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June 30, 2006




Three faculty members of the University of Maine at Fort Kent recently were invited to share their research and creativity and to exchange ideas with other academics, and professional story tellers at the 10th annual Storytelling Symposium held on June 9 and 10 at Cape Breton University, in Nova Scotia.

English professors Geraldine Cannon Becker and Dr. Joseph Becker, and Natural and Behavioral Sciences professor, Dr. Mariella Squire, participated in the Magicians, Magical Beings and Places symposium.

The focus of the symposium was on witches and wizards, sorcerers and their apprentices, disappearing or conjuring acts, and similar staples in children's stories and literature.

Professor Geraldine Cannon Becker, who has ideas brewing for a symposium at UMFK in the fall, helped kick-off the CBU symposium by participating in the story-telling event on Friday evening. She read a Southern Appalachian conjure woman story that she wrote, called Aunt Lous Close Enough Truth. Cannon Becker wrote the tale quickly, calling upon memory and using details from a story given to her by her own Aunt Louise.

Ms. Cannon Becker, who presented work at the annual symposium last year, said: "The atmosphere of this symposium is so nurturing and stimulating. It is something that really can't be duplicated, and yet I would like to try something similar here at UMFK."

On Saturday morning, Dr. Joseph Becker presented an academic paper, Of Wizards and Waifs: Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Merlyn as Storytellers, that delves into mysterious partnerships. In his paper he discussed the significance and importance of storytelling conducted by the wizards Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings), Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter), and Merlyn (The Once and Future King).

In each case, he pointed out that the wizard conveys important cultural and spiritual information to the central characters of their respective worksall of whom are orphans in one form or another and are in danger of losing contact with the history and lore of their cultures. The audience responded favorably to his presentation, asking questions of Becker, who emphasized the importance of storytelling as a means of empowering the youths to succeed in their future endeavors.

Dr. Mariella Squire presented an academic paper on "Three New England Curses" Squire examined the cultural and ethno-historic components of three Anglo-American folktales or cursings from the hill country of northern New England: "The Cursed St. Francis Treasure", "The Curse on Brunswick Springs", and "Molly Occutt's Curse."

Squire says: "In each of these stories, the curse enactor was an Abenaki, the indigenous Native American ethnic group, and the target was an Anglo-American. These stories are part of the living folklore of the region, and they are often incorporated in local town histories."

Cannon Becker concluded the afternoon session by reading her story, "Aunt Lous Close Enough Truth", again before presenting her academic paper An Exploration of Purpose in Southern Appalachian Conjure Woman Tales.

Cannon Becker spoke on control, class and culture, using examples from Charles W. Chesnutt and Fredrick Douglass. According to Cannon Becker, "Belief in conjuring can cause a person who is living under the thumb of another person to be able to lift the thumb and to find the strength of his/her own hands and feet again. It can help a person become independent."

The Beckers often travel with their children in tow, so everyone had breakfast together before leaving Nova Scotia on Sunday morning.

On the way back to the magical place that is known as the Valley, Dr. Squire sang folk songs and ballads, and told story after story to the Becker's enthralled children. They kept asking: Do you have another As long as the thirst remains, the stories will well up. It works like magic