As a lover of fairy tales, I loved to watch Storybook International as a child. Produced by HTV (a TV region in England), the series showcased a different folk tale or fairy story every week. Stories originating from different parts of the world were featured. The series was first broadcast in 1983 and was based on a book with the same title edited by Veronica Kruger and published in 1981 by Gollancz.
What made Storybook International unique was its format. It was produced to look and feel like a book on TV. It was like an audiobook with visuals. Each live action episode had no audible dialogue, but instead each story was narrated by either Claire Nielson, Isla Blair, or Virginia Boston. Sixty-five magical episodes were produced, shown over three seasons.
Filmed on location, the series was a joy to watch. The series lived up to its title: every week, viewers were transported from one country to the next and were treated to fantastic sceneries and fascinating cultures. It was no wonder that the show enjoyed success outside of the UK too, including the United States, Midddle East and Scandinavia.
The Opening Sequence
What fans remember most about the show is probably the animated title sequence featuring a minstrel with a mandolin singing the theme song, The Storyteller, composed by Larry Grossman. Here are the lyrics of the theme:
I’m the Storyteller, and my stories must be told.
I have many stories, tales for both the young and old.
I have many voices to describe many places.
Many names have I, and many faces…
In Russia I am Ivan; in Sweden I am Jan.
In Germany I’m Johan; in England, I am John.
From my many travels, I have gathered these tales,
to teach you good sense, when all else fails.
Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is laughter…
but always a happily ever after.
In the US, the song was edited to to say “… in America I am John.”
Here’s the opening sequence on YouTube:
I always thought it was odd that the title sequence should show a male minstrel when the narrators of the show were all female.
The DVD Collection
The complete series was finally released on DVD in 20016 but only in the US. I don’t think it’s still available but it should be possible to get used copies on eBay.
List of Episodes
Here’s a complete list of episodes with synopses:
1. Clever Manka (Czechoslovakia)
In this popular tale, Manka is a clever young woman and a hard worker. When she takes her uncle before the judge to receive payment for work she has done, the judge is impressed by her beauty and intelligence. He proposes marriage to her if she promises to not contradict his judgments. Manka accepts his offer, but trouble inevitably follows when someone asks for her help.
2. Moses and the Lime-Kiln (Middle East)
Moses offers help to the Caliph of a great city who hungers for more knowledge and they become close friends. Moses’ life is put in jeopardy when one of the Caliph’s jealous courtiers plots to have him killed.
3. Cap O’ Rushes (England)
In a tale that influenced Shakespeare’s King Lear, a father asks his three daughters to describe their love for him. The youngest daughter’s answer angers the father so much that he banishes her from his home. Later, he comes to appreciate the depth of her love when the meaning of her answer becomes clear.
4. The Soldier Who Didn’t Wash (Russia)
A poor, lonely soldier makes a deal with the Devil. In exchange for great wealth, the soldier agrees not to wash for fifteen years. The soldier becomes a social outcast but ultimately comes to the aid of a money-strapped king on the condition that one of the princesses becomes his wife. This tale is often known as Bearskin in its American variants.
5. The Widow’s Lazy Daughter (Ireland)
In this tale reminiscent of Rumpelstiltskin, lazy Bridget must accomplish three difficult tasks to placate her future mother-in-law. Three strange old women arrive and offer their assistance, asking only to be invited to the wedding. Will Bridget’s secret be discovered?
6. The Grief of Pi-Kari (Maori)
In this moving tale about death and grief, a Chief longs to live with his ‘spirit’ wife, abandoning his responsibilities to his daughter and village. Eventually he comes to understand that he is needed by the living and returns to his home.
7. The Pedlar’s Dream (England)
A poor pedlar dreams of a fortune to be found at a faraway market. When he arrives at the market, he learns that the fortune really lies outside his own house.
8. The Priest Know-All (Norway)
John, a mischievous peasant lad, is mistaken by chance for a priest and is appointed chaplain to the King as a reward for having found the Queen’s stolen jewels. Asked to predict the sex of her unborn child, he is in a quandary.
9. The Foolish Brother (Turkey)
Abdul and Sulyman are two brothers, who happen to find a sack of gold while out chopping trees. The local storekeeper wants his share, so they leave their village. Attacked by brigands, Adbul’s stupidity saves them and the gold.
10. The Emperor and the Abbot (Austria)
A spiteful Emperor decides that his Abbot has too enjoyable a life and sets him three impossible riddles to solve. A shepherd comes to the Abbot’s rescue.
11. The Forbidden Door (Arabia)
Hakim, a young sheikh, finds great wealth and happiness behind a door which is forbidden to him. However, when he enters another forbidden door, his greed and curiosity lose him everything that he loves.
12. Sorrow (Hungary)
One brother becomes poor, the other is very rich and will not help. One day the poor brother is burdened by Sorrow, who leads him first to drink, but eventually shows him a way to become rich.
13. The Straw Hat (Germany)
Franz, a peasant farmer, is tricked by three town lads when selling his cow. When he discovers their trick, he retaliates with a clever plan involving a straw bat. They have underestimated the wily peasant.
14. The Well of the World’s End (Scotland)
Rosemary is sent by her wicked stepmother to fetch water from the well in a sieve. A toad helps her and in return demands to be fed and to sleep in their house.
15. Riches or Happiness (India)
A young man, Yash, offers himself in meditation to a Goddess. She in return for his devotion offers him the choice between riches or happiness.
16. Hinemoa (Maori)
Hinemoa and Tutenakai are in love, but her father wishes her to marry a future chief. Tutenakai leaves the village and she is forbidden to see him, but she devises a plan to rejoin him.
17. The Five Loaves (Rumania)
Two friends share their food with a stranger who gives them five pennies for their kindness. They can not agree on dividing the money and take their case to a Judge. He resolves the case in a strictly mathematical and very enlightening way.
18. The Island of the Drums (Samoa)
Nama goes to the Island of Drums to fetch a drum for his father so that he can call his men to council. He chooses the best drum but forgets to thank the Drum Chief.
19. The Twelve Months (Hungary)
Meruska, a pretty, hard-working girl, is sent into the forest to perform impossible tasks by her jealous stepmother and stepsister, Helena. In the forest she meets the Twelve Months of the year.
20. Nikorima (Maori)
An eccentric warrior is left behind to guard his village when a hostile war party arrives. With a great deal of cleverness, Nikorima repels the invaders.
21. Simpleton Peter (England)
Peter, a simple lad, visits a wise woman so that she will make him clever, but he is unable to answer her riddles. Peter meets and marries Jenny and, with her, returns to the wise woman.
22. The Haunted Pastures (Bavaria)
A prosperous irascible farmer has three daughters. When his cows suddenly disappear from the summer pastures, he sends his daughters, one by one, to find out what has happened. Only the youngest daughter, Ursula, is kind enough to help an old man in distress nearby.
23. Morwen of the Woodlands (Wales)
A Prince grows bored with his no longer young and beautiful wife. Out riding, he falls for a woodland maiden called Morwen. She returns with him on the condition that he allows her to return alone to the forest once a week. Wylan, a monk and magician, helps to reveal Morwen’s true identity.
24. The Russian and the Tartar (Russia)
Across the wild and lonely plains, a Russian and Tartar travel together for company. The Russian tricks the Tartar three times, then the Tartar decides he is safer alone.
25. The Hired Help (Eastern Europe)
A young man is exploited by a mean, clever farmer. Then he returns home with his tale of woe, his younger brother devises a scheme to redress the balance and teach the farmer a lesson he will never forget.
26. 100 Cattle (Africa)
A young warrior, Kanabe, inherits 100 cattle. When the matchmaker selects Aila as a suitable bride, her father demands all 100 cattle as bride price, although this will leave the young couple destitute. When a handsome ranger begins to pay court to Aila, and her father arrives on an unexpected visit, she is forced into a dangerous choice.
27. The Black Cape (Spain)
When his land is terrorized by a mysterious being, the King is surprised that the only one of his subjects who is clever enough to deal with the threat is Carmella, the young daughter of a goatherd. Together they climb the mountain to challenge the strange black cape.
28. The Perfect Prince? (India)
Thinking he is hideous because of a small scar, Prince Kusa tries to avoid marriage. When a beautiful bride is found for him, he conceals his face with veils to prevent her seeing him as he is. Insatiably curious, she spies on him.
29. Minu (Africa)
Nibo, a quiet and unadventurous villager, decides to make his first journey away from home and see the sights other travelers have told such tall stories about. He has a wonderful time seeing lots of new animals and birds, but when he meets new people, he runs into a language barrier.
30. The Basket of Flowers (Scandinavia)
A widower and his young daughter are forced to leave their home when she is unjustly accused of theft. Wandering abroad, they are taken in by a farmer and his wife and are happy and hard working until the farmer’s son takes over the farm.
31. The Talking Pony (Spain)
The owner of a string of ponies is astonished to find that one of them has been changed into a man, especially when he remembers how cruelly he has treated the animal. Little does he know that he is the victim of a trick perpetrated by a clever, poor student called Juan.
32. The Spoiled Son (Rumania)
Ion is completely spoiled by his family. One day he becomes lost. The efforts of those who try to help him are rewarded only with disaster, but somehow, by the time he finds his family again, he has finally grown up.
33. The King’s Secret (China)
Despite the wealth, peace and prosperity of his kingdom, all his subjects are baffled by their King’s unhappiness. Only his barber can cheer him up; but when the barber’s apprentice has to stand in for his master, he finds that there is more to the job than meets the eye.
34. The Miraculous Doctor (France)
Not one of the learned doctors called by the King can remove a fishbone stuck in his daughter’s throat. When messengers are sent to fetch another doctor, a young maltreated wife sees the chance to turn the tables on her husband, and she succeeds beyond all her expectations.
35. Rich Man, Poor Man (Africa)
A rich man and a poor man are friends until famine destroys their friendship. The poor man’s three sons go out into the world, but the elder two boys do not want the youngest tagging along with them. Their ploys to get rid of him backfire.
36. The Woodcutter and the Devil (Eastern Europe)
A woodcutter tries to escape his shrewish wife who, intent on pursuit, falls down a well. When he goes back to rescue her, however, he pulls out a devil, who gives him a reward. He hasn’t heard the last of either the devil or his wife.
37. The Mysterious Woodcutter (Korea)
When a beautiful young girl is rescued from her attackers by a handsome young man, she naturally falls in love with him and makes every excuse to go and see the mysterious recluse in the forest.
38. The Surprise Gift (India)
A King has two lovely daughters, one of whom marries a rich merchant while the other is thrown out by her father in a fit of temper. She works hard to help others less fortunate. Meanwhile, her rich sister very unhappy. The King sets out to look for a solution to his problems and finds more than he expected.
39. The Robber Chief (Scandinavia)
The son of a poor woods man stumbles into a den of thieves who have been terrorizing the neighborhood for years. He uses his wits to pass their tests and become not only a member of the gang but its leader. Then he sets out to revenge himself and his neighbours in a truly democratic way.
40. The Enchanted King (Rumania)
When her widowed mother dies, Lia sets off into the world where she encounters a band of wicked fairies tormenting the young King Limir. To help him, she has to tackle first the fairies’ mother, and then their grandmother, to find the remedy for the king and his kingdom.
41. The Three Coins (Spain)
Three brothers set out to seek their fortunes, each with a silver coin from their father to start them out in life. At the end of a year, they meet up again and go in search of adventure. The skills that each of them has learned come in useful, but one is better rewarded than the others.
42. The Foolish Lad (Eastern Europe)
A widow’s son who appears to be incurably stupid and manages to get the wrong end of the stick, nevertheless, manages to outwit those who try to exploit him.
43. The Blacksmith (Africa)
Mandalla is the King’s blacksmith and welcomes the King’s demands as a challenge, until one day, the King demands the impossible. Neither Mandalla nor his sons can come up with an answer. Who can tell them what to say to the King?
44. The Bar of Gold (Eastern Europe)
A poor but hardworking man does nothing to make matters better by feeling sorry for himself all the time. Then a prosperous doctor takes him in and gives him a bar of gold which changes his entire life.
45. The Clever Thief (China)
When a wily thief is eventually imprisoned, he persuades the jailer to let him see the King. His cleverness not only sets him free but also teaches a valuable lesson to the greatest in the land.
46. The Squire’s Bride (Scandinavia)
A rich, ugly and unhappy man decides to marry his beautiful servant girl, but she refuses him. After bribing her father with a large dowry, he sends for his bride but gets more than he has bargained for.
47. The Lost Ruby (India)
A King, deciding to punish his Chief Minister’s presumption, a huge ruby into his care while arranging secretly to steal it back. When it cannot be returned, the King gives him seven days in which to find it, or face dire consequences.
48. The Blind Beauty (Philippines)
A poor fisherman manages to get a job with a rich merchant and falls in love with his daughter, but the foreman is jealous of him and schemes successfully for his removal from the firm. In the end, hard work, honesty and love triumph over all obstacles.
49. The Wise Merchant (Arabia)
A merchant wants to hand over his business to his son. Although the boy enjoys life to the full, he lacks experience of the harsh realities of business. At first his father is horrified as he makes dreadful mistakes, but in the end they both learn from each other.
50. Two For One (Arabia)
Everyone wonders why a beautiful young woman is so happy and always so well-dressed. No one guesses that the secret of her success is a double life with two husbands – one who works days, the other nights. Then something threatens her idyllic existence.
51. The Little Beggar (Arabia)
In a series of accidents, the village beggar is “murdered” by a succession of prominent citizens. All is revealed at the sensational trial.
52. Great Heart (North American Indian)
When the time comes for a young warrior to prove his manhood and earn the right to marry, he has to overcome one obstacle after another.
53. The Old Kitbag (Canada)
A soldier retires from the army with a pension of only three coins: but his generosity and wisdom wins him happiness and wealth.
54. The Strange Guest (Canada)
When a rich and greedy farmer finds that his poor neighbour has somehow become lucky, he cannot rest until he finds out how it happened. Things don’t work out quite the same way for him.
55. The Clever Trapper (Canada)
A callous landlord taxes his tenants for every penny they are worth. Then a strange turn of fate gives the miller and his family a chance to remedy their desperate situation.
56. Myself (Canada)
A poor widow has to send her gullible son out into the world. He starts off slowly, but in the end he learns how to take care of himself.
57. The Magic Stone (Serbia)
A lazy young man goes into the world as a beggar, but thanks to some magical advice, he soon gets everything he wants in life.
58. Bags of Silver (Croatia)
A miserly father sets his daughter’s dowry impossibly high to prevent her ever marrying and leaving him. He hasn’t counted on the cleverness of a young man who falls in love with her.
59. The Ambitious Cobbler (Slovenia)
The greedy, envious wife of the town cobbler is unhappy with her lot. She decides that the way for her husband to become rich is to become an astrologer. The result is not quite as expected.
60. The Stubborn Princess (Eastern Europe)
When a poor young man gains certain powers, he not only marries a princess, but finds himself in a set of rather strange circumstances.
61. The Great Slayer (Eastern Europe)
A cobbler who is unhappy with his lot inadvertently builds himself a totally undeserved reputation as a great warrior. Then he sets off to prove his worth and earn his fortune.
62. The Princess Who Never Laughed (Slovenia)
A princess who is never amused is offered in marriage by her father, the King, to the first person who can make her laugh.
63. The Three Helpers (Turkey)
When a prince falls in love with a princess held captive under the spell of a wicked wizard, he needs the help of some unusual companions to overcome the enemy.
64. Secret Soup (Wales)
A mean, old woman finds herself giving a stranger not only supper but also shelter for the night when he promises her his secret recipe for a dish that costs nothing.
65. The Discontented Daughter (Wales)
A spoiled young lady’s bad manners get her into hot water. Her enlightenment and subsequent behaviour rescue her.