A couple of years ago, a guy called Christopher Booker came up with a theory that there are only seven (7) basic stories in existence. You’ve probably heard of it. According to Chrissy B, all the tales you know are based on these seven (7). No more, no less. Enterprising geniuses have since whittled this number down. But that generally means removing parallel points ’til all you have left is the theory of one story, wherein all you can say is that *plot happens*, which isn’t really all that genius.
However! If, like me, you enjoy watching films, you may have noticed that some of them seem oddly familiar. First, there’s this:
Pulp Fiction is Arthurian Legend
OK, I can sort-of see what’s going on here. Tarantino likes to borrow heavily from other genres. That said, it’s usually Hong Kong cinema and Westerns, right? There are a whole bunch of other things going on which rather undermine this theory. I’m pretty sure Arthurian legend doesn’t include sex dungeons or shoving family heirlooms into bodily orifices. But it’s true, it has been a while since I last read any, and the last adaptation I saw was Merlin, which, as a BBC show, probably wouldn’t depict that stuff anyway. On the other hand, this does actually lay on the religious side of things, which Merlin avoided completely, so what the hell, we’ll give it a pass. If nothing else, this does give a reason for the contrived way Vincent Vega ends up on a date with Mia Wallace.
O Brother Where Art Thou is Homer’s Odyssey
This one is no secret. The Coen brothers made plenty of allusions to their literary inspiration across the length and breath of this film. Everything from the hero’s name ‘Ulysses’ (the Roman version of ‘Odysseus’) to their adventures on the road. They are waylaid by sirens, assaulted by a one-eyed ‘cyclops’ and eventually have to see off a suitor who has been hanging round the hero’s wife.
Ulysses is supposed to be a smart guy, but in this scene, as throughout the movie, his biggest obstacle is water. Early on in the film he passes up the chance to get baptised, and is pursued by a policeman who is described as ‘the devil’. In this scene, three very wet sirens seduce and drug them. In the penultimate scene, he is caught in a flash flood. He survives by clinging to the remains of his old life, in the same manner as an Odyssean shipwreck.
Star Wars is the Downfall of the Roman Republic
Science fiction has been massively influenced by classical literature. Take, for example Star Trek, with its Romulans, Vulcans and James *Tiberius* Kirk. But, perhaps a better example is Star Wars, which borrows from both Roman history – not to mention the ‘immaculate conception’ of Anakin Skywalker.
What’s that? You want examples? Well alllllllrighty then! Darth Vader is Julius Caesar. Both men were generals, who were a little overconfident in their abilities. Sure, both of them dabbled in politics, but they made their names in conflict situations. Furthermore, when they want to build their power, they do it through alliances. Even after passing his Jedi trials, Anakin is still hanging out with Obi Wan, and when he goes over to the dark side, it is to play an important role in a governing partnership with Darth Sidious (Always two, there are!).
Luke Skywalker is Caesar’s rumoured son Brutus blended with Caesar’s adopted son Octavian. Brutus and Caesar ended up on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but their fortunes were very much intertwined. Brutus was one of Caesar’s killers, whereas Darth Vader had a late change of heart, and gave his life to save his son. It is unknown whether Brutus actually knew or believed the rumours about his parentage, but HBO covers the subject pretty well. Sure, it’s no “I am your father.” But nothing is. And if Luke is Brutus, then Padmé Amidala represents Servilia, who was Caesar’s long-term on-the-sly shag buddy and paramour, as well as Brutus’ mother.
Han Solo is Mark Anthony. In the expanded universe, Han starts out as a beggar and pickpocket who subsequently joins the Imperial navy. Likewise, Mark Anthony was a plebian, who ran with street gangs as a teen, and ended up in the Roman army.Either way, after Caesar’s death he joined up with Octavian and one other dude to form a new government. Han also marries princess Leia, who is the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and the Sister of Luke Skywalker. Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor was the fourth of Mark Anthony’s five wives. And, yep, even that incest thing is paralleled.
Modern stories borrow heavily from history and classic literature, just as Shakespeare borrowed from Ovid. But it’s down to the individuals to decide whether those storylines are cleverly re-worked, or just lazily rehashed. If you have any other ideas, please let me know in the comments section.