Since the beginning of language, humans have told each other stories. It is, in many ways, what makes us human. We want to share our experience, to teach others, or comfort them, or simply to be heard. Some stories, like the ones I sometimes told my little brother when we were bored, are gone in an instant. Other stories, like the ones I wrote as a journalist, are gone in a day or two. Still others stay and become myth.
It doesn’t matter whether a story is literally true or not. The staying power of a story is determined by its Truth, not its factuality. If it teaches. If it enriches. If it enraptures. It stays.
We share myths in our collective consciousness. They are passed down from grandmother to grandson, from father to daughter, from mentor to student. And they grow, and they change in the telling. Pyramus and Thisbe become Romeo and Juliet who become Tony and Maria. The basic message remains the same. The characters and settings change to fit the audience. By this alchemy Prince Hamlet become Simba and foolish Jack who sold his cow for some beans becomes Jack the Giant Slayer, a hero, even a king.
Recently I’ve heard a lot of people decrying modern cinema. Nobody is making anything new. It’s all remakes. Where has the creativity gone?
But there is a reason, a good reason, why Iron Man 3, Oz the Great and Powerful and Star Trek Into Darkness are topping the charts* right now. They are our myths. These are the stories our parents and grandparents read as children. These are the characters that served as their idols, their models of behavior. These are the fantasy worlds that caught and held their imaginations. And they are passing them down to the next generations, reworked, re-imagined to show us how to face fear, and racism, and terrorism. To teach us that our strength comes from within, that we become what we pretend to be, that we must never forget who we are and how we should live.
New stories can be novel and exciting, and of course they can teach and comfort and connect people.
But old stories define us.
*Box office statistics from boxofficemojo.com http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2013&p=.htm