In Griots and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music, Thomas Hale recounts an anecdote about a recording session he conducted in the palace of the Zarmakoy, the ruler of the Dosso region in Niger, in 1981. Instructed to switch off his machine, he waited while the Zarmakoy told the griot — a skilled storyteller trained from childhood to remember and recount the community’s history and epic tales — to alter the direction of his narrative so that he would perform the version the leader deemed appropriate for the foreign researcher.
Such alterations are bread and butter for griots, who tailor their narrations according to who is paying them, forever weaving in new jokes and references….Reading Hale’s published translation, I couldn’t help being conscious that what I was getting was a snapshot of a moving, changing creation — a story that may well have played out quite differently had I been there in person.
Ann Morgan “Lost in Translation” in FT Weekend, January 17th, 2015
By the same token, the people who first transcribed the Iliad, or the Book of Songs, must have been aware that they were pinning down a vital force, a butterfly specimen, that in its natural state drew life from its surroundings.
And as for all those novels on the shelves: free stories trapped in amber.