Megan Wells has many talents and roles, but the most public is that of storyteller. On Tuesday, September 15, she demonstrated her linguistic flair and ability to transport her audience to another era when she told Oscar Wilde’s story, ‘The Canterville Ghost,’ to the Levy Lecture crowd.
Zoom technology notwithstanding, all were whisked away to nineteenth century England where the American ambassador to England, Mr. Otis, was in the process of buying an English country estate, the Canterville Chase, including all the furniture and the services of the caretaker, for his wife and four children who were coming to join him. Oh, and by the way, the property is haunted by a ghost.
Oscar Wilde, the flamboyant and theatrical writer who crafted this story—his first to be published—knew how to tease both the Brits and the Americans. The English owners of the estate are portrayed as stodgy and fearful of the apparition. The American family is described as not believing in ghosts and ready to laugh at one if it should decide to join them. The Ambassador, slightly headstrong in his determination to purchase this particular property in spite of the ample warnings about the dead but not resting uninvited guest, shows stereotypical bravado of someone who lives in a country that is young, growing, and brash.
The sale is soon completed, the Otis family moves in, and soon enough things start to happen of a ghostly nature. The twist in this ghostly tale is that the ghost, Sir Simon de Canterville, is unable to ruffle any of the Otises and is thus humiliated, leading to the heart of the story. What happened to Sir Simon that caused him to become a ghost? How long has he been in this state? As Virginia Otis, the daughter, tries to determine, what can she do to help him escape this endless cycle of misery?
To find out what happens, and to see Megan play all the parts of this story including the ghost, go to the Levy Senior Center Foundation’s YouTube channel.
Ms. Wells loves this story and has been interpreting it for years. It’s in the public domain, meaning there are no copyright charges and the storyteller has leeway in how the story is told. She notes, “Literary storytelling is a unique form. It’s a blend of the written and the aural. The storyteller’s job is to make a bridge for the audience to the written. The ear hears and experiences a story very differently than the eyes do.” She revels in Oscar Wilde’s talent, a true poet who can make words sing.
It’s also a tale that is wholesome and filled with lessons about love, family, and forgiveness. One of the attendees, Beth Horner, remarked, “Megan’s adaptation makes the story come alive. I found her presentation much more accessible than Oscar Wilde’s story.” Mary Ann McGinley noted that, “Megan has the ability to look friendly and absolutely evil!! A true actress who makes good literature come alive.”
The next Levy Lecture, on Sept. 29, features a conversation with Lecia Brooks, Chief of Staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who will speak about “The State of Hate and Extremism in America.” Levy Lectures are free, but registration is required.