The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

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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 ...

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Denis Dutton
Booker, a British columnist who was founding editor of Private Eye, possesses a remarkable ability to retell stories. His prose is a model of clarity, and his lively enthusiasm for fictions of every description is infectious. He covers Greek and Roman literature, fairy tales, European novels and plays, Arabic and Japanese tales, Native American folk tales, and movies from the silent era on. He is an especially adept guide through the twists and characters of Wagner's operas. His artfully entertaining summaries jogged many warm memories of half-forgotten novels and films.
— The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
In laying out these archetypes, Mr. Booker - a British newspaper columnist and the founding editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye - does a nimble job of collating dozens of stories, using the 34 years he says it took him to write this volume to identify and explicate all sorts of parallels and analogies that might not occur to the casual reader. He shows us how "The Terminator" and its sequel "Judgment Day" adhere to traditional narrative tropes, moving inexorably if violently toward the ideas of rebirth and redemption. And he reminds us how the movie "E.T." embodies classic coming-of-age-story patterns: the boy hero Elliott's encounter with E.T., his alien alter ego, helps him to grow up, forces him to demonstrate leadership, and enables him to bring new harmony to his fragmented family.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Many writing guides have suggested that fiction contains a limited number of basic plots, and Booker offers his version at great length. Furthermore, he claims all of these plots, from "overcoming the monster" to "rebirth," are variations on "the same great basic drama," a Jungian archetypal representation of the development and integration of the mature self. The meticulous detailing of this theory in plot summaries (of everything from Beowulf to Jaws, ancient comedy to modern tragedy, Western culture and Eastern) is an imposing enough task, but Booker is just warming up. In the book's second half, he explains how the psychological shortcomings of modern authors such as Shaw and Joyce led them to reject archetypal truth in favor of writing out their own sentimental and morbid fantasies. The biographical analysis is simplistic, however, and Booker makes numerous errors in the sections on film. The transition from literary criticism to Jungian psychology might be more bearable were it not saddled with an overabundance of academic clich surprising in a writer of Booker's extensive journalistic background (he now contributes to England's Daily Telegraph). Clearly striving for the intellectual respectability of Northrop Frye, he falls far short, and accusing those who disagree with him of suffering from "limited ego-consciousness" doesn't help his case. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Booker, a regular contributor to the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail, began work on this massive book over 30 years ago. It is an impressive achievement, in both its vast scope and its readability. Exploring all genres of storytelling-from the Bible and recurring folktales to high and low literature, as well as plays and movies-Booker manages to incorporate the work of such great minds as Dr. Johnson, Jung, and Freud without ever sounding dry. His treatment of the evolution of comedy (a genre notably resistant to explication) since ancient Greek plays is excellent. The third, very interesting chapter offers stories that fail to satisfy our often nebulous sense of good storytelling, showing precisely how and where they fail. Geared more to undergraduates than graduates, this useful overview will prove valuable to writers as well as scholars. Highly recommended for academic libraries, especially those supporting a literature and/or film studies program.-Felicity D. Walsh, Emory Univ., Decatur, GA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826480378
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
  • Publication date: 1/9/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 192,499
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 2.40 (d)

Meet the Author

As a noted commentator on the political, social and psychological history of our time, Christopher Booker has in recent years, through his weekly Sunday Telegraph column, become the most conspicuous 'global warming sceptic' in the British press. He has based his view on exhaustive research into the scientific evidence for and against the theory of 'man-made climate change'.

His professional interest in this issue grew out of research for his previous book Scared To Death, co-written with Dr Richard North, a study of the 'scare phenomenon' which has been such a prominent feature of Western life in recent decades. Booker's other recent books have included The Seven Basic Plots, a best-selling analysis of why we tell stories which has established itself as a standard text (also published by Continuum). He has been an author and journalist for nearly 50 years, and was the founding editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Overcoming the monster 21
Ch. 2 The monster (II) and the thrilling escape from death 31
Ch. 3 Rags to riches 51
Ch. 4 The quest 69
Ch. 5 Voyage and return 87
Ch. 6 Comedy 107
Ch. 7 Comedy (II) : the plot disguised 131
Ch. 8 Tragedy (I) : the five stages 153
Ch. 9 Tragedy (II) : the divided self 173
Ch. 10 Tragedy (III) : the hero as monster 181
Ch. 11 Rebirth 193
Ch. 12 The dark power : from shadow into light 215
Epilogue to part one : the rule of three (the role played in stories by numbers) 229
Ch. 13 The dark figures 241
Ch. 14 Seeing whole : the feminine and masculine values 253
Ch. 15 The perfect balance 267
Ch. 16 The unrealised value 277
Ch. 17 The archetypal family drama 289
Ch. 18 The light figures 297
Ch. 19 Reaching the goal 311
Ch. 20 The fatal flaw 329
Ch. 21 The ego takes over (I) : enter the dark inversion 347
Ch. 22 The ego takes over (II) : the dark and sentimental versions 367
Ch. 23 The ego takes over (III) : quest, voyage and return, comedy 385
Ch. 24 The ego takes over (IV) : tragedy and rebirth 399
Ch. 25 Losing the plot : Thomas Hardy - a case history 413
Ch. 26 Going nowhere : the passive ego : the twentieth-century dead end - from Chekhov to Close encounters 425
Ch. 27 Why sex and violence? : the active ego : the twentieth-century obsession : from de Sade to The terminator 455
Ch. 28 Rebellion against 'the one' : from Job to Nineteen eighty-four 495
Ch. 29 The mystery 505
Ch. 30 The riddle of the sphinx : Oedipus and Hamlet 517
Ch. 31 Telling us who we are : ego versus instinct 543
Ch. 32 Into the real world : the ruling consciousness 571
Ch. 33 Of Gods and men : reconnecting with 'the one' 593
Ch. 34 The age of Loki : the dismantling of the self 645
Epilogue : the light and the shadows on the wall 699
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book should truly be considered as the definitive reference guide for all aspects of the plot element in fiction. Using a vast selection of Western classic works as examples, Christopher Booker thoroughly examines the art of storytelling and reveals the seven basic plot structures as they appear in all literature: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, Voyage and Return, The Quest, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Each type of plot is not only given a thorough, exhaustive treatment, but is also presented to the reader using everyday terminology (e.g., light/dark figures, above the line/below the line), which make this book very accessible as well as informative. This book would be a remarkable achievement if it only discussed these plot structures. Christopher Booker, however, has provided readers so much more. Using a Jungian framework, he expands his investigation of plots into a historical and psychological examination of storytelling itself. He presents readers with a complete philosophy, with stunning insights into why humanity should conceive of stories at all, and how our individual egos and humanity's inherent 'separation from nature' provide a plausible explanation. Anyone who has enjoyed the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell will be captivated by the second half of this book. The writing itself, although it could be more concise (the ideas he presents seem somewhat repetitive at times) is very 'conversational' in its tone and is truly a pleasure to read. This book, including the research and required reading necessary for its creation, took Christopher Booker over 30 years to complete! The Seven Basic Plots was a real labor of love for its author, and we readers are lucky to have it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 24, 2010

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    Posted January 13, 2010

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