Centuries ago men scratched trade commodities, prices and quantities on clay tablets, probably not knowing at the time that they were introducing the world to what would eventually become literature. Since they had the oral tradition to communicate important information about the world to each other writing down epic poems and stories didn’t seem practical.
It wasn’t until many years later that one of the first great works of literature was written: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is a great king, more God than man who rules his kingdom with great cruelty. He takes whichever women he wants and works citizens to the bone for the sake of building a magnificent kingdom.
Enter Enkidu, a wild man who lived with the animals until the realm of humans grabbed hold of him. When he heard about Gilgamesh and his mistreatment of people he ventured to his kingdom to change his ways. Enkidu and Gilgamesh became best friends, traveling the world and engaging in many adventures together.
Then Enkidu dies, leaving behind a heartbroken Gilgamesh. Distraught, Gilgamesh ventures to the ends of the world to find immortality, and while he doesn’t gain the ability to live forever he does learn that he has immortality in the kingdom, the fruits of his mind and labor, he has created.
This first epic poem combines a few of my favorite themes, legacy building, humanity, and travel. But, this story, one of the first ever written stories, has all of the most basic elements in a story. For a traveler, the most important of these elements is setting.
The plot of a story drives the action in a book forward, the characters are the personalities that act, and the setting is where everything takes place. All three elements are essential to a good story. This archetypal pattern describes the narrative of our own life as well. We are the protagonist, the main character, and are surrounded by other characters all acting upon the world and each other. Finally, we live in a setting, a place that can bring pleasure and dissatisfaction.
When we travel we venture outside of our normal setting and encounter a different one completely. This is the part of a book, and our own lives, that add depth to a story. For a story to have authenticity characters must remain true to the traits of characters and the plot must move in a logical way, meaning you can’t have Detective Jimmy arrive on the scene of a murder and solve it in the next scene without collecting any clues and evidence. The plot doesn’t fit.
But, the setting is the most malleable of any element in a story, for the right character can be in Canada one day and South Africa the next, bringing a fresh influx of details to enliven the story.
The second half of this article, where I dive into the setting of Ayn Rand’s book “We the Living” as an example of literature enhancing travel, can be found online for FREE in our E-zine.