Horrible Histories: Staggering Storytellers

Horrible Histories Storytellers 1
Picture copyright: BBC/Lion Television Ltd/Phil Miller

The award-winning TV series returns with a special episode on famous writers and their origin stories. And when we say ‘origin’, we mean dawn-of-mankind origin. The episode shows how storytelling evolved through the eras, from storytelling in caves to printed books. At the same time, it lets us in on little secrets (and weird habits) of acclaimed writers and poets.

The episode opens in the Stone Age, where storytelling in its primitive form relied on cave drawings and on the vivid descriptions of an endowed narrator. Storytelling is paralleled to cinema-going, with special effects springing into existence from the power of narration/imagination, CGI (as in ‘cave-generated imagery’) and epic music coming from skin drums. Rattus Rattus intercepts giving the historical background, while sketches provide trivia information on how famous writers invoked inspiration. With a further nod to British popular culture, the episode shows Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Lewis Carroll taking part in a… special edition of the Great British Bake off, where edible tea-cups, worm spaghetti and shrinking drinks are part of the menu. Granted, Blyton was the only one who had something edible on her counter, in its raw form of course, but what does her awarding as a star baker say about feminism? As the eras pass one after the other, we see Vishnu Sharma dropping the narrative mic as his audience get confused over the moral of his stories, George Eliot advising the use of a male pen name and Aristophanes creating comedy in Ancient Greece. What do you get when you try to explain comedy to a tragedy-loving person? A musical sketch on who is the butt of the joke.

The joke still goes on as three fictional detectives have a stand-off on who was created first, who has the most expansive merchandise and who is going to solve the murder they were called for. Going back to feminism, we are transported to Lord Byron’s villa, where there is another competition on who is telling the scariest story among Lord Byron himself, Polidori and Mary Shelley. You guess who won? And girl power goes strong as Beatrix Potter, Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson and Enid Blyton sing it out commenting on the appeal of their stories. The episode wraps up with a few more trivia about Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, who apparently was the star of his era (semi-agoraphobic and fan-despising as it were), and the Brontë sisters, whose antagonist was Jane Austen in the publisher’s eyes.

Horrible Histories: Staggering Storytellers is an enjoyable one-off special on important figures of British literature. Amusing and funny, it relates to the modern era in an engaging yet not overburdening way. In other words, entertainment for young and adult audiences alike.