One of Jim Henson's hidden gems, The StoryTeller featured an enigmatic Trickster Mentor and his pet dog, sharing European folk tales with the audience. Wittily told with clever narration and artful animatronics, this short-lived series (thirteen episodes total) remains the best-kept secret of Henson's history.The first set of nine episodes featured John Hurt as the storyteller and Brian Henson voicing the dog. A follow-up, The StoryTeller: Greek Myths, featured a new storyteller played by Michael Gambon but the same dog; it lasted only four episodes.A graphic novel with nine stories (one of which, "The Witch Baby", adapted an unproduced series script) came out in September 2011 by Archaia Entertainment.In the U.S., NBC didn't run the whole first series initially, so The Jim Henson Hour used the unaired stories as the second half of several episodes. Greek Myths didn't air in the U.S. at all until HBO picked both series up at the end of The Nineties!
Tropes used in this series:
Affably Evil: The Cook in "The Luck Child". Despite being the self-confessed "nastiest" of a thieves band who he claims would happily slit a sleeping boy's throat, he takes pity on Lucky and helps him out several times with a sanguine attitude and loveable charm.
A Day in the Limelight: The Storyteller himself is the main character of "A Story Short". Aside from a bit part in "Hans, My Hedgehog" he does not directly appear in any other stories.
Big Bad Ensemble: In "The Luck Child", the Storyteller describes the setting (implied to be Russia) as "ruled by two cold hearts". The first is the King, a cruel and greedy tyrant, and the second is the Griffon, a rampaging monster with a taste for human flesh.
Blessed with Suck: The soldier in "The Soldier and Death" winds up immortal because Death is afraid to come near him. As time passes, he discovers the drawbacks of the situation.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Dog often interjects and interrupts stories that he finds disagreeable. In "Sapsorrow" he even argues with the stepsisters, appearing in the scene alongside them.
He does it again in "The Heartless Giant," appearing in the scene where Leo seemingly loses the egg down the well.
The Storyteller himself appears inside the story "Hans, My Hedgehog", something that doesn't otherwise happen except in "A Story Short", to read tarot for the king. He smiles at the camera and assures the audience that he's very good at this. (He and his tarot reading abilities would have also appeared in-story in "The Witch Baby" had it been filmed.)
British Brevity: Technically the co-producing companies were British and American, but it definitely counts: One season of 9 episodes, and one season of 4 episodes, and Jim Henson regarded it as his artistic masterpiece.
Character Witness: In "A Story Short", the hero is helped out of his predicament by a beggar he aided.
Completely Different Title: The series was called Sagor för stora barn (Fairytales for older children) in Sweden. A not-too-subtle but very accurate warning to kids and parents about the rather grim feel of many of the episodes.
Darker and Edgier: Greek Myths definitely has a darker tone than the fairy tales. Then again, they are Greek myths!
Death Takes a Holiday: "The Soldier and Death". Although it's not so much taking a holiday as it is being trapped in a sack.
Downer Ending: A couple of the fairy tales and all of the Greek Myths except that of Perseus.
Empty Shell: Daedelus is shown as one of these at the end of the story, spending all his time making toys based upon his lost son Icarus.
Even Evil Has Standards: Or sympathy, at least. In "The Luck Child", the king promises Lucky a place in his court, but gives him a letter telling the queen to order his death instead (to avoid a prophecy that the boy would replace him). En route to the king's palace, the boy falls into the clutches of a poisoner and forger who finds the letter and is so affronted by the king's plot that he forges a new one telling the queen to marry Lucky to their daughter the princess.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: The episode "Perseus and the Gorgon" includes the part of the myth concerning Perseus' conception. After the Storyteller mentions that a shower of gold appeared to Danae, he and the dog have this exchange:
Hulk Speak: The Griffon in "The Luck Child". It also shrieks and uses onomatopoeia in an almost comical way. It's interesting to gauge the reaction small children have to it, given that its speech patterns resemble their own and are vaguely loveable, but the creature itself is still Nightmare Fuel.
Idiot Hero: "Fearnot," who has no idea what fear is and gets into some incredibly stupid situations as a result, triumphing by dumb luck.
Karmic Protection: Whenever there's a good ending, it's because the character is kind to others. The exception is "The Soldier and Death", in which even though the soldier let Death go free and did a number of other kind turns over the course of the story, he is doomed to wander the earth forever, unable to die and denied entry into both Heaven and Hell. Even then, the Storyteller softens the Downer Ending by assuring his audience that the soldier will be all right. (Technically, karma is at play here; his good deeds notwithstanding, the soldier does keep a devil as a servant for a while and uses power received from it for personal gain, and upsets the natural order by trapping Death, which is why he is not allowed into Heaven. On the other hand, his eternal life is probably still preferable to Hell.)
Karmic Trickster: The Beggar from "A Story Short". He turns up to torment the Cook (because The Cook is an asshole) and the Storyteller (because The Storyteller helped him at the beginning of the story and all that grief made for a fantastic story on a day when the Storyteller was facing execution for not having a story to tell).
Rags to Royalty: Several examples, including Anja in "The True Bride" and Lucky in "The Luck Child." Sapsorrow in the episode of the same name goes from royalty to rags to royalty again.
Robbing the Dead: Michael Gambon's Storyteller does this in his first (chronological) episode "Theseus and the Minotaur", or as he puts it "exchanging their coins for smaller valuables" on the isle of Crete. He and the Dog get chased into the Labryinth, setting on the frame story.
Rule of Three: Unsurprisingly, this one's all over the various fairy tales:
In "The Soldier and Death", the soldier meets three old men and gives each of them one of his three biscuits; each of them gives him something back, but it's the third man who gives him the magic deck of cards and magic sack that get him through most of the rest of the story.
In "Sapsorrow", the eponymous princess buys time to make her "Straggletag" disguise by requesting three fabulous dresses, then later wears the dresses to three balls to dance with the prince before accidentally leaving her slipper behind.
In "The True Bride", the lion accomplishes three of the troll's impossible tasks for Anja before killing him, and gives Anja three gifts with which she bargains with the trollop for three nights with her betrothed.
In "The Three Ravens", the princess is forbidden to speak for three years, three months, three weeks and three days to free her three brothers from a curse. This becomes a lot more difficult when she is accused of murdering her three children...
And she speaks too soon by three minutes, so her youngest brother keeps a wing.
Scheherazade Gambit: "A Story Short" has the Storyteller himself challenged to give the king a new story every day for a year and a day, with food, lodging and a gold piece for every day he succeeds, and death if he fails. By the last day, he's completely stumped, but a friendlybeggar he had helped get fed in the opening act gives him a fantastic dream vision for a final story.
Small Reference Pools: This series uses this trope to its advantage by dramatizing only the obscure fairy tales.
Stone Soup: Appears in "A Story Short," but with the Broken Aesop that rather than learning the value of cooperation, the cook is infuriated at being deceived and demands that the Stone Soup makers be executed for stealing.
Vengeance Feels Empty: The story of Daedalus has this message. After causing the deaths of his son and nephew, Daedalus tried to live a good life, but that was sabotaged by King Minos. Daedalus later takes a terrible revenge on Minos, but in doing so, realizes he's destroyed any chance of happiness/being a good person, and is totally emotionally broken.