in every episode).


Episode guide

Series 1

The episodes The Soldier and Death, The Three Ravens, Sapsorrow, The Heartless Giant and The True Bride first aired in the US as part of The Jim Henson Hour.

The Soldier and Death

Taken from an early Russian folk tale.

A soldier returns home after 20 years of war, with less than three biscuits in his knapsack. On his way he meets three beggars to whom he gives the biscuits, and in return they give him a whistle, a pack of cards and musty bag. With the help of these, the soldier has to trick demons, save a kingdom, and outwit Death itself.

The episode stars Bob Peck as the Soldier, and was directed by Jim Henson.


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 loveable tinker. He faces many dangers without learning to be afraid, only to learn that fear is at home: the fear of losing his sweetheart.

Reece Dinsdale is Fearnot, a young Gabrielle Anwar appears as his sweetheart, Willie Ross is the Tinker, and Michael Kilgarriff as the voice of the Pond Sprite.

The episode was directed by Steve Barron.

The Luck Child

From an early Russian folktale. An evil king sets out to kill a 'luck child', the seventh son of a seventh son, whom it is prophesised will one day be king. Despite the king's repeated efforts, luck each time saves the boy, who ultimately exiles the king to a life as a ferryman, marries his daughter and inherits his kingdom.

Based on elements from Grimm's The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs and The Griffin.

Steven Mackintosh is the Luck Child, Cathryn Bradshaw is the Princess, Anthony O'Donnell is the Little Man and Robert Eddison is the cursed ferryman.

The episode was directed by Jon Amiel.

A Story Short

An adaptation of the stone soup fable, the Storyteller tells of a harsh time when he was forced to walk the land as a beggar. Finding himself in sight of the castle kitchen, he picks up a stone and fools the castle cook into helping him make soup from a stone, by adding it into a cauldron of water and slowly adding other ingredients to improve the flavour. When the cook realises he has been swindled, he asks that the Storyteller be boiled alive. The King, as a compromise, promises to give the Storyteller a gold crown for each story he tells for each day of the year- and to boil him if he fails. The Storyteller does well at first, but on the final day he awakens and can think of no story. In a panic he roams the castle grounds, running into a magical beggar who turns him into a flea...and at the end of the day when the King calls for his story, the Storyteller confesses he has no story, and instead tells the King the true tale of his adventures under the magic of the beggar that day.

This is the only episode where the Storyteller himself plays a major part in the story he tells. His wife is played by Brenda Blethyn, Bryan Pringle is the Cook, The King is Richard Vernon, and the Beggar is John Kavanagh.

This episode was directed by Charles Sturridge.

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.

A year and one day later Hans returns to the castle. The Princess of Sweetness and Cherry Pie says she knows what she must do. Hans asks her if she finds him ugly and she replies that he is not nearly as ugly as a broken promise. They are married, to the dismay of the entire kingdom. On their wedding night, the Princess awaits her husband in bed. He comes into the chamber with his bagpipes and takes a seat by the fire and begins to play the same beautiful music that saved the King a year prior. The princess is soothed by the music and dozes off. She wakes and finds a pelt of quills as soft as feathers on the ground before the fire. She sees her husband in the form of a handsome young man freeing the animals of the castle, to live with his friends in his forest castle. He knows she has seen him when he finds her slumbering on the discarded quills the following night. He tells her that he is bewitched and only if she can keep his secret for a one more night can he be freed and remain in the form of the handsome man. She agrees.

The next morning at breakfast the Queen inquires why her daughter is so cheerful. The Princess tries to resist but as her mother pries she gives in and tells her that Hans is bewitched. The Queen says that the only way to reverse it is to fling the quills in the fire. That night when Hans sheds his quills, she obeys her mother and burns them. She hears his screams of pain as if he were aflame and he runs from the castle. The Princess has a blacksmith make her three pairs of solid iron shoes and slips away in search of her husband. She wears the shoes to nothing and moves on to the second pair, with still no sign of Hans. When she is donning the third pair of shoes, she finds a river and reclines by it, taking off the shoes and rubbing her sore feet. She caught sight of her reflection and sees that her hair has grown white. She wept bitterly for her hair and her husband, forever lost. The next day she came to a cottage, abandoned, covered in dust and cobwebs. Then came the flapping of wings and she saw her husband whom she had so long searched for!

He toasted a glass of wine to no-one, "to the beautiful woman who could not keep her promise."

She spoke to him and he became rigid and asked how she had found him. She told him. She told him all of the perils that she had faced and how she had walked the world and worn through three pairs of iron shoes. And then she flung herself into his embrace and with her confession of love and loyalty, he transformed into the handsome man, the spell lifted by her fidelity and affection.

Jason Carter is Han's human form, Terence Harvey is the voice of Hans the Grovelhog, and Abigail Cruttenden is the Princess.

The episode was directed by Steve Barron.

The Three Ravens

Based on the early German folk tale, The Six Swans. After the Queen dies, an evil witch ensnares the King, and turn his three sons into ravens to rid herself of her rivals. The princess escapes and must stay silent for three years, three months, three weeks and three days in order to break the spell. But after she meets a handsome prince, this is suddenly not so easy, for her stepmother has re-married, and to the prince's father...

Joely Richardson is the Princess, Miranda Richardson is the Witch, and Jonathan Pryce is the King.

The episode was directed by Paul Weiland.


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. When Princess Sapsorrow slips on her dead mother's ring for safekeeping, the King finds out and must marry her according to the law. The princess goes into hiding, becoming a creature of fur and feathers, known as a creature called the Straggletag. She lives thus for years, working in the kitchen of a handsome, but arrogant, prince. On the night of the ball, she turns into Sapsorrow once more and captures the heart of the prince, leaving him naught but a single slipper as she runs off into the night. The Prince scours the kingdom for the girl whose foot fits the slipper, and agrees to marry the Straggletag when hers is the foot it fits. This breaks the spell and they become wed.

Alison Doody is Sapsorrow, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are her evil sisters, and James Wilby is the Prince.

The episode was directed by Steve Barron.

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. His older brothers go after the giant to capture him, but do not return, so Leo sets off to find the giant himself. Once found, Leo decides to find the giant's heart, but this is no easy task - it sits in an egg in a duck in a well in a church in a lake in a mountain far away. No easy task indeed.

This is a variation upon the Norwegian tale The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body.

Elliot Spiers is Prince Leo, Peter Marinker is the Voice of the Wolf, and Frederic Warder is the Giant.

The episode was directed by Jim Henson.

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 another to replace her to wait on him hand and foot. Her name is Anja and she has no father and she has no mother, so the Troll is her other. Setting her impossible tasks, then beating her with his "contradiction stick" when she invariably fails, she wishes one day. Her wish is heard by the Thought Lion, a wondrous beast all in white, who completes her impossible tasks for her. When she finds her true love, he disappears one day, so Anja sets out to find him...bewitched in the hands of the Troll's evil daughter, the Trollop...

Jane Horrocks is Anja, Sean Bean is her True Love, Michael Kilgarriff is the Lion's voice, Alun Armstrong is the voice of the Troll, and Sandra Voe is voice of the Trollop.

The episode was directed by Peter Smith.

Series 2

Henson later attempted a follow-up, The Storyteller: Greek Myths, which had a different storyteller (Michael Gambon), but the same dog. The second series focused on Greek Mythology, and this series took place, rather than by the storyteller's fire, in the Minotaur's Labyrinth, which the new storyteller and his dog wander through.

Only four episodes of this series were made.

Daedalus and Icarus

Orpheus and Eurydice

Perseus and the Gorgon

Theseus and the Minotaur


The stories have been made available through a variety of media.


In the UK, all 9 episodes of series 1 were made available in 1989 on a set of 4 VHS tapes released by Channel 5.

In 1999 four of the stories were re-released by Columbia Tri-Star across two VHS tapes in both the UK and the US. These were A Story Short, The Luck Child, The Soldier and Death and Sapsorrow.


Both series 1 and 2 are available in region 1 & 2 DVD format. They offer no extra features other than the original episodes in their original stereo format.

A more recent collection, Jim Henson's the Storyteller - The Definitive Collection, which contains both series in full, was released on DVD in the US in May 2006.


Two versions of the book have been published; the text is the same but the pictures differ. The text, written as a series of short stories by Anthony Minghella, is adapted slightly to fit better the medium of "short story". One (ISBN 0-517-10761-9, Boxtree) features a photograph of the Storyteller on the cover; the illustrations within (by Stephen Morley) are the silhouettes as seen in the program, and photographic stills of the episodes alongside the text. The other version (ISBN 0-679-45311-3, Random House) has full page colour hand illustrations by Darcy May, depicting the stories alongside the text.


The first series featured many actors who were or went on to become famous. These include


Series 1 was nominated for and won several awards.<ref>{{

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Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)
1987 Won Emmy Award Outstanding Children's Program
Jim Henson (executive producer)
Mark Shivas (producer)
For episode Hans My Hedgehog.
1988 Nominated Emmy Award Outstanding Children's Program
Jim Henson (executive producer)
Duncan Kenworthy (producer)
For episode A Story Short.
1988 Nominated Emmy Award Outstanding Children's Program
Jim Henson (executive producer)
Duncan Kenworthy (producer)
For episode The Luckchild.
1989 Won BAFTA TV Award Best Children's Programme (Entertainment/Drama)
Duncan Kenworthy
1989 Won BAFTA TV Award Best Costume Design
Ann Hollowood
1989 Nominated BAFTA TV Award Best Make Up
Sally Sutton

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Storyteller" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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