Although science fiction/fantasy is still to this day looked down upon by those who consider themselves to be 'literary', this collection of fantasy tales formed a coherent story around the main character of Gilgamesh, the great king of Uruk over four thousand years ago. Gilgamesh, known from archeology to have actually existed, was a rough equivalent of the Greek Hercules. He was part god, part man. He both amused and upset the gods, he was their son, their puppet, their plaything. The gods send a monster Enkidu to humiliate Gilgamesh: they fight, they declare a truce, they become good friends. They take on the evil giant Humbaba together and destroy him. Enkidu, like Gilgamesh, is mortal and he dies. Gilgamesh is overwhelmed with grief and goes questing for the secret of immortality. Gilgamesh meets 'Noah' (called Utnapishtim here) who has become immortal himself, and he tells him how he survived the great flood, which historically occurred a couple of thousand years before. Gilgamesh obtains the magic plant but it is eaten by a sneaky snake (sounds familiar?). The story is a millenia-old tragedy yet I still felt the grief of Gilgamesh at Enkidu's death. As the archeologists found that some of the clay tablets were a bit chipped, the story is not perfect, but N. K. Sandars excellent 60 page essay and introduction explains all that, if in a rather academic style. A great read, 4300 years on. Enjoy!
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose