Series / The Storyteller

When people told themselves their past with stories,
explained their present with stories,
and foretold their future with stories,
the best place by the fire was kept for... The Storyteller.

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.

Since the end of the show further stories have been released in comic form. 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. A four issue mini-series entitled The StoryTeller: Witches was also released by the same company in 2014 and likewise adapted an unproduced script ("Vasilissa the Beautiful"). Another four issue mini-series entitled The StoryTeller: Dragons was released in 2016.

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 '90s!

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.
  • The Atoner: The Princess in "Hans, My Hedgehog" decides to wander the Earth, both to find her hedgehog husband and in penance for breaking her promise
  • 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.
  • Arc Number: "The Three Ravens" has 3 as its primary number: three of the four children turn into ravens, to turn them back, the fourth must remain silent for 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days, and she gets pregnant with 3 kids, all of whom go missing. Also Played for Laughs at the end, she speaks 3 minutes too early, and as a direct result, one of her brothers permanently has a raven wing.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: One episode had a solider who became Enemies with Death... and "won", putting it in a bag but eventually releasing it. Because of this, Death was too afraid to reap him, Heaven would not take him for his sins, and Hell was afraid he'd take over.
  • 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.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In "The Three Ravens," the witch is about to burn the princess at the stake, but then her brothers fly up and begin attacking the witch, causing the witch to light herself on fire.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Wicked Stepmother in "The Three Ravens"
  • 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.
  • Born Lucky: Lucky from, well "The Luck Child". He survives a fall of a cliff as an infant, an oblivious suicide mission results in marriage to the princess, and he manages to (with some assistance) grab a golden feather from the Griffin. The Storyteller even goes into detail about the idea before beginning the story properly.
    Storyteller: [puts his hands over a candle flame, then walks over to his chair, keeping his hands together] Sometimes people are born lucky. You imagine that if they open their hands, there'd be a little piece of sunshine. [he opens his hands, and a glow starts to come from there] A personal piece. It lights them up. Everyone loves these people. They're lit up. [blows the glow out] Cats sit on their laps.
    Dog: What!
    Storyteller: It's luck. It's a gift. It's a blessing, and therefore can't be undone. [dramatic lean in closer to the audience] This is also true of prophecies.
  • 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.
    • In "Hans, My Hedgehog" he interrupts the story because he thinks the Story Teller is telling the story incorrectly and tells part of the story himself.
    • 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.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The bottomless pit room in "The True Bride".
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Sapsorrow, and Anja from "The True Bride".
  • Darker and Edgier: Greek Myths definitely has a darker tone than the fairy tales. Then again, they are Greek myths!
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Dog in the original, especially when heckling The Storyteller. Greek Myths made him more of a hyperactive Audience Surrogate, but he still had his moments.
  • 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.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: In "The True Bride", both The Troll and The Troll's Daughter speak in a strange manner, with word choices that suggests they don't quite know the meanings of all the words they're using.
  • The Determinator: the Princess in "Hans, My Hedgehog" wanders the Earth until three pairs of iron shoes have been worn down to nothing and her hair has turned snow white
  • Downer Ending: A couple of the fairy tales and all of the Greek Myths except that of Perseus.
  • Easily Forgiven: Sapsorrow's prince. He forced her to kill and cook her geese friends, for pity's sake.
  • 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.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Lots. Fairy tales, you know.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: "The Heartless Giant". He lets the imprisoned Giant escape, and the latter goes right back to rampaging and even petrifies his brothers.
  • Fearless Fool: Fearnot, who is portrayed as rather naive and frankly a little stupid in addition to being fearless. He sets out on a quest to find out what fear is.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Sapsorrow, in the episode of the same name.
  • 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:
      Dog: What was it?
      Storyteller: It was Zeus, lord of all gods.
      Dog: What... was he doing?
      Storyteller: Fulfilling the oracle.
      Dog: [beat] Ohhhh. So that's how it's done!
    • In "The True Bride", the daughter of the Troll (who steals away the heroine's husband) is called "the trollop".
  • Grimmification: Averted; the stories are about as dark as their un-bowdlerized originals, and neither add nor subtract grimness.
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Twice in "Sapsorrow" - first a ring, which starts the trouble, and later the iconic slipper which resolves it.
  • Greek Chorus: Occasionally, the Dog will pipe in with sarcasm, observations, and banter with the Storyteller.
  • Happily Ever After: For many stories in the first series.
  • "How I Wrote This Article" Article: In "A Story Short," the Storyteller tells the story of why he couldn't think of a story.
  • 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.
  • Infant Immortality: Played with in "The Three Ravens". The Wicked Stepmother tries to have the heroine's infant children killed, but they are rescued by her brothers, who have been turned into ravens.
  • Insistent Terminology: The griffon in "The Luck Child" insists that it is a bird.
  • 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).
  • Large Ham: The narrator of Greek Myths. The original Storyteller also has his moments, but not as many.
  • Lemony Narrator: While the Storyteller of the original will usually tell the story normally, occasionally he delves into this territory when responding to the Dog, or when he's getting into the more intense moments of the stories. Like this moment from "The Soldier and Death":
    Storyteller: "Death, a prisoner." The news went from one of the Tsar's 50 wives to the other, spread through the town as fast as gossip, which is what it was and nothing travels faster. And within four and a half minutes, the whole town knew. And within seventeen minutes, the whole country knew. And by the following morning, it was the talking point of a thousand languages! "Death, a prisoner!" "Muerte, un prisionare!" "Tot, ein Gefangener!" "Smierz uns Nize!" [beat] I've forgotten the Greek...
    Dog: Ed mellitistone fon Thanatos.
    Storyteller: [as if saying "that's it, thank you"] Exactly.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Theseus pulls this on Ariadne and tragedy results.
  • Offing the Offspring: The heroine in "The Three Ravens" is accused of doing this.
  • Parental Incest: Sapsorrow has to marry her father because the queen's ring fits her finger. She disguises herself as a creature with fur and feathers and leaves her kingdom to avoid this.
  • The Prophecy: Rather common on the show. "Perseus and the Gorgon" even goes so far as to show the Oracle telling the plot-kicking prophecy to Acrisius.
  • The Problem with Fighting Death: In "The Soldier and Death". It won't reap him once he's freed it, and neither Heaven nor Hell will take him.
  • 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.
  • Scheherezade 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 friendly beggar he had helped get fed in the opening act gives him a fantastic dream vision for a final story.
  • Shirtless Scene: True to their many famous sculptures (or at least as true as you can get without pissing the censors off) both Perseus and Theseus get at least one in their respective Greek Myths episodes. Also true to the sculptures, their physiques aren't too shabby either.
  • Small Reference Pools: This series uses this trope to its advantage by dramatizing only the obscure fairy tales. Greek Myths, less so, since most of the tales they covered are relatively well-known among Mythology enthusiasts.
  • Spin-Off: The Storyteller: Greek Myths.
  • The Storyteller: Our narrator, and the main character of the series. Such an archetypical example that he never is given any name at all. His telling stories to his dog in either a dilapidated house or the Labyrinth of Minos (Depending on which series) is the Framing Device for the stories within the episodes. He appears in two stories directly, the first being Hans, My Hedgehog where he is posing as a fortune teller and gets thrown in jail for offending the king with his fortune only to be pardoned in celebration of the princess' wedding. The second is his Day in the Limelight episode A Story Short where he becomes a royal storyteller but runs out of stories before the last story mandated by his agreement with the King.
  • 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.
  • Sympathy for the Hero: The poisoner in "The Luck Child" genuinely feels sorry for what the protagonist will suffer should the king's orders be carried out, so he changes them.
  • Taken for Granite: The eponymous "Heartless Giant" turns Leo's brothers to stone, along with several others. When they are freed it's revealed that they were alive and conscious the whole time and forced to witness the Giant's crimes. It's a factor in their decision to kill the Giant by destroying his heart, despite Leo's conviction that the Giant would turn good if his heart was restored.
  • Tin Man: The title character of "The Heartless Giant" claims to be "heartless", but shows plenty of emotion and even falls into Even Evil Has Standards.
  • 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.
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: The "heartless" giant.
  • The Watson: The dog.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Twice over in "The Three Ravens". The same sorceress becomes the evil stepmother to the princess, and later to her husband.
  • Wonder Child: "Hans My Hedgehog".
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Perseus is unable to stop himself from killing his Grandfather.
  • You No Take Candle:
    • The Griffon in "The Luck Child".
    • In "The True Bride", the Troll and the Trollop speak in a mix of this and Delusions of Eloquence.

Alternative Title(s): Jim Hensons The Storyteller