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The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker

The Seven Basic Plots (2004)

by Christopher Booker

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5651417,607 (3.84)18
  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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The Seven Basic Plots
Author: Christopher Booker
Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group
Published In: New York City, NY / London, UK
Date: 2004
Pgs: 728


A small number of basic stories permeate the world. They are hardwired into the human psyche. These plots exist in ancient myths, folk tales, play, novels, campfire tales, James Bond, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. These plots go to the way that we imagine stories and human psychology. Stories that lose touch with their archetypal underpinning.
Literature & Fiction
History & Criticism
Politics & Social Sciences
Folklore & Mythology
Criticism & Theory

Why this book:
Writing and writers and the stories that they tell and we read.

The concept of The Seven Basic Plots is awesome in scope once you consider it.

The Feel:
It is interesting that the mores shattered as they did in the 1950s, when with Lady Chatterley's Lover seeing full publication in all of its details for the first time in history along with other novels and specifically Lolita which predated the unexpurgated Lady. Was it the shift of a flush society free from heavier wants causing this? A freedom from the power of the church in everyday life? Taken in context with Hitchcock's Psycho and its focusing on Norman’s murders and voyeurism, and other less artistic movie and page moments that rounded out the later half of the 21st century, we see how these treatments of those topics and the way that they are explained and touched upon fits in with the seven basic plots. And while all of that is fascinating as a study of the shift in morality, it’s not like it’s the first morality shift ever. It’s just the most televised and widespread visually and aurally. Despite this fascinating sidelight, this really doesn’t get the premise of the book. This book is about half again as long as it could have been.

Favorite Scene / Quote:
Relating the epic of Gilgamesh and James Bond’s Dr No adventure is sheer genius. Puts the concept of this book in perspective immediately.

Totally agree on the great majority of World War 2 fiction being Overcoming the Monster.

Plot Holes/Out of Character:
Androcles and the Lion doesn’t really fit with the Overcoming the Monster paradigm.

I do think that the monster is sometimes wholly human.

Is Mystery an 8th basic plot or is Mystery the plots dressed in different circumstances with a macguffin thrown in and a sense of suspense?

Hmm Moments:
Loved Jaws, hated Beowulf, never really considered that, at base, they were the same story.

Amazing on how many Overcoming the Monsters stories there are out there throughout history.

Feel that the stereotypes of Monster as Predator, Holdfast, or Avenger fits either for protagonist or antagonist roles.

I begin to wonder at where Frankenstein would fit. OtM may only work if Victor is indeed the monster.

Appreciate Ian Fleming’s Bond pattern being given a few pages. Despite the repeating pattern, I did enjoy those books. It just wasn’t the same when Gardner took over and, then, onward to the plethora of authors who became associated with fictional Bond-age. The pattern which holds true for the majority of the Fleming Bonds: the call-anticipation, initial success-dream, confrontation-frustration, final ordeal-nightmare, miraculous escape-death of the monster. This Bondian pattern appears throughout literature. The Thirty Nine Steps used the same format.

The Lord of the Rings is called a Quest. And while it is a Quest, it is also an OtM in that Sauron and, by extension, the Ring, itself, are the monster.

WTF Moments:
The dismissal of The Lord of the Rings as a “not a fully integrated, grown up story” plays as elitist drivel when taken in context with the author’s own assertion that LOTR exhibits all 7 basic plot elements. I believe that LOTR may be one of the best fully realized stories and worlds ever presented in literature, pulp, classical, neo-classical, modern, post-modern, whatever.

Meh / PFFT Moments:
Lists The Magnificent Seven as an OtM, I see The Magnificent Seven more as a The Quest or a Rags to Riches, with the riches being redemption as these bad men find their place in the sun. By the same token, the Sevens, both Magnificent and Samurai, could be seen as Rebirth stories.

I’m not in general a big fan of the Rags to Riches story type. I, also, disagree with the idea that Jack and the Beanstalk is a Rags to Riches instead of an Overcoming the Monster. I guess that some of these fit more than one category.

Disagree with the idea that Lolita is a veiled Raging Temptress. I see it more the in vein of a weak protagonist who fails to Overcome the Monster, with himself as the Monster.

Talks of Dracula and how Jonathan Harker unexplainedly escaped the castle at the end of Part One of Dracula. Always felt that Dracula let him go as both preamble and herald of Dracula’s coming to England to bring his scourge and reign onto England’s nighttime scene.

This has shown me that perspective shows us that many of the stories that we think of as examples of this type can, in many cases, be categorized in many different ways. What I’m gathering from this book, despite Booker’s protestations in classifying classical and neo-classical stories into the seven basic plots, is that many crossover and merge many elements from across the basics. Maybe part of what makes a truly great story is when it’s a little bit Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth.

Missed Opportunity:
The failure to focus more sharply on the seven basic plots, 8 if we go with the mystery idea.

Last Page Sound:
I’m disappointed, that’s not really fair. I’m unhappy that the reason I read this book, the reason brought up in the title isn’t given full service in the book, which that isn’t really fair either. The ideas and the frameworks of the seven basic plots is here. The problem is that it is covered over in a cat box full of othter ideas. It’s like the author wanted to get into the ideas of the self and ego more than the seven basic plots. I would argue that there are at least two or three tangentially related books hidden inside these 700 some odd pages.

Author Assessment:
I don’t know, would depend on subject matter, length, and whether I felt the focus was tight enough.

Editorial Assessment:
Failure to drive focus to a laser point….or a dull scooping spoon. There were three good books about writing here, but they weren't’ scooped into their own piles.

Knee Jerk Reaction:
not as good as I was lead to believe

Disposition of Book:
Irving Public Library
South Campus
Irving, TX

Dewey Decimal System:

Would recommend to:
no one
_________________________________________________ ( )
  texascheeseman | Apr 5, 2017 |
A titanic disappointment. Must all those who seek underlying unity in the human experience be reactionary bores? Can they really continue to ignore non-Western cultural expression almost entirely when they refer to "the world?" Can they seriously still try to raise up patriarchal norms that are greatly responsible for obliterating our former humility towards the living world as "nature's way?" As a lover of storytelling in all its forms, who shares Booker's notion of its centrality to our species' understanding of ourselves in the world, I couldn't disagree more with just about every other argument he puts forth in this tedious tome. ( )
  CSRodgers | Feb 17, 2017 |
Read the prologue, and the reviews, and decided it's not for me, sorry. Especially as one reviewer said, 'repetitive' and 'unfalsifiable.'
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
This is quite an academic tombstone of a book to read. I enjoyed it, but it will not be everyone's choice. If you're looking for a practical guide on story structure this is not it. There are lots of other book on the mythic structure of stories. If you're an academic or interested in the psychology of why we tell stories then you may find it interesting. ( )
  JMJ_Williamson | Apr 24, 2015 |
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 |
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'We dance around in a ring and suppose;

   But the Secret sits in the middle - and knows.'

                                                                      Robert Frost
This book is dedicated to the memory of my parents,

John and Margaret Booker, who, between them, gave me

such a magical introduction to the world of storytelling.
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Imagine we are about to be plunged into a story - any story in the world.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:00 -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)

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