That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
--Ecclesiastes 1:9, (NKJV)
In his diary, Michelangelo wrote the following about creating his very famous sculpture of David:
"The City Council asked me to carve a colossal David from a nineteen-foot block of marble -- and damaged to boot! I locked myself away in a workshop behind the cathedral, hammered and chiseled at the towering block for three long years. In spite of the opposition of a committee of fellow artists, I insisted that the figure should stand before the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of our Republic. I had my way. Archways were torn down, narrow streets widened...it took forty men five days to move it. Once in place, all Florence was astounded. A civic hero, he was a warning...whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely. Eyes watchful...the neck of a bull...hands of a killer...the body, a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike."
I love those four words: "I had my way." They still ring with Michelangelo's satisfaction.
The "damaged to boot" part is the interesting part, though. Another artist -- Agostino di Duccio -- had started working on that particular marble block forty years earlier, but for whatever reason had failed to make anything out of it. There aren't any photographs of the original marble block, but some biographies hint that Agostino had also been working on depicting David, and that Michelangelo had picked up where he left off.
In the writing world, it's often said that there are no new stories. What we write has already been done, and our books are nothing new under the sun. Chiseled in marble, statues of perfection, might as well give it up, etc.
Unless you consider that the writer can be the new factor in the equation.
Paying homage to what has been done (or, if you look at it from another view, ripping off someone else's work) by producing knock-offs isn't the same thing; look at what's happened to poor Tolkien over the years. Knock-offs may not be illegal, but they are troubling. No matter how they tweak it, if a writer doesn't bring anything new to a story, they're only creating a poor imitation.
Maybe it's the storyteller's sacred obligation to do whatever they can to bring something fresh to every story. Everyone sees things differently; the best storytellers show us old favorites via such a different angle that we see them in an entirely new light.
Take one of the most beloved myths in the world: Pygmalion, another story about a block of marble. Pygmalion brought his vision of the perfect woman to the stone and created Galatea, whom Aphrodite brought to life. Which inspired George Bernard Shaw, who adapted the myth for the stage, which eventually became the musical My Fair Lady; Stephen King to write his novel Carrie (and yeah, we've debated this one for years, but I still think it's a twisted version); the 1999 movie She's All That, in which high school jock Freddie Prinze Jr. turns a geeky Rachael Leigh Cook into a prom queen.
Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Miss Congeniality, The Princess Diaries -- they all have their roots in Pygmalion. Even Jessica Hall, may she rest in peace, drew on the myth as inspiration for the relationship and characters of the protagonists in her novel Heat of the Moment*. What makes them unique is not the mythic foundation upon which they're built, but how the storytellers used that, not as marble to worship, but as clay to be remolded into their individual vision of love and transformation. They reshaped it with their tools, touch and inner vision into something new under the sun. That's what can never be duplicated.
*I know, I have to stop talking about myself in third person.