There are only two stories that have ever been told

Yesterday’s conversation about the Hunger Games, which evolved into Battle Royale, which evolved into Lord of the Flies, which evolved into the Bible at some point got me thinking about something my high school theatre theater said once.  The brilliant Chip Rome from Robinson Secondary School told us during Theatre 4 (or 5?) one day almost two decades ago that there have only ever been two stories written in the history of man kind.

  1. Someone goes on a trip
  2. A stranger comes to town

He went on to say that actually, these are the same exact story, just told from different points of view.  So if you boil it down every single plot ever written is the same story.

What a fascinating idea.

I remember the class calling him on it with examples of plays which didn’t follow those rules, and somehow he was able to still distil the essence of the story to these plots.  Perhaps the trip is an internal journey of discovery, or the stranger is a ghost, but in the end it’s all the same.

Beyond everything being a copy of Tolkein or the Bible, we can go further back.  If it’s all just one story than there’s only one story that’s ever been told.  Gilgamesh. Now there is an epic tale with love, romance, adventure, religion, culture and even a little man on man action.

Gilgamesh has modern day retellings, the original scraps analysed to death, a graphic novel, a version for teens and even a romance novel.  It is the first story ever documented and so it must be the root of all modern literature.  10 points to anyone who can draw the line from Gilgamesh to Twilight.  Seriously.  I’d be so impressed.

A number of years ago I read Gilgamesh: A New English Version and while it’s long winded and sometimes obtusely written, with some porn spattered about, I really enjoyed it.  It brought the story of Gilgamesh into modern language.  Still based in Babylon this version is written like a dime store trade paperback.  It’s fun, it’s fast, there’s some sex and it keeps you engaged.  All the while the culture, history and themes of Gilgamesh are retained.  Really it’s the best kind of retelling.

Interesting that I love retellings but am not so hot on less overt uses of other stories.  I love The Red Tent and Mists of Avalon.  There is an entire series called UnVeiled which tells bible stories from the POV of the women involved.  I’ve only read a few but they were all lovely.  I would count this version of Gilgamesh in that category.

What do you think?  Is there a difference between a retelling and a copy?  What is the distinguishing element?  What makes something fanfic, vs. inspirational vs. source material for a retelling?  For me I think it has to do with the timing of the original text.  The retellings are about the Bible or the King Author Stories.  These are old stories and the point of the retellings is to show a new take on an old and culturally entrenched story.  Is it possible to have a retelling of a modern popular story which is culturally entrenched or is the fact that the source material is a classic a distinguishing element?