The science fiction writer A. E. Van Vogt used to say there were only three storylines: Boy Meets Girl, Local Boy Makes Good, and The Man Who Learned Better. However many basic storylines there are the basic lines have been crafted into a number of Great Stories and those stories are used, modified, adapted, and re-worked, over and over again, some of them over thousands of years. Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, about one of which’s adaptions I posted yesterday, is one of those Great Stories. It’s been adapted, re-worked, and parodied thousands of times. One of the most recent of these adaptations is the movie Dave, which starred Kevin Kline (how Kevin Kline’s and my paths haven’t crossed I’ll never know—we moved in much the same circles in St. Louis). That plot itself has antecedents which go back a couple of thousand years in legends of St. Philemon the Actor.
The story of the birth of Moses is the story of Sargon the Great, the first Semitic king of Mesopotamia, who must have predated any conceivable birthdate for Moses by a thousand years. Of course the story was used. It’s a Great Story.
The story of Jesus is another Great Story. Two of its more recent derivatives are The Lord of the Rings and the movie Pay It Forward.
The Julia Roberts-Richard Gere picture, Pretty Woman, is sometimes characterized as a Cinderella story. Wrong story. It’s Pygmalian, the same story re-told by Ovid more than two thousand years ago. It was adapted into a play of the same name by G. B. Shaw, re-worked as the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, and made into a movie of the same name. Pygmalian is also the source material of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and I can see echoes of it in the Book of Genesis. A Great Story.
There are lots of Great Stories: Robin Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Hercules (a wicked queen assigns Our Hero impossible tasks), and so on. They’re reused over and over again. I don’t know enough about the Confucian societies to know their Great Stories but I’ll bet they have their own. Or maybe they have same stories and the stories go back and back to the very dawn of our species.
Do you have any favorite Great Stories that I’ve missed? Any favorite adaptations? Oddball adaptations?