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The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker

The Seven Basic Plots

by Christopher Booker

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4981020,501 (3.84)17
  1. 10
    The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Interesting to contrast Campbell's 'hero monomyth' hypothesis with Booker's Freudian interpretation of how all literature, plays and films can be judged by how they match with his identification of universal plotlines.

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A very detailed examination of the plots that are universal in storytelling from the original myths and legends to current films and popular fiction. Not a read for those who are not serious readers, but would be extremely useful for students in later high school or first year university. ( )
  CarterPJ | Jul 24, 2013 |
A fascinating but infuriating book which requires one to accept the premise that Jungian archetypes form the only satisfying basis for a narrative. This premise is explored through the means of numerous if partial examples from both literary and popular culture. The author's bias and erudition make this an enjoyable read and it is worth persevering to the end, however there are several annoying factual errors in the plot summaries. And Booker's despair with regard to novels and other works from the 18th century onwards, with a few exceptions (Crocodile Dundee is a bizarre and much-quoted example) leave one feeling frustrated.

A note of caution: Booker seems to believe that the only possible fulfilling relationship is that between a man and a woman, and that other permutations must by their nature lack validity. Which is a bit normative, if you ask me. But it remains a work that anyone who loves writing or reading should take a look at, if only because it provides a guide to many different types of plot and the archetypes that *may* underlie them.

This is one for fans of narrative closure! ;-)

( )
1 vote JessicaRydill | May 26, 2013 |
  beabatllori | Apr 2, 2013 |

Check some reviews on this, and also wait until Janice George finishes and see what she thinks.
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
I was attracted to this book for a number of reasons, not least by the fact that its title told you exactly what it was about, reinforced by the witty cover by photographer Jonathan Ring showing a pile of books reflected in a metal film canister. And I was predisposed to like this because of the mix of stimulating ideas that books, both fiction and non-fiction, promise the reader. (Mind you, I tend to read anything, from cereal packets to greetings cards, so it may not take much to stimulate my negligible intellect.)

Booker’s identification of the principal narrative structures underlying the best examples of stories, novels, plays and films is attractive and, viewed retrospectively, intuitively right. Those seven plots (which he entitles Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Rags to Riches, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth) singly or in combination appear to naturally underpin a very large proportion of the narratives Booker approves of. Overcoming the Monster, for example, applies to any number of plots, whether literary or popular culture, from Beowulf to King Kong, from Dracula to a large proportion of video games. The Rags to Riches theme, familiar from the Cinderella story, finds a home in Aladdin and in Jane Eyre. Some works include virtually all the plots, such as The Lord of the Rings. The first part of this mammoth study seems to triumphantly prove his analysis.

However, around the middle of this tome of over 700 pages he begins to sink into a morass of Freudian and, particularly, Jungian psychoanalytical argument which obfuscates more than it elucidates. Obviously in love with this approach he then starts to judge all narratives by whether they adhere to his masterplans or not. Rather than seeing much fiction of the last two centuries as perhaps reflecting different priorities, characterisation, realism or experimentation, say, he prefers to castigate them for not matching his templates, and his rather conservative viewpoint thus somewhat undermines, for me, the initial promise of this book. Booker has a well-known penchant for bucking orthodox thinking, adopting contrary stances on the dangers posed by passive smoking or asbestos, the link between human CJD and Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, denying climate change and global warming and promoting intelligent design over evolution. While some of these issues may seem to be a matter of poltical persuasion (he has a regular column in The Telegraph), Booker’s belligerent attitude to genuine innovation in storytelling and his cod psychology for me outweigh his familiarity with a broad range of texts (from literature to films and TV soaps) and his ability to summarise and categorise them.

Ultimately, his attempts to explain why we tell stories (actually what he’s trying to do is tease out why we need stories) don’t, beyond his constant references to ego and archetypes, explain much to me at all. It’s true that we often ‘script’ our lives according to the plots he’s identified: for instance, TV talent shows highlight are awash with individuals going on a ‘journey’ or anticipating going from rags to riches, and we often see life as ‘comedy’ or ‘tragedy’ depending on our outlooks being optimistic or pessimistic. But Booker seems to see much of storytelling through conservative lenses, and minimises the possibility that some storytelling needs to tell messy tales: narratives that don’t fit neatly into his catalogue, that don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end; that, in short, more resemble everyday life than the life of the imagination. Nor, conversely, does he appear to admit the possibility of narratives being available to higher mammals other than humans; for example, we know that animals seem to suffer from depression (tragedy, perhaps), indulge in foraging (the quest) and transhumance (voyage and return): is it possible they can conceive these processes as a form of unspoken narrative? If so, do his Jungian analyses apply?

In addition, I was disappointed with his all too brief mentions of previous ways of categorising narrative, such as tale-types in the Aarne-Thompson folktale index and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. He seems unaware of Vladimir Propp’s analysis of the morphology of folk-tales and he doesn’t mention the concept of narremes (basic units of narrative structure first proposed by Eugène Dorfman in his 1969 study The narreme in the medieval romance epic: an introduction to narrative structures. There is not even a peep about memes which even back in 2004 wasn’t particularly obscure as a concept. Failing a fuller discussion of earlier literature on the subject he doesn’t indicate how his sevenfold scheme might overlap or relate to these, preferring instead to present his solution as the only correct one. I find this approach at best disingenuous.

Nevertheless, I found much of The Seven Basic Plots enlightening, providing insights into narrative structure and pointing out similarities shared by very different stories told in different media. It’s just a shame that it’s buttressed by so much psycho-gibberish and laced with unadulterated prejudice.

http://calmgrove.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/plots/ ( )
2 vote ed.pendragon | Oct 22, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0826480373, Paperback)

This remarkable and monumental book at last provides a comprehensive answer to the age-old riddle of whether there are only a small number of 'basic stories' in the world. Using a wealth of examples, from ancient myths and folk tales via the plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, it shows that there are seven archetypal themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling. But this is only the prelude to an investigation into how and why we are 'programmed' to imagine stories in these ways, and how they relate to the inmost patterns of human psychology. Drawing on a vast array of examples, from Proust to detective stories, from the Marquis de Sade to E.T., Christopher Booker then leads us through the extraordinary changes in the nature of storytelling over the past 200 years, and why so many stories have 'lost the plot' by losing touch with their underlying archetypal purpose.Booker analyses why evolution has given us the need to tell stories and illustrates how storytelling has provided a uniquely revealing mirror to mankind's psychological development over the past 5000 years.This seminal book opens up in an entirely new way our understanding of the real purpose storytelling plays in our lives, and will be a talking point for years to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:47 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

[This book] provides [an] answer to the age-old riddle of whether there are only a small number of "basic stories" in the world. Using ... examples, from ancient myths and folk tales, via the plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, it shows that there are seven archetypal themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling.-Dust jacket.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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