Great Storytellers Songs of Praise


Great Storytellers

Pam Rhodes discovers how authors such as CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien inspire generations. With hymns from around the country and the Senior School Choir Of The Year.


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Who were your favourite authors when you were a child?

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Did you like being whisked away in your imagination to the mystical world of Narnia?

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Were you captivated by The Tiger Who Came To Tea,

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enchanted by Peter Rabbit and his friends?

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Enthralled by the adventures of The Famous Five?

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Today on Songs of Praise,

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the wonderful world of children's stories.

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Commemorating the great writer, CS Lewis,

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on the 50th anniversary of his death.

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Plus author Michael Morpurgo, some favourite hymns

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and a performance from our Senior School Choir of the Year.

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Oh, this is a book I loved when I was a kid.

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Enid Blyton's The Secret Seven.

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Actually, I liked all of her books

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but The Secret Seven were particular favourites because one of them

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was a girl called Pam and of course she was just like me.

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But being a bit of an animal lover, I can also remember a poem I especially liked then

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called Cats Sleep Anywhere, written by Eleanor Farjeon,

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who in fact wrote a lot of children's books

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but perhaps is best known for writing the words of our first hymn today.

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Once upon a time, children's literature didn't really exist.

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It's difficult to imagine in a place like this.

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Forget The Gruffalo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

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The first books for children were written to promote religious doctrine,

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good manners and good morals, not simply to entertain.

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Authors like John Bunyan and Isaac Watts wanted to save children's souls,

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rather than to fire their imaginations.

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The publisher John Newbery is often called the father of children's literature.

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Back in 1781, he published a collection of nursery rhymes about Mother Goose.

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Less than a century later, Alice began her Adventures in Wonderland,

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and the golden age of children's literature began.

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From the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat

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to more modern characters like Fantastic Mr Fox and Babe, the sheep-pig,

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animal characters have always been popular.

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I like animal stories because some make me laugh.

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I like some animal stories because sometimes they help me and my sisters go to sleep.

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My favourite story is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

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I like Aslan because he's quite cool because when he dies,

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he also regenerates again.

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Well, this is about a dog who wants to do ballet!

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I like reading animal stories and when I grow up, I want to be a vet.

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Of course, hymns and songs about animals have always been popular with children, too.

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Our next hymn is a real favourite.

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The author Clive Staples Lewis, best known as CS Lewis,

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was born in Belfast in 1898.

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His seven Chronicles of Narnia are his most famous books,

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yet they were his only works for children.

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After serving in the First World War, Lewis studied at Oxford University

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and then became a fellow in English literature at Magdalen College.

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He had a suite of rooms here in the so-called New Building,

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which actually dates back to 1735.

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It was here that he first began to believe in God.

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By 1931, CS Lewis was a committed Christian

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and he worshipped here at Holy Trinity Church

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at Headington Quarry on the outskirts of Oxford for more than 30 years.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of his death.

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He is buried just over there.

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Not far from Holy Trinity Church is The Kilns, where Lewis lived until 1963

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and in its extensive grounds are woodlands and this beautiful lake.

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It's not hard to see where he got his inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia.

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Lewis saw writing fiction as a way of, in effect, opening up Christianity

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to a generation of people who otherwise might not have access to it at all.

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Narnia is both a great story

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but a story that can be read at different levels.

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It is a story about children and a lion at one level

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and at a deeper level, it's about, what's life all about?

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It's about Aslan, the great lion, as a figure of Christ.

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It is really about discovering not just the meaning of a story,

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but the meaning of life and of course,

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Lewis wants his readers to know he made that discovery himself.

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"Who is Aslan?" asked Susan. "Aslan?" said Mr Beaver. "Why, don't you know?

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"He's the King. He is the Lord of the whole wood but not often here."

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I think it's a great way to tell people about God through fantasy story

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because it makes people want to read it and then gets people engaged.

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The reason why I love CS Lewis is because a lot of the books I read are about good versus evil

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so it is the Narnians against the White Witch and her army.

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Once you've read it, you understand what his metaphor is.

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Aslan being God and helping the children win the battle.

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"Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.

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"At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.

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"When he bares his teeth, Winter meet its death,

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"and when he shakes his mane, we shall have Spring again."

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Lewis saw writing fiction as a way of, in effect,

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opening up Christianity to a generation of people who

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otherwise might not have access to it at all.

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CS Lewis was part of The Inklings, an informal writers' group

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who often met up here at The Eagle and Child pub.

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His close friend and fellow Christian JRR Tolkien

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was also in the group.

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Tolkien was a man of faith right from the beginning.

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His Catholicism really mattered to him

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and he began to realise that he could express his faith

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through writing.

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-CHILD:

-"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

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"Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole

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"filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a..."

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Well, the world of The Lord of the Rings is not Christian at all,

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but it is about the battle between good and evil,

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it's about trying to make sense of things

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and it's also how do we become good people

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and live virtuous lives.

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As you read The Lord of the Rings, there are a number of themes

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that leap out. Power corrupts - we have this inbuilt tendency to

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go for things that aren't really all that important

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and sometimes these things take us over and corrupt us

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and, in many ways, one of the questions that Tolkien is asking is,

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"What is it that is good that we should be seeking for that

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"doesn't corrupt us, but makes us into good people?"

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What was the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien?

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I think, for many years, Lewis was Tolkien's closest friend

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and it was a very important relationship for both of them.

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It began in the 1920s when nobody had ever heard of CS Lewis or

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JRR Tolkien. They met, they began to talk about great literary ideas,

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and Tolkien was instrumental in bringing Lewis to a Christian faith.

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Tolkien helped Lewis to see that the Christian

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way of thinking about God really made more sense than anything else

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and, above all, I think, helped him to understand

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the importance of stories in making sense of the world

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and also making sense of individual lives.

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And was it a lifelong friendship?

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Sadly, the relationship between Tolkien and Lewis had its ups and downs

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and towards the ends of Lewis's life, it mostly had its downs.

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I think Tolkien felt that Lewis's Narnia novels weren't all that

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well written, but Tolkien turned up to Lewis's funeral

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and I think that by the end of Lewis's life, Tolkien had,

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in effect, forgiven him for whatever had gone wrong.

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On Lewis's gravestone are the words,

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"Men must endure their going hence." Where does that come from?

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Those were the words on Lewis's family calendar.

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When his mother died back in 1908 and

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his brother, who designed the gravestone, wanted to connect

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Lewis's death with that of his mother,

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but Lewis himself had a vibrant hope.

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He believed passionately in the resurrection,

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he likened the resurrection to being like a flower

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bursting into bloom above a dark Earth, and, you know, I think Lewis

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reminds us of the great themes of faith that beyond this visible world,

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there's something even better and, one day, we're going to be there.

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-CHILD:

-My favourite stories are a tie between Murder on the Orient Express

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or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

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Born To Run is my favourite book

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because it helped me with my dyslexia.

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My favourite book is Life Of Pi.

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I like it because it talks about God in different ways

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and it also talks about animals and family and adventure as well.

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This is my favourite book cos I like horses.

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And I like princess horses.

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I like Harry Potter because...

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..JK Rowling makes it exciting.

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Children do love stories, don't they?

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And it's that that inspired our next hymn.

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William Parker was a Sunday school teacher in Nottinghamshire

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and when his students kept beginning him to "tell us another story,"

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he wrote the poem, Tell Me The Stories of Jesus.

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We're going to hear that sung now by

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our Senior School Choir Of The Year from the High School of Glasgow.

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# Tell me the stories of Jesus

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# I love to hear

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# Things I would ask Him to tell me

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# If He were here

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# Scenes by the wayside

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# Tales of the sea

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# Stories of Jesus

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# Tell them to me

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# First let me hear how the children

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# Stood round His knee

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# And I shall fancy His blessing resting on me

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# Words full of kindness

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# Deeds full of grace

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# All in the love light of Jesus' face

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# Show me that scene in the garden, of bitter pain

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# Show me the cross where my Saviour for me was slain

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# Sad ones or bright ones

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# So that they be

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# Stories of Jesus

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# Tell them to me. #

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Michael Morpurgo has written over 100 books,

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including the bestseller War Horse, which is

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now a film and a West End play.

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He started telling stories at a very early age.

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As a little kid, I have to say, I was a bit of a fibber.

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And I found very early on I could tell a story

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and people would believe it...

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which is rather essential for a story-maker, a fiction writer.

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What makes a good story then, do you think?

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One that resonates with the audience.

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There is usually a young person at the centre of the story.

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Very often that person is under threat or is alone

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and the listener empathises with that.

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But a really great story, a really great novel,

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a really great play, a really great movie

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moves you. It touches your heart.

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Um, it makes you think and that, I think, is the most important

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thing that a child comes away from a story...wondering about it.

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Where do you get your inspiration from?

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Always from moments from things I've seen,

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people I've met and, in the case of On Angel Wings,

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from sitting in a carol service

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and not paying proper attention whilst the story of the shepherds

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and the angel coming down and telling them to leave their hillside

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and go off to see this wonderful baby being born.

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It takes the story a different way, but leaving it all

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the respect that it's due because of what it means to many of us.

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By adding to it just a bit...

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it'll enable a child to think, "Well, here, that's...

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"I can see that. I can really hear those voices now."

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So, are you writing something at the moment?

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Yes, I've just recently been...and I've never done this before,

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I've been trying to write a Christmas carol.

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In a way, I suppose it's a bit of a family tradition.

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My family has a rather extraordinary family tree going back to the

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Wesley family, Charles and John and Sebastian.

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And, for me, one of my very private moments, which, I suppose,

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no longer will be private, is to, at the end of each carol service,

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there I am singing Hark The Herald Angels Sing, and I think...

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you know, "We done that!"

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It makes me feel rather good!

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-CHILD:

-"That's where he'd been on that first Christmas night

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"all those years before, the night it happened -

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"or that's what he told us.

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"We'd be wrapped in our cloaks and huddled round the fire.

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"The sheep shifting around us in the darkness,

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"and we'd be ready and waiting for the story to begin."

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Stories don't always need to be told in words.

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Manga is a hugely popular style of art usually seen in Japanese

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comics, but now also to be found in an illustrated Bible.

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Manga basically means whimsical drawings

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or cursory drawings for the Japanese, but, from our point of view,

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when we say Manga we mean Japanese comic books.

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Siku worked as an artist on video games and comics,

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but then he got the chance to combine his art with his faith.

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I remember my friends saying to me,

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"You know, why don't we do a Manga Bible?"

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Regarding doing action stuff like video games like Evil Genius,

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which was a great game, and then going back to doing the Bible,

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isn't that a step down in terms of excitement levels?

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No! I find the Bible grittier.

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That God could humble himself and become a man.

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I mean, no-one can expect that.

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And that, for me, is the most exciting story.

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This style of drawing comes from Japan, but Siku's work has

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also been influenced by none other than CS Lewis.

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What CS Lewis does

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and which very few Bible teachers actually are able to do

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is to make the language of the Bible contemporary.

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For me, he's an inspiration.

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And, for me, if I can do what he's done in his generation

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in my own time, then I think I've probably done my job.

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The difference between Western graphic Bibles

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and the Manga graphic Bible is that...

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where previously they've approached story in terms of...

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they've taken a Sunday school approach,

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so there's the story of Moses...

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..the story of Abraham,

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the story of Ruth,

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the story of Jonah...

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and they're treated as separate modules...

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we have taken a look at the story arc of the Bible

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and we've treated it as though it were one story.

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There's a story of God...

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when He meets humanity.

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When God meets humanity, something happens.

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It's explosive.

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The story is about that explosive event.

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Dear God, thank you for the gift of reading.

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For the books that bring stories to life.

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For adventure books and poetry books.

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Scary stories and funny stories.

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VOICES MUTED

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And books that help us go to sleep.

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VOICES MUTED

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For authors who are brave enough to share their imaginations with us.

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And for the world that inspires them to write.

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Amen.

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However old we are, stories do so much more than just entertain.

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They teach us, inspire us and encourage us

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and no story does that better than the Gospel story itself.

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Next week, David joins in the preparations for Christmas

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on the Isle of Man

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where he meets a Russian Orthodox concert pianist,

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an astronomer and a choir who sing carols in Manx.

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And there's some rousing advent hymns from

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the Cathedral of St German in Peel.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Pam Rhodes discovers how celebrated authors such as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Michael Morpurgo inspire every generation, and introduces hymns from congregations around the country and the Senior School Choir of the Year.


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