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. Set in a vaguely 16th Century European world, the tales told were rather obscure by American standards not always having the standard "happy ending" modern audiences are accustomed to, and much more mature and darker then what most kids read. The duo were always sitting comfortably by the fire, while the Dog would function as a Greek Chorus asking questions and making snarky comments.
A follow-up, The StoryTeller: Greek Myths, featured a different Storyteller played by Michael Gambon but with the same Dog, and more well-known tales. Set in Ancient Greece, roughly a thousand years after Theseus killed the Minotaur, this Storyteller is a more dubious character having come to the Isle of Crete to rob the dead or as he puts it "exchange their coins for smaller valuables". He and the Dog ended being chased into the Labyrinth by the angry locals. Now trapped the two wander for an exit, and the Storyteller is reminded of the ancient myths by the artifacts he finds scattered across the Labyrinth, such as Orpheus's lyre and a bust of Daedalus. This incarnation was a Mini Series that was four episodes long and unlike the first series had a definite beginning and end.
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"). That was followed by four issue mini-series including:
- The Storyteller: Dragons (2015-2016)
- The Storyteller: Giants (2016-2017)
- The Storyteller: Fairies (2017-2018)
- The Storyteller: Sirens (2019)
- The Storyteller: Ghosts (2020)
- The Storyteller: Tricksters (2021)
In 2019, it was announced that Neil Gaiman would write a revival of the series. Incorporating more serialized elements in the framing story, the new series will explore more of the Storyteller's origins and place him in a northern kingdom where stories have become forbidden.
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:
- Abusive Parents: The troll is one to Anja in the beginning, from giving her difficult tasks and unreasonable time constraints, to physically beating her with "the contradiction stick." His death is given much celebration.
- Accidental Murder: Daedalus murders his nephew Talos in a brief fit of madness fueled by jealously and anger over his wishes that Icarus was more like him.
- Adaptational Jerkass: In most tellings of "Orpheus and Eurydice", Hades is touched by Orpheus' music and allows him his request to bring Eurydice back. Here Hades is unmoved by the music and it takes Persephone groveling at his feet to get him to acquiesce.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Describing the lion's movement in "The True Bride":Storyteller: Huge strides, impossible speeds, over cliff and cavern, crevasse and chasm, cave and canyon, helter-skelter...
- 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 lovable charm.
- Always Chaotic Evil: In "The True Bride" trolls are said to be this, and they can't even stand each other.
- Ambiguously Human: The Storyteller himself. While there's nothing explicitly saying he isn't human, those ears and that nose, combined with his overall demeanor, give the impression that he might be some kind of fae.
- Anthology: Each one of the episodes is a self-contained story. The unifying elements are similar settings (Medieval Europe or Ancient Greece, depending on the series), and the duo of The Storyteller and the dog.
- Arc Number: "The Three Ravens" has 3 as its primary number: 3 of the four children turn into ravens. To turn them back, the fourth must remain silent for 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days. Over that time, she gives birth to 3 sons, all of whom go missing. Also Played for Laughs at the end: she breaks her silence 3 minutes too soon, meaning that her youngest brother's left arm remains cursed as a raven's wing forever. Not that he minds.
- 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.
- Barred from the Afterlife: One episode had a soldier 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.
- Bookends: The first chronological episode of the Greek Myths series was "Theseus and the Minotaur" — in which the Storyteller and the Dog get chased into the Labyrinth and the Storyteller tells how the Minotaur was defeated — and the last was "Daedalus and Icarus" — in which the Storyteller tells how the Minotaur's Labyrinth prison was created, and the Storyteller and the Dog manage to trigger a secret exit and escape.
- 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.
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. (The other characters are never shown to notice or interact with him, so it could be closer to projecting himself into the visuals only.)
- Perhaps most notably, in "Hans, My Hedgehog," he thinks the Storyteller is telling the story incorrectly and takes over telling the story for a short time.
- 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.
- Cheaters Never Prosper: During the card game in "The Soldier and Death"...Devil #1: Is he cheating?Devil #2: Well I am, and I'm still losing!
- Chekhov's Boomerang:
- The bottomless pit room in "The True Bride" is a downplayed example. It only comes up twice, but it kills both the troll and the trollop.
- The sack in "The Soldier and Death". A beggar gives the titular soldier the sack, which has the power to entrap any creature inside if the owner says something along the lines of "Get in the sack!" The soldier uses this to catch a goose to eat at the hotel, a devil in the mansion so he can ask a favor later, and later Death itself. When Death is released and flees from him, he tries to convince a heaven-bound soul to say "Get in the sack!" to him once on the other side, only it never does because there is apparently no memory in heaven.
- Cinderella Circumstances: Two examples.
- "Sapsorrow": The titular heroine has countless animal companions and is bullied by her sisters, but she's still a princess to start with. When circumstances force her to disguise herself as a creature of fur and feathers and abandon her home, she spends the next two years as a servant in another palace, only to fall in love with the prince.
- "The True Bride": Anja begins as an abused servant to a troll. The role of the fairy godmother falls to the Thought Lion, whose intervention leads to the troll's death and her moving in to the newly built palace. But that's only the start of the story...
- Darker and Edgier: Greek Myths definitely has a darker tone than the fairy tales. Then again, they are Greek myths!
- 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.
- 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 suggest they don't quite know the meanings of all the words they're using.
- 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.
- Didn't Think This Through: In "The Soldier and Death", the soldier attempts to trick his way into Heaven by handing his magic sack to one of the souls waiting to enter Heaven, and asking the soul to call him into the sack once he is within Heaven. However, the soldier forgot that all souls entering Heaving lose all mortal life, so once he is in Heaven, the soul has no memory of why he has a sack or what he is supposed to do with it. So the soldier remains Barred from the Afterlife and left to wander the earth without his magic sack.
- Dissonant Serenity: In "Daedalus and Icarus", the title characters have been thrown into the Labyrinth, while Icarus is scared out of his wits that he'll be eaten by the Minotaur, Daedalus isn't scared in the least calmly counting the steps to the secret exit.
- Downer Ending: "The Soldier and Death" and all of the Greek Myths except that of Perseus.
- The Dreaded: The Soldier is able to strike fear into any demon, as well as Death himself. Unfortunately, this comes back to bite him when Death refuses to take him out of fear and the demons deny him access to Hell (as well as being too sinful to be allowed into Heaven) when he grows tired of living.
- Easily Forgiven: Sapsorrow's prince. He forced her to kill and cook her geese friends, for pity's sake.
- Elective Mute: The princess from "The Three Ravens" must remain silent for three years, three months, three weeks, and three days in order to free her brothers from their curse.
- 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: Two examples.
- "The Luck Child": When Lucky is sent to the palace with a letter from the evil king, he falls into a Thieves' Cave. The little man there, self-proclaimed 'the nastiest,' poisons him with goulash and plans to rob and kill him. Then he reads the letter from the king, which commands that as soon as the Queen reads it, she orders that Lucky be chopped into a thousand pieces. Disgusted, the little man forges a new letter that instead commands that he marry the princess, and leaves Lucky to wake up at the edge of the forest with the palace in sight.
- "The Heartless Giant": The eponymous Sealed Evil in a Can tricks a prince into letting him escape and proceeds to go on a rampage throughout the kingdom. However, he conspicuously never harms the prince and is actually quite friendly to him even as he knows that the prince is trying to kill him to undo his mistake. Much like the similarly heartless Davy Jones of Pirates of the Caribbean, the giant embodies the Tin Man trope and is presented sympathetically.
- 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 naïve and frankly a little stupid in addition to being fearless. He sets out on a quest to find out what fear is.
- Framing Device:
- In the original series, the Storyteller is sitting by the fire with his Dog as he tells each story.
- In the "Greek Myth" series is more elaborate, the Storyteller is trapped in the Labyrinth for robbing the dead and in between telling myths he keeps searching for a way out.
- Friend to All Living Things: Sapsorrow, in the episode of the same name.
- 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 lovable, 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.
- Improbable Infant Survival: 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.
- Leitmotif: Each episode gave their respective protagonists one. A standout example is the ruby-esque whistling (to paraphrase the titular Storyteller) from "The Soldier and Death," which is used both out-of-universe in the musical score and in-universe as the titular soldier's Character Tic.
- 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.
- Malicious Slander: Rather subtly done in "The Three Ravens", when the Wicked Stepmother leads people to the conclusion that the princess killed her own babies, largely by planting seeds of doubt. In reality, she was the culprit.
- Not Staying for Breakfast: Theseus pulls this on Ariadne and tragedy results.
- The Oath-Breaker: Theseus promised his mother not to leave her side, his father to raise white sails rather than black if he survived his trip to Crete and Ariadne to take her home with him if she helped him escape the labyrinth. He ends up breaking all three promises.
- Old Beggar Test: A lesson that the Storyteller learns in "A Story Short", alluded to before he begins telling the story:Storyteller: Yes...yesterday, I forgot a story. And that is why I went straight out and gave my supper to a beggar.
Dog: Our supper.
Storyteller: Now, of course, this will strike fools as foolish and wise men as wise. A fool eats his last potato, a wise man plants it. Apart from which, everyone knows beggars are never what they seem.
- Offing the Offspring: The heroine in "The Three Ravens" is accused of doing this.
- Pajama-Clad Hero: John Hurt's Storyteller is always wearing a patchwork dressing gown.
- 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 Greek 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; in Ancient Greece this would've been a grave offense since the dead needed money to pay Charon the ferryman to cross the River Styx and enter Hades. He and the Dog get chased into the Labyrinth by angry locals, setting up the framing device.
- 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. It's only on the final day that he finally runs out of stories, 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. Also briefly applies to the three brothers in "The Three Ravens" as they're changing into their cursed shirts.
- 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.
- 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. In the end, though, he changes his ways.
- The Storyteller: Our narrators, and the main character of the series. Such an archetypical example that they're never given any name at all. John Hurt's Storyteller tells stories to his dog in a dilapidated house by a roaring fire, while Michael Gambon's Storyteller wanders around the Labyrinth of Minos is the Framing Device for the stories within the episodes. John Hurt's Storyteller 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.
- Story Arc: The framing device for "The Greek Myths". The Storyteller and the Dog have been chased into Labyrinth for robbing the dead and they spend their time trying to find a way out. They do at the end of Daedalus and Icarus.
- 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.
- Used for good in the myth of Perseus, who uses Medusa's severed head to petrify Atlas, allowing him to hold up the sky without straining. Then used for revenge against the king.
- Til Murder Do Us Part: In "The Three Ravens", after the Wicked Stepmother curses the princes into ravens and the princess flees, the King's fear and grief overpower the love enchantment she cast on him. Annoyed, she kills him and starts over with a different king, whose only offspring is already an adult.
- 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.
- Tragic Monster: The Minotaur in "Theseus and the Minotaur" is portrayed as one, which much more focus on his human side than his animal side.
- 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 BSoD: The "heartless" giant.
- Waistcoat of Style: John Hurt's Storyteller wears a nice red one under his dressing gown.
- Wandering Jew: At the end of "The Soldier and Death", the soldier has been Barred from the Afterlife: Death refuses to claim him, Heaven will not take him because of his sins, and Hell will not admit him for fear he will take over. After he attempts to trick his way into Heaven and fails, the soldier is left to walk the earth for all eternity.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: The titular Soldier from "The Soldier and Death" captures Death in a magic sack, and is convinced to set him free after seeing aging men in the streets waiting for death that will never come. Only problem? Death is so traumatized from being trapped in the sack that he refuses to come near the Soldier. Then both Heaven and Hell refuse to accept him after he gets sick of life.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Though he won't admit it, Daedalus wishes that slow and clumsy Icarus was more like his cousin Talos instead.
- 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.