Gilgamesh is the second oldest recorded fiction story in the world, also originating from the city of Uruk in the ancient civilization of Sumer. Gilgamesh the King, retold and illustrated by Ludmila Zeman, is the first in a trilogy of gorgeous, simple picture books, a perfect length for reading aloud at a book club meeting.
I found the conflict a little more difficult to identify in this story. Gilgamesh wants to be the most powerful person in the world, but what he needs is a friend. He is battling his own nature, but he also fights Enkidu for supremacy. And, clearly, the people of the city also need mercy. The battle between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is the turning point for all of these, though, and it symbolically takes place on the great wall. Gilgamesh does not get what he wants but he gets what he needs, and the people also get what they need and want as a result.
Crime Scene [Setting]
Land of Mesopotamia
Great city of Uruk—dazzling, beautiful, great wall
Forest—lush and full of animals
(The location is a real place, but at least part of the story is mythology.)
Ancient civilization of Sumer
Gilgamesh—King, sent by the Sun God to rule Uruk, part god and part man, looked human but didn’t know how to be human, had power and wealth but was alone, bitter and cruel
People—overworked and hungry, in despair
Enkidu—sent by the Sun God, made from clay of the earth, strong as Gilgamesh, wild creature-man, lived with the animals in the forest, kind
Shamhat—woman, musician, beautiful, loved by all, tender and kind
[FYI: The author has altered the story in order to avoid the graphic nature of the original. This picture book is appropriate for younger ages. There is one page that some parents may take issue with, however. The illustration shows Enkidu and Shamhat kissing and reads, “In the days that followed, Shamhat taught him to speak and to sing and she fell in love with him. They explored the ways of love together and Enkidu promised he would stay with her always.”]