The power of a good story
Toiling for your craft pays off.
Gilgamesh, the pre-biblical son of a goddess mother and mortal father, is considered to be the world’s first action hero. The epic Sumerian poem, featured in the seminal work on mythology, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces is, in the words of the guru, the ‘greatest tale of the elixir quest.’
Gilgamesh leaves the sumptuous walled surroundings of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia in search of the secret ingredient of immortality; the plant ‘Never Grow Old’ (Campbell, 2008 eds, p158.), the elixir of life.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is estimated to be over 4000 years old and has survived countless wars and revolutions. That’s pretty good innings. Even the process of uncovering the poem at the end of the 19th century by self-taught anthropologist George Smith bears all the ingredients of a time-traveling tale.
Stories beget more stories.
A good story holds an enduring appeal. While platforms change from the clay tablets to books in select libraries and onto books in homes available to all. Now to the multitude of digital media channels, we see the currency it still holds.
If you’re a writer, a well-wishing stranger has probably fed you the J.K. Rowling fairy-tale, as if you hadn’t heard it before.
“Maybe you’ll write the next Harry Potter,” they say, trying to make conversation or maybe even just trying to cheer you up as you sip on your glass of free tap water at a fancy bar event.
I used to get that a lot when I was writing plays. It was then a choice between crushing their well-wishing sentiment by saying there was no Harry Potter budget in theatre. Or just smiling and acknowledging their attempt at cheering you up. I usually opted for the latter path.
Now I don’t write plays, I write stories, and the J.K. story still wafts in and out of my consciousness. The power of one woman and her imagination and later on, perhaps some business savvy is still irresistible dreaming fodder.
More about J.K. later on. Firstly let’s go further back to look at the enduring power of a good story, and a note to say that currency in the context of this blog just means anything useful.
A Christmas Carol
Born in 1812 Dickens was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, essays, and articles. His first published work was The Pickwick Papers which we now know as a novel form collection of short stories, but in 1836 when they were first published, they were released as monthly installments over the year until 1837.
His iconic novella, A Christmas Carol, was published seven years after the first episode of The Pickwick Papers. Since this time, the idea of a Scrooge character has embedded itself into popular culture. In an article by Screen Rant, A Christmas Carol features as the third most adapted to film story with over fifty film adaptations. That doesn’t take into account language adaptations, or theatre shows either.
A Christmas Carol was published six years after The Pickwick Papers and my favourite of his novels; Great Expectations was published later again by a further seventeen years.
His stories keep on giving, and adaptations and versions of A Christmas Carol continue to feed a need we have over two hundred years after its publication to retell a story of greed and redemption to the next generation of kids.
The role of his stories in observing social injustices and inequality continue to speak to new audiences today.
This article from the LA Times linked the themes of Victorian Dickensian London to the times leading up to the global recession in 2008.
Can we look to the stories of Dickens to stoke conversations around some of the problems he charted in his words?
The currency of his stories these hundreds of years later are empathy and faith that issues of poverty and social inequality can enter our collective dialogue.
At the top of a Screen Rant list of the top book to film adaptations sits Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Born in Dublin in 1847, Bram didn’t publish his first novel until the age of 43 and his most famous piece, Dracula another seven years after this. Before writing, he’d graduated from Mathematics at the Trinity College Dublin, had a long civil servant stint at Dublin Castle.
The conception period of the novel was long and from the first records of Bram researching locations to publication according to an article in time was around nine years and in that time the piece went from non-fiction to fiction.
Topping the Screen Rant list of book to film adaptations at Number 1 this gothic horror has been delighting audiences since it was first published.
Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Count Dracula has found its way into our culture.
Not only in entertainment but the metaphor of a blood-sucking vampire is used to describe an array of behaviours in the corporate world — sucking energy, sucking resources, sucking life and time from something.
As recently as 2020 a BBC/Netflix modern-day adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released, and in between film adaptations, a whole genre of vampire films and comic books have flourished.
With a single story, Bram Stoker has kept audiences enthralled and terrified.
Though Harry Potter isn’t my favourite genre, It would be reckless not to pick up a dose of hope and inspiration from J.K.’s story. A woman with no connections to the literary world, not from an academic family, just a writer with a story that she couldn’t put down.
Plus, this is a contemporary story that we can relate to probably more closely than Bram or Charles because she exists in a publishing world that we recognise.
Knowing the hours that go into crafting a story and the long Saturday night’s pissing off your family because you’re neglecting them, this story brings me hope.
We know her rags to riches tale. One moment she was a single mother; struggling to pay the bills and scribbling away her future novel in every moment and piece of paper she could find. The next moment her first novel is accepted by a small publishing house in London, sold to Bloomsbury and with a big bang, fame, and fortune visited.
Okay, since I used the word currency in the title, I’m probably obliged to say that the Harry Potter brand was valued at $15 billion as reported in a 2014 Forbes article. The same article lists the Harry Potter stock list like this:
Seven best selling novels translated into 77 languages
Eight blockbuster films
11 video games
400 licensed products
This was before Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them came out in 2016.
Here, with J.K. we see a real, saleable stock of currency; hope for us all isn’t it?
Labeling Gomorrah a good story is to undercut the depth, power, and fall out that has resulted from the investigative book published in 2006.
Although this is a piece of non-fiction writing, it is worth mentioning that Roberto Saviano also writes fiction and the craft of storytelling runs through all of his work.
Naples is a world away from the vision of Italy and the romantic hills of Tuscany or the iconic history and architecture of Rome. To enter into the world of Gomorrah is to see a gritty and fierce place that has dropped the glamour of mafia worlds often presented to us in big crime dramas.
Roberto Saviano, Neapolitan journalist, fiction writer, essayist, and screenwriter grew up in the crime-ridden suburb of Cesarta in Naples.
After completing his degree in philosophy, he started a four-year operation to document the movements of the Neapolitan crime families, the Camorra.
Driven by an obsession to tell the truth about the impact of crime on everyday citizens of Naples, his book dared to get closer to the players and realities of the Camorra than most journalists do.
Driven into hiding in 2006 because of direct threats and attempts on his life from the heads of the mafia families he remains under police protection today.
His own story warrants more page time than I can give it here, but you can read more about his life and reasons in this interview.
He continues to write and give interviews, but let’s take a look at the sprawling epic of a single piece of non-fiction writing.
A novel in 2006
A film in 2008
A five-part television series for Sky Atlantic
And who knows how long before a US remake is agreed if it has not been already.
I have no idea how much cash currency this story has generated, but perhaps its legacy can speak to something more meaningful? Hope or probing questions, or a look at how we, as individuals reading blogs on filmmaking or writing, can incorporate issues into our work as a first step towards solving a problem.
The Digital Landscape
Finally, let’s take a quick look at the digital landscape and multiverse of options that can stem from a single story. Digital media, including internet tv & film, gaming, and immersive technologies, can carry written ideas further through interactive storytelling and marketing.
Natalie Stendall explores this idea in detail in her article about Transmedia Storytelling and Franchise Adaptations saying that film is undergoing a period of intense commodification.
She talks about characters like Jason Bourne, and Harry Potter transcending their respective story worlds and existing as brands.
If this somehow detracts you from your story, it shouldn’t. Let the money men worry about the commodification while we focus on creating good and powerful tales to lighten the world.
The writers mentioned in this blog all have one thing in common. They toiled for their craft, and results came out of that. Saviano has sacrificed his freedom, safety, and chances at an ordinary life to ensure the stories of the Camorra reach the public.
If you’re feeling stuck with your writing know that the effort you put into crafting now can pay dividends later; dividends to your bank account sometimes but dividends to a world that continues to be obsessed with a good story.
Thanks for reading. If you’re also a storyteller or writer then you might like this blog on using Mythology within your stories.