I was watching Stephen Fry’s Planet Word on television last night (a great show if you haven’t seen it yet – especially the numerous interviews with Brian Blessed who just makes me smile and laugh by his very presence, let alone hilariously vulgar tongue), and the episode was about storytelling – on why it is important, why it is such an integral part of human existence going back to before the written word to the very beginnings of language itself, and why it will continue to be so important in the future.
After watching this, I found myself gazing at some of the books on my bookshelves, thinking about the age of some of the stories there, and I very quickly found my attention drawn to one of my favourite items on my shelves, The Penguin Epics Box Set. This amazing collection houses twenty short books containing some of the greatest stories of all time, from the five thousand year old epic poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, through to Homer’s story of Odysseus returning home, from the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, to the medieval tale Beowulf, and from Dante’s Descent Into Hell to The Voyages of Sindbad taken from The One Thousand And One Nights from the seventeenth century. Millennia of amazing stories that have stood the test of time are found in these books, and they are just as mesmerising today as they were within their own times.
I will be honest and admit I haven’t read every single one of these yet, though I have read many of them (even if many of them I read a long time ago and I probably need to re-read anyway). I particularly loved The Epic of Gilgamesh, which I found very easy to visualise, and which is, in its own way, very much an epic. I have always loved any stories from ancient history, so the likes of Homer, Herodotus, Virgil and Ovid have long been in my reading lists since my earliest university days. Likewise I studied Beowulf, and read it in its entirety quite a few years ago. Many of the books here are only fragments of the full stories (The Divine Comedy by Dante is several times the length of the short section contained here, for example), so if you enjoy them there is always more to explore.
If you love stories and storytelling as much as I do (and if you’re looking at my blog, chances are you do), I would definitely recommend this box set, which is as enlightening as it is entertaining, and which really shows how much storytelling both has and hasn’t changed over all these years, providing a nice little reminder that stories themselves will never fade – they are a key part of human existence, of life itself.
Happy reading, storytellers and readers!