With the premieres of "Camelot" and "Game Of Thrones" Starz and HBO are revisiting the classic tale of monarchs fighting to establish or maintain their supremacy over kingdoms. With these shows, the networks are distilling a whiff of the perennial theme of Kings and Queens embodying the best and the worst in mankind. That second reading made me wonder what is it with royalty that makes its members the protagonists of choice for the most formidable epics. In short, what explains the enduring appeal of stories of kings and queens.
Stories about kings and queens are probably as old as storytelling. The Epic of Gilgamesh (2,150 to 1,100 BC) is arguably the oldest written story on Earth and its main protagonist, Gilgamesh, is a king. He is not an exemplary king though and following a chain of events, sets out on an unsuccessful quest for immortality that instead teaches him how to live and cherish what he has.
Since Gilgamesh, kings and queens in literature have embarked on numerous quests and have fought many battles, but they have been consistently used by writers to get across values that had nothing to do with the power they sought in the first place. Similar to Gilgamesh, they have been used to represent us in our glory and pettiness. They fought the Trojan war, set out on an odyssey, built empires, allowed monotheism to flourish, searched for the Holy Grail, battled dark forces in otherworldly places, made a foray onto the big screen, and eventually landed on TV.
Movie studios and TV networks haven fallen in love with kings and queens, and given that their relationships rely almost exclusively on viewers feelings, the fact that their love endures to this day simply means we the viewers have been faithful. But why have we? Especially considering almost all settings/milieux in works of fiction (including TV dramas) fall out of favor after being fashionable for a while. Granted, "Kings and Queens" are not exactly a genre, but some archetypal characters that force TV series to use specific settings. The point is, those settings and the sort of themes associated with kings and queens have endured, despite being for the most part unvarying. The same values can be found in all categories of such stories from children to (pseudo) historical and fantasy.
I am going to stick my neck out there and say that the main appeal to these stories comes from what "legitimate" kings and queens represent. By the end of the stories - excluding historical ones, when the dust settles the legitimate kings and queens almost always appear to be the chosen ones, like in higher-forces, destiny, or meant-to-be. They also tend to be the brave, lionhearted type that would protect their people and be fair judges. The last two are perennial values that are as old as human communities and destiny adds a cosmic element that reassures, even today. Those values permeate the stories and make sentences like "these were times when men were men and the gods walked the earth" rings true, enhancing the paradise-lost and golden-age appeal for all demographics.
"Camelot" revisits the Arthurian legend and premiered last month on Starz. It will without a doubt divide fans of the myth and very likely add new recruits. Fans will be torn between accepting the liberties taken by the writers or sticking with what is considered canon - if there is such a thing. Viewers who have never been exposed to the myth will discover a fascinating world to explore.
"Game of Thrones" is an adaptation of George R. R. Martin's fantasy book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" and premieres on HBO on April 17. This is your typical kings and queens story set in an otherworldly place that looks and feels much like our own medieval world except for a few otherworldly magic tricks and beings. It chronicles the struggles for control of the throne of "Westeros". The trailer seems to have pleased those who read the books but this is just the beginning. The story will likely be less straightforward than that of "Camelot", so many people mayl have trouble remembering all the intricacies, but will probably enjoy it anyway.
These two series appear to be about the fights for supremacy over kingdoms, but what will need to grab the viewer's attention is their eye-opening journeys, much like it did for Gilgamesh...