“Tusitala” — “Teller of Tales”

Robert Louis Stevenson (detail) by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
 on November 1, 2023

Not that many years ago (says he defensively), I was assembling some material for a pilgrimage I had been asked to lead. I had decided to share some beautiful prayers, other than those that people knew from church worship. Among them, I chose one composed by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now in my later years, the very mention of that name still sends a thrill through this now exceedingly venerable memory. Stevenson has always been a figure of high romance to me. I still recall the moment — at a large church parade of youth in our parish church — when the  preacher looked down at us small boys in our Wolf Cub uniforms and said in a hearty and conspiratorial voice, “Boys, have you ever read Treasure Island?”

I hadn’t, but I proceeded to pester my parents until a copy appeared. After reading it, I would sail away — thanks to the vivid imagination of Stevenson — on the schooner Hispaniola and in the glorious company of Captain Smollett, Squire Trelawney, Mr Livesey and the immortal and villainous ship’s cook, Long John Silver.


By the way, in those days, a church parade was a serious and exciting affair for small boys — not for any spiritual reason, but chiefly because of the reception held afterwards. Waiting for us would be a generous table of cake and lemonade!

So it was that many years passed when one day, about ten years ago, I read of Stevenson’s life on Samoa in a Church Times column by Ronald Blythe. Stevenson lived there for many years, sent there by his doctor for health reasons, and became a well-known and revered figure in the islands. Because of his constant writing, his name among the Samoans was “Tusitala” which means “Teller of Tales.”

On one occasion, a group of friends came to him and asked if he would write a prayer for the community. I treasure it because of its beauty, simplicity and gentle humanity. Here it is:

Lord, behold our family here assembled. We thank Thee for this place wherein we dwell. For the love that unites us, the peace accorded to this day, the hope with which we expect the morrow, for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies that make our lives delightful. 

Let peace abound in our company. Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge. Give us grace and strength to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften us to our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our endeavours. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another. 

As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, children of their creator, we beseech Thee this help and mercy for Christ’s sake.

I wish I had written that. I wish too that I had written Treasure Island. But what I envy most about Robert Louis Stevenson is that glorious name they gave him on his Pacific island. “Tusitala” — “Teller of Tales.” Wouldn’t you like to be called that? I would.

  • Herbert O’Driscoll

    Herb O’Driscoll is a retired priest, conference leader and prolific author of books, hymns and radio scripts. His newest book of memoirs, I Will Arise and Go Now: Reflections on the Meaning of Places and People, was released in 2021 by Morehouse Publishing. 

    View all posts [email protected]
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