Do you know what Star Trek is? What about Lord of the Rings? How about the Never Ending Story or Labyrinth?
There are some stories out there that endure the test of time, ones that have such a powerful impact on the world that they just seem to never die.
In fact, it almost seems as if some will never die. Never Ending Story is almost as old as I am at 32 years old. Star Trek just celebrated it’s 50th anniversary this year! And Lord of the Rings? It was first published in 1954 as a sequel to the almost-as-popular The Hobbit, published in 1937. That’s 79 years old, and it’s still just as popular, if not more so, than when it was first published!
And even though I’m not a fan myself, there are even older stories that still exist in our public consciousness: Shakespeare. Often cited as the origin of the modern story, Shakespeare’s stories are told and retold, over and over and over again today.
Let us not forget the oldest of stories, too, what I recall someone once saying may very well be the first-ever written narrative: Beowulf, said to have been written between 975AD and 1010AD.
Why These Stories?
So what is it about these stories that allows them to endure? Is it possible to examine these stories and figure out how to write the perfect popular story, which would endure for a thousand years or more?
For that matter, will the newer examples endure just as long as the older? Will new Star Trek stories be told 500 years from now? That’s an interesting question right there, being a sci-fi series. 500 years from now, further ahead than when Star Trek actually takes place, what new forms of entertainment will exist? What forms of space-based travel? Where will our society be? And will there still be a place for Star Trek?
This is going to sound strange at first, but bear with me – for different, and yet strangely similar reasons, I think Star Trek will endure another 500 years or more.
The reason that differs from Lord of the Rings or even Beowulf? Star Trek is a continuing narrative that can evolve. Look no further than the vast differences between the original Star Trek series and The Next Generation, let alone the retelling of Kirk’s era in the new movies.
In fact, if Star Trek can continue to evolve (stop going backwards, Trek writers, and start moving forward in the story!) I think it might have more staying power than almost any other series out there.
…but then how is it the same? What qualities does it have that means it will endure as long as the others?
There are many, I think. But more than anything, I think there are two elements that are essential.
The first is wonder. In this, Star Trek has the greatest advantage. Lord of the Rings still makes me drop my jaw when I read about Moria or Minas Tirith. I still get a sense of warmth in my soul when I see the Shire in the movies. I still get a sense of dread when I see Minas Morgul. But Star Trek can reinvent itself with every incarnation, and show new, amazing places that have never before been seen in human history, limited only by imagination…
The second is perhaps one of the most important aspects of fiction, at least in my opinion, and I know I’ve talked about this before: the characters.
When I think of Lord of the Rings, I think of Frodo and Aragorn and Legolas, not the One Ring (though that comes in a close second.) When I think of Beowulf, I think of, well, Beowulf. When I think of Shakespeare, I think of King Lear or Romeo and Juliet (even though I really don’t like either of those…) And when I think of Star Trek…well for me, the first thing I think of is Picard and Data, followed by the infamous trio, Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
These are memorable characters, many of whom start out by fulfilling common tropes, but quickly become much more complex and interesting. Fulfilling the common tropes in the beginning makes them interesting on the surface and help readers or viewers attach to them quickly. But by itself, common-trope characters alone would make people lose interest fast, and so it is the fact that they quickly become much more complex characters that helps them endure.
We become emotionally invested in characters. Hate or like them, we want to see what happens to them. We need to see how they overcome obstacle A, and then find out what obstacles B through Z will be and how they overcome them.
That is why these stories endure. That is why they never die.
Because they spark our imagination, and pull on our heart strings, all at once…
What are your thoughts, dear readers? Do you agree or do you think there is something else that ensures these stories will endure?
For that matter, what are some of your favorite stories that have already shown an endurance? (Immediately, Disney characters are coming to my mind :) )
Thanks for reading!
There’s more. A quick, exciting announcement!