Christopher Booker: The Seven Basic Plots Why We Tell Stories



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I didn t mean to ead this book I just wanted to know see what the seven basic plots were But I devoured the first 300 pages in a way that made me ealize I just might ead all 700 It s just so lucid With all this yummy discussion of well known stories from throughout the ages FOR all ages The next 150 pages or so have made me increasingly uneasy as we discuss all the ways in which stories can go wrong AND what this says about their authors Not to mention us as a society AND This book is actually many things An introduction to the seven basic plots and their many associated archetypes that work in combination A system It can be applied to any story you know and it s fun to do so A tool An almost obligatory ead for anyone who invents stories If you don t tap on this 37 years esearch you e simple on disadvantage It s not that everyone should follow the author s guidance in order to write stories that fulfill the self and not the ego on the contrary a writer might find herself not wanting to do so but the structure the book provides is a map to decide when and how to move away or within the Self archetypical path A partial and moral history of literature and an even partial and eually moral history of Western culture A psychoanalis of our modern western culture throughout the stories we invent and the ones we tell ourselves And it s indeed a moralistic analysis something that can pull the nerves of a grownup eader A compendium of great and diverse stories A source of unexpected spoilers if you ead the book be very careful with this for it eveals the plot of so many stories and books that chances are it will spoil something you want to ead I had to overlook several paragraphs when eadingThe Odyssey versus Ulysses ET versus Encounters of the Third Type Terminator versus Frankenstein in each comparison the author prefers the first and ejects the second option Interestingly this framework or as I called it system allows strange and yet consistent and justifiable comparisons such as Jaws versus Gilgamesh borrowing a famous gedankenexperiment from Chomsky if someone told these two stories to a martian it will think they are just two slightly different versions of the same It s efreshing to see how the author jumps without loss of continuity from Hollywood B movies to universal classics And this tool s lack of espect for the boundaries between high and low cultures the below the line and the above the line archetype which is itself a moral construct compensates in my opinion its otherwise unbearable moralism egarding other aspects ego versus self In summary vaccinate yourself against moralism enjoy this awesome construction and the many stories it contains be aware of spoilers and use what you learned to write great new stories Finished at last What an utter waste of time but in a sick sort of way I just had to keep going to see just how bad it could get He started off with a good idea that a lot of stories have similar basic plot outlines Unfortunately he then gets a bit carried away comes up with a formula then applies it not just to literature but the whole of human history Which is all a decline from some prelapsarian state of blessedness It s like the theory of the four humours in medicine it seems like it might make sense at first the trouble is it s all wrong Ninety five percent of everything in this book is just wrong The amount of sexism homophobia snobbery and acism was frankly shocking However I m sure the author wouldn t give a damn what I think because as a woman I m obviously only supposed to feel and guess not think It s a long time since anything offended me as much as this So I was uncomfortable early on with the extreme heteronormative attitude and the appropriation of FreudianJungian discourse as if these theories are just self evident but I gave it a bit of leeway because if problematic that kind of analysis is at least widespread But my discomfort and suspicion grew and at last I could ead no I gave up after he attempted to discuss Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Here are the sentences that almost broke my brain The uestion which then arises is how did such an extraordinarily dark inverted story come into the mind of a young girl. This emarkable and monumental book at last provides a comprehensive answer to the age old iddle 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 ecur throughout every kind of storytelling But thi.

Who had never written anything before in her life A good deal of the answer as various commentators have observed lies in the personality of the man who was by far the most dominating presence in Mary Godwin s life Shelley himself 357How could a GIRL have written a clever dark subversive story BECAUSE OF HER BOYFRIEND DUR How could a teenage girl the offspring of such evolutionaries as WILLIAM GODWIN and MARY FREAKIN WOLLSTONECRAFT for crying out loud possibly think of anything for herself until her sexy smart super famous omantic poet of a hubby came along and thought it for her Booker goes on to uote Shelley s eaction to the novel as if his eaction to the novel somehow ananchronistically makes him esponsible for its inception Also there s an astoundingly misogynistic comment about Mary s cousin Clare flinging herself at ByronSo no I cannot value what this man has to say I was suspicious of the breathtaking assurance of the subtitle why we tell stories because there s only one very clearly identifiable eason ight I was unhappy with the language of psychoanalysis and I considered the fact that he never engaged with any other theorists dubious But I was intrigued by the premise by the promise of a well esearched far eaching theory of story tellingI was wrong This is nothing but patriarchy condescension and tunnel vision Addendum the New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake implicitly argues there are only six basic plotsBack to the egularly scheduled uasi eview All in all there is some incredibly worthwhile information here Too bad it s overlong and much worse it shows a nasty writer at his opinionated nastiestBut it looks like I never got around to constructing an actual eview So here are my notes They ll have to doRecommendation Read all of Section 1 containing descriptions of the seven basic plots in erudite detail Skip to Chapters 21 through 24 of Section 3 These explore the dark and sentimental variations of the foregoing Skim Chapters 26 and 27 wherein the author is evealed to be a sexist eactionary Keep in mind that if one can enjoy the music of Frank Sinatra while ignoring the fact that he was a sexist jerk one can ead the balance of Booker s book with the same forbearance Either ead or skim Section 2 which explores commonalities of all the plot archetypes including character archetypes But it will probably feel pretty edundant Finish with Chapters 28 29 25 and 30 in that order The first two of those introduce and analyze two modern plot types the third explores Thomas Hardy s psychological novels the final goes into a fascinating analysis of Oedipus and HamletSome explicit details Section I the seven basic plots are1 Overcoming the Monster incl subgenre The Thrilling Escape From Death 2 Rags to Riches 3 The uest 4 Voyage and Return 5 Comedy not necessarily funny 6 Tragedy and7 RebirthSection II what they all have in common the character archetypesSection III Missing the Mark discusses how the plot archetypes go awryFirst examines each of the plots in their Dark and Sentimental versions In the Dark versions the protagonist never achieves enlightenment in symbolic form due to an egoistic focus In the Sentimental versions the story and ending appear happy but without ingredients necessary for archetypal closure Chapters 21 to 24Then to Thomas Hardy Ch 25 documenting how his oeuvre shifted from light to dark in parallel with his increasingly frustrating and dysfunctional personal lifechokengtitiktitikchokeng 382 George Lucas drew on the knowledge of Joseph Campbell in an effort to ensure that his story matched up as faithfully as possible to their archetypal patterns and imagery But however carefully Lucas tried to shape his script around these archetypal ground ules it had not got the pattern ight Then the worst two chapters 26 27 eeking of personal biases and opinions egarding nihilism violence sex and the appropriate oles for womenFirst of three modern archetypes mostly unseen in classic literature Ch 28 Rebellion against The One except Job then Ch 29 The Mystery actually diagnosed as usually a sentimental comedy with a hero unintegrated into the basic storyFinally best chapter of the book on Oedipus and HamletSection IV Why we tell. S is only the prelude to an investigation into how and why we are 'programmed' to imagine stories in these ways and how they elate to the inmost patterns of human psychology Drawing on a vast array of examples from Proust to detective stories from the Maruis de Sade to ET 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 th.

Christopher Booker ñ 6 SUMMARY

Stories pretty boring unless you want an examination of how eligious texts can be perceived in archetypal patternsCh 27 points out many books and films pushed out the boundaries of what was acceptable in terms of sex and violence eg Texas Chainsaw Massacre But he conflates this with a fundamental shift in the center of gravity of story telling ignoring that many of these extreme works have a narrow public appeal and are not considered as having intrinsic lasting importance Frankly his eactionary age notable in his columns is barely suppressedCh 27 Sexism In discussing the movie Alien he states the basic plot is very similar to that of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre p 486 He astonishingly ignores the fundamental distinction between mayhem performed by humans acting as monsters and that performed by actual monsters The perverse horror of Chainsaw is in the very disturbing transformation of humans into monsters even into a family of cooperating monsters Being killed and consumed by the Alien is basically no worse than an attack by a shark or a lionAlso he is uite sexist here The image of women was becoming de feminised No longer were the styles of women s clothing intended to express such traditional feminine attributes as grace allure prettiness elegance they were designed to be either in a hard direct way sexually provocative or sexlessly businesslike Frankly I find Trinity in The Matrix which he doesn t discuss to be an paragon of grace allure and elegance as well as sexually provocativeApparently an archetypal hero must be masculine and thus to portray a woman in heroic terms is a contradiction of the archetype He sounds outraged There was now a premium in showing animus driven women capable of competing with men and outperforming them in masculine terms Female characters were expected to be show as just as clever and tough as men mentally and physically His only saving grace is the uncertainty whether he believes prescriptively that women should properly behave only in a ladylike way or whether he believes descriptively that the fundamental archetypes in our psyches are limited thus I don t think he ends up on the ight side of that thoughBut frankly his chapters on the modern subversion of the archetypes display irritation than admiration and so we e left with a sneaking suspicion that the author is a social eactionary which also seems to be evident in his columns for the TelegraphConsider the author makes a strong case that these plot archetypes are fundamental and universal as I understand Jung had attempted to establish with personality archetypes But does this make them eternal and unchanging And even if that is given does it make them good and true Many inheritances from our evolutionary past are dysfunctional perhaps it is proper that we should ebel against aspects of these archetypes especially those that are arbitrarily constraining Booker doesn t perceive this possibility implicitly treating any deviation from his perception of these ules as dysfunctional Although he isn t consistent the fact that the heroic Ripley in Alien is a woman he finds distressing the fact that Oedipus marries and has children with his mother is brillianceCh 31 beginning of Part IV If there is one thing we have seen emerging from the past few hundred pages it is the extent to which the stories told by even the greatest of them are not their own The stories told by Shakespeare Dickens Hugo not their own Because they have been influenced by ghostly skeletons of plots and characters in their subconscious This is incredibly arrogant Booker has spent so many decades in his labors that he can t see the forest for the treesSide note illuminating arrogance fn 3 p 553 Various attempts have been made in ecent years to provide a scientific definition of the difference between human consciousness and that of other animals A fundamental flaw in all of them lies in their failure to take account of the conseuences arising from the split between ego and instinct Booker a journalist and author apparently believes himself competent to evaluate and judge any effort egardless of the expertise involvedMinor annoyance does the uote attributed to Churchill belongs to Bernard Shaw p 576. E 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 uniuely evealing mirror to mankind's psychological development over the past 5000 yearsThis seminal book opens up in an entirely new way our understanding of the eal purpose storytelling plays in our lives and will be a talking point for years to co.

Christopher John Penrice Booker is an English journalist and author