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The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories 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 ET Christopher Booker Then Leads Us Through The Extraordinary Changes In The Nature Of Storytelling Over The Past 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 YearsThis 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 I didn t mean to read 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 realize I just might read all 700 It s just so lucid With all this yummy discussion of well known stories from throughout the ages, FOR all agesThe 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 I didn t mean to read 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 realize I just might read all 700 It s just so lucid With all this yummy discussion of well known stories from throughout the ages, FOR all agesThe 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 as we also discuss in depth a number of failed stories of the violent and explicit type I normally avoid so reading recaps of those was upsetting on another level For one thing, it s justfun to think about what makes great stories work than to go negative This author also feels no compunction about reading his thesis right into these other authors personal lives, issues, failed marriages or lack of marriages , the way they died And the big ideas are getting repetitive But I m still on boardI inherently believe storytelling should have some moral value, which helps.Even if I don t find the concluding few hundred pages as illuminating as the first, I d still recommend this book Seriously Other classic books on plot and archetypes may have better prepared me for this book, but this really is the one.Caveat I find myself continually distancing myself from some of the blatant, gendered terminology used I m familiar with the whole inner feminine and inner masculine concept from other psyche texts, and the idea that everyone male or female needs to balance both in their personalities is great I once wrote a 35 page paper using those ideas But I m not sensing this author cares to make any distinctions b t these terms and his real world politics The farther in you read, the clearer it becomes He s saying exactly what he s saying An absolutely infuriating book The basic premise, that there are a limited number of basic structures to be found in narrative storytelling, is fair enough but hardly anything new Booker makes some good connections and some of them are undeniably on the money But the whole book is infected by Booker s right wing, traditionalist ideology that it becomes, as it goes along, a deeply unpleasant, reactionary read For Booker, the ideal man is a martial warrior the ideal woman a housewife same i An absolutely infuriating book The basic premise, that there are a limited number of basic structures to be found in narrative storytelling, is fair enough but hardly anything new Booker makes some good connections and some of them are undeniably on the money But the whole book is infected by Booker s right wing, traditionalist ideology that it becomes, as it goes along, a deeply unpleasant, reactionary read For Booker, the ideal man is a martial warrior the ideal woman a housewife same ideals as Hitler, funnily enough Booker combines all this with a kind of shallow, pop psychology version of Jungian archetypal theory, blaming all the ills of the world on human egotism to say which is to say absolutely nothing , and what iscondemning any author who dares to not bring their narratives to a fulfilling, satisfactory conclusion Booker trashes 200 years of modernist storytelling, thinks gay and women s liberation is a egotism and the shrew that ought to be tamed, seems to admire Thatcher as the Hero of the Falklands and certainly believes that Joe Orton deserved to be killed for daring to write Entertaining Mr Sloane The worst thing of all is that Booker misrepresents or just plain gets wrong a large percentage of the books and plays he is discussing, suggesting that he has either not read them or is simply lying about them to advance his ideological argument Booker, it should be noted, is not the writer of any creative fiction at all, nor is he a proper academic critic for a work of 700 pages not to include a single citation or even a bibliography is shocking This book will be the forgotten as an embarrassment in 20 years time people would do better to go back to the work of a genuine critic of myths like Northrop Frye Addendum the New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake implicitly argues there are only six basic plots.Back to the regularly scheduled quasi reviewAll 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 nastiest.But it looks like I never got around to constructing an actual review So here are my notes They ll have to do.Recommendation Read all of Section 1, containing descriptions of Addendum the New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake implicitly argues there are only six basic plots.Back to the regularly scheduled quasi reviewAll 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 nastiest.But it looks like I never got around to constructing an actual review So here are my notes They ll have to do.Recommendation 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 revealed to be a sexist reactionary 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 read the balance of Booker s book with the same forbearance Either read or skim Section 2, which explores commonalities of all the plot archetypes, including character archetypes But it will probably feel pretty redundant 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 Hamlet.Some explicit details Section I the seven basic plots are 1 Overcoming the Monster incl subgenre The Thrilling Escape From Death 2 Rags to Riches 3 The Quest 4 Voyage and Return 5 Comedy not necessarily funny 6 Tragedy and7 Rebirth.Section II what they all have in common the character archetypes.Section III Missing the Mark discusses how the plot archetypes go awry.First 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 24.Then 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 rules it had not got the pattern right Then the worst two chapters 26, 27 , reeking of personal biases and opinions regarding nihilism, violence, sex and the appropriate roles for women.First 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 story.Finally, best chapter of the book, on Oedipus and Hamlet.Section IV Why we tell stories , pretty boring, unless you want an examination of how religious texts can be perceived in archetypal patterns.Ch 27 points out many books and films pushed out the boundaries of what was acceptable in terms of sex and violence e.g., 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 reactionary rage notable in his columns is barely suppressed.Ch 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 lion.Also, he is quite 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 provocative Apparently 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 right side of that, though.But, frankly, his chapters on the modern subversion of the archetypes displayirritation than admiration, and so we re left with a sneaking suspicion that the author is a social reactionary, which also seems to be evident in his columns for the Telegraph.Consider 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 rebel 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 rules 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 brilliance Ch 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 trees.Side note illuminating arrogance fn 3, p 553 Various attempts have been made in recent 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 consequences arising from the split between ego and instinct Booker a journalist and author apparently believes himself competent to evaluate and judge any effort, regardless of the expertise involved.Minor annoyance Q does the quote attributed to Churchill belongs to Bernard Shaw p 576 Though I m a little uncomfortable dismissing a book that has taken someone half a lifetime to write, I can t help but think that when it comes to The Seven Basic Plots the author s time could really have been better spent There were points where this book outright insulted me as a literature student, as a feminist, as a psychology major, and as a lover of stories in general.The idea of applying Jungian theory to literature is not new, but reading this book often had me wondering whether such a Though I m a little uncomfortable dismissing a book that has taken someone half a lifetime to write, I can t help but think that when it comes to The Seven Basic Plots the author s time could really have been better spent There were points where this book outright insulted me as a literature student, as a feminist, as a psychology major, and as a lover of stories in general.The idea of applying Jungian theory to literature is not new, but reading this book often had me wondering whether such a reductive approach is actually useful Booker doesn t really offer any compelling information which enhances my experience of literary criticism or of literature in general In fact, I had so many problems with this book that I think it s probably best to just list them in no particular order 1 Booker s prose is at times very poorly crafted For a writer who has a chapter entitled The Rule of Three the role played in stories by numbers , he seems to take a kind of perverse delight in presenting the reader with endless sentences listing countless plot examples without pausing for breath My advice Give that poor semicolon a break and focus on putting the rule of three into action.2 I was about halfway through this book when I realised that just about every story examined in depth in this book barring folk and fairy tales was written by a man And I m not the first person to pick up on Booker s gender and cultural bias either.3 On the above point, the moment when I honestly thought I was going to hurl this book at the wall Booker s analysis or,accurately, his outright dismissal of two of the best known female English novelists of all time was absolutely insulting to the intelligence He begins by adopting the tiresome and oh so ignorant line that Jane Austen was desperately in love with her Irish cousin Tom Lefroy, and that the entirety of her writing career was her attempt to compensate for the fact that she would never marry him and have all of his babies As I ve mentioned before, this sentimental and degrading little folly is an invention of the Victorians and later of Hollywood, in an attempt to explain just why Austen was so good at writing about love and marriage, given that she apparently had no experience in either field As just about any serious Austen scholar will tell you, there is absolutely no evidence that Austen was overcome with love for a boy she met only once or twice in her life, and for only a few weeks at a time What Booker does is latch onto this sweet but irritating little story as a way to explain why a woman would want to be a writer not just in Austen s day but at any point in history Austen is acceptable to Booker because she is trying to compensate for her supposed inability to complete the archetypal journey from childhood to parenthood by re creating her failed romance in a new setting which she can manipulate toward a new, happy ending This portrait of one of the most well respected and loved English novelists of all time male or female is degrading Booker does not given Austen credit for being an extraordinarily intelligent woman, a perceptive social critic, and an accomplished writer in all aspects of technique and style In the few instances Booker does turn his attention to the writing of women throughout history, he constructs them as somehow piggybacking on the fame, intelligence or inspiration of significant men in their lives He does this with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, and though he doesn t analyse Bronte directly, when he looks at Jane Eyre he wilfully misinterprets plots and characters in order to fit it into his overall design.4 Which brings me to another point There is a lot of subtle twisting of plots in order to make them fit into Booker s overall plan If a situation, ending, scene, or character doesn t fit in with his scheme, then it is conveniently ignored A quick Google search using only the book s title as a keyword threw up an article which points out that Booker ignores the final chapter of Middlemarch and the character of Stephen Dedalus in Joyce s Ulysses So it s not just me that has this problem Of course, all literary analysis does this to some extent, but Booker so wilfully ignores it that reading The Seven Basic Plots you begin to wonder if you read the same version of these books as he did.5 Why on earth does Booker feel he has to retell the entire plot of popular fairy tales in excruciating detail Who doesn t know the plot of Cinderella 6 The book also promises to explain why we tell stories The answer to this question, according to Booker, is quite infuriatingly simple we are trying to re create the generational transition of child becoming parent, growing into their place in the world but takes so long to actually answer that the point however unexciting it may be is lost 7 At the risk of sounding like a literary snob, it is vital that anyone who reads this book takes note Booker is NOT a literary critic Neither is he a psychologist This is important to remember because what becomes apparent very quickly is how little citation there is in this book It s a reflection of the assumption that to become a literary theorist or critic one simply has to read a lot of books As someone working towards a degree in literature, I can honestly state that most of literary criticism involves reading around the text Citing the Introductory Notes to The Thousand and One Nights just isn t going to cut it The few references which do crop up are so ridiculously out of date that it makes the reader feel like Booker is too cheap to buy new books and too lazy to visit the library instead his references seem to be solely those he can download free off Project Gutenberg or books he bought when he was an undergrad at university and never got round to throwing out.8 The thing which bothered me the most the fact that Booker dismisses any story which doesn t follow the archetypal pattern as wrong or bad fiction, that it is somehow a failure I just I can t even begin to talk about this one.9 Where is postmodernism to fit in all this Reading this book one would assume that the last sixty years of literary development never happened Either Booker is too traditionalist to even crack open the cover of a postmodern novel or else he wilfully ignores them because he knows they refute his argument Is everything that literature has become in the past few decades also wrong , because it doesn t fit neatly into Booker s personal preferences for literature There are a few interesting points in this book, but ultimately, I don t think it contributes meaningfully to our understanding of storytelling It is an out of date book full of unenlightened ideas and little to really challenge the reader Read it if you must, but be warned finishing this book may bear a startling resemblance to the outline of Booker s Overcoming the Monster plot

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