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The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories 1st Edition
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From 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 cliché 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.)
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"This magisterial volume really does offer readers a genuinely fresh and exciting perspective on virtually every tale ever told." —Bookmark, July 2005 (Bookmark)
'This book...has mind-expanding properties. Not only for anyone interested in literature, but also for those fascinated by wider questions of how human beings organise their societies and explain the outside world to their inmost selves, it is fascinating.' Katherine Sale, FT
'Christopher Booker's mammoth account of plot types, archetypes, their role in literary history and where Western culture has gone horribly wrong.'Times Literary Supplement
'His prose is a model of clarity, and his lively enthusiamsm for fictions of every description is infectious...The Seven Basic Plots is...one of the most diverting works on storytelling I've ever encountered.' Dennis Dutton, The Washington Post
'This is the most extraordinary, exhilarating book. It always seemed to me that 'the story' was God's way of giving meaning to crude creation. Booker now interprets the mind of God, and analyses not just the novel - which will never to me be quite the same again - but puts the narrative of contemporary human affairs into a new perspective. If it took its author a lifetime to write, one can only feel gratitude that he did it.'Fay Weldon, novelist
'An enormous piece of work...nothing less than the story of all stories. And an extraordinary tale it is ... Booker ranges over vast tracts of literature, drawing together the plots of everything from Beowulf to Bond, from Sophocles to soap opera, from Homer to Homer Simpson, to show the underlying parallels in stories from what appear to be the most disparate sources. If stories are about "what happens next", this book sets out to show that the answer is always "the same things", then to explain why. I found it absolutely fascinating.' Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye
'This is literally an incomparable book, because there is nothing to compare it with. It goes to the heart of man's cultural evolution through the stories we have told since storytelling began. It illuminates our nature, our beliefs and our collective emotions by shining a bright light on them from a completely new angle. Original, profound, fascinating - and on top of it all, a really good read.'Sir Antony Jay, co-author of Yes, Minister
'I have been quite bowled over by Christopher Booker's new book. It is so well planned with an excellent beginning and the contrasts and comparisons throughout are highly entertaining as well as informative and most original - and always extremely readable.'John Bayley
'Booker's knowledge and understanding of imaginative literature is unrivalled, his essays on the great authors both illuminating and stimulating. This is a truly important book, an accolade often bestowed and rarely deserved in our modern age.'Dame Beryl Bainbridge
"one of the most brilliant books of recent years" (Bel Mooney Times)
"This magisterial volume really does offer readers a genuinely fresh and exciting perspective on virtually every tale ever told." —Bookmark, July 2005 (Sanford Lakoff)
"one of the most brilliant books of recent years" (Sanford Lakoff Times)
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Top Customer Reviews
- 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 read for anyone who invents stories. If you don’t tap on this 37 years research you’re 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 more partial and equally 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 reader.
- A compendium of great and diverse stories.
- A source of unexpected spoilers (if you read the book be very careful with this, for it reveals the plot of so many stories and books, that chances are it will spoil something you want to read. I had to overlook several paragraphs when reading).
The Odyssey versus Ulysses, E.T. versus Encounters of the Third Type, Terminator versus Frankenstein… in each comparison the author prefers the first and rejects 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 refreshing to see how the author jumps without loss of continuity from Hollywood B movies to universal classics. And this tool's lack of respect 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 regarding 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.
Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
Voyage and Return
What is excellent about this book is the amount of learning involved and the interesting connections made between authors as disparate as Jane Austen and Luigi Pirandello. However, this is a big book at over 700 pages, and I think that part of it could have been condensed.
Like other readers, I believe that the strength of the book lies in Part One of the book, titled THE SEVEN GATEWAYS TO THE UNDERWORLD. The following three parts are less strong, mainly because of Booker's contention that any narrative, such as Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, which doesn't conform to what Booker takes to be archytypal norms, is fatally flawed. That this can't possibly be true is borne out by the fact that is ranked at number 59 on Amazon's list of Bargain Books. Readers continue to love this book some 200 years after it was published. So it obviously isn't "fatally flawed" for them.
If you are interested in reading a provocative interesting account of stories, and how they might relate to our psychology, this book is for you. For my part, I think that a strong editorial hand was needed on Parts Two, Three and Four, which were too often filled with silly Freudian cliches. Three stars.
I'm not going to go into too much detail about the book, as just about every reviewer on here will attest that there is no shortage of detail within the book. The book is well over 700 pages, so reading it in its entirety will be quite an undertaking, but the author is not overly-professorial. He writes with a clarity that both provokes thought and can be enjoyed by the high school student all the way up to the English scholar. Believe me, the first 250 pages of archetypal overviews is worth the price of admission. You won't be sorry.