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The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (2004)

por Christopher Booker

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7221823,303 (3.82)27
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.… (más)
  1. 10
    El Héroe de las Mil Caras por 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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Christopher Booker is mostly famous for being one of the founders of the satirical magazine Private Eye, which he edited for a couple of years, and for his long and irritating career as a satirical columnist on the Telegraph, gleefully attacking anything and everything that he happened to disapprove of that day, from environmentalism to mini-skirts. The obituary in the Guardian quotes George Monbiot as describing Booker — obviously with reference to his tedious campaign of climate-change scepticism — as "simply a device to waste as much of other people’s time as possible … a computer programme randomly generating nonsense."

This Casaubon-like project to provide the Key to All Narratologies is very much in the Booker tradition, full of more or less random attacks on movements and writers he disapproves of, such as Romantics, Americans, women, Joyce, Lawrence, and anyone younger than Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. He also tosses out the predictable drive-by attacks on miniskirts, Beatles, feminism, Angry Young Men, and most politicians other than Thatcher, Eisenhower and Churchill. He even manages to be caustic about the satirists of the 1950s, apparently forgetting his own participation in TWTWTW and the Eye!

But of course that's not the main point, what we're here for is to be told "why we tell stories". And the answer to that turns out to be surprisingly simple, indeed it's probably the answer we would have come up with ourselves before reading the book: stories serve as paradigms for human life, teaching us things about the world and our human nature. Booker fleshes it out with Jungian archetypes and a lot of stuff about the struggle to get the Unified Self out of the clutches of the Ego, but that's what it boils down to. Classical stories move towards a resolution in which the protagonist gets the "masculine" and "feminine" sides of their personality into proper proportion (happy ending) or are destroyed after failing to (tragedy). Stories that don't fit into this model (all the most important works of 20th century literature) are flawed and unsatisfactory. So there.

So, a flawed, blinkered and rather pointless project, but it's still often quite a rewarding book to read, if you filter out Booker's professional contrarianism and just enjoy the steady torrent of plot-summaries running over you. Whatever major work of world literature you are looking for, somewhere or other in this book you will find a convenient thumbnail sketch of its storyline. And the same goes for quite a lot of cinema, visual art, folk tradition, world history, and the myths of the great religions of the world. This is something where Booker's journalistic training really comes in handy: the summaries are lively, short, reasonably accurate, and to the point.

There were a few chapters in the book where he really grabbed my attention, like the very clear historical analysis of the development of comedy from Aristophanes to Beaumarchais. But elsewhere he does ramble and repeat himself rather.

You have to admire Liam Gerrard's courage in taking on the audio narration of this elephant of a book, and getting all the way to the end without major mishap. I assume that his cheerful insistence that every foreign word or name in the book be pronounced as though it were English (Prowst, Dissard, etc.) is an act of subversion, although Booker might well have approved of that approach. As a listener you do have to remain quite alert to avoid getting mixed up between what he turns into Die, Fledermaus! and The Mousetrap, or between I, Vitelloni and I, Claudius... ( )
2 vota thorold | Feb 22, 2021 |
Starts off by delivering on the title but even before halfway starts analysing and even moralising on the history of mankind. It tries to show how our perceptions of the world and its history are shaped by the same plots that are present in books. All this makes sense since its the same brains that made the stories. The book takes a long time to get there because it contains the synopsis of dozens of major works of fiction (and some less major ones). ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
"The Seven Basic Plots Why We Tell Stories" by Christopher Booker is, at over 700 pages, overwhelming at times.

Overall, I see it more as a textbook. It goes into great detail about what he considers the seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth.

The book itself is divided into four parts with thirty-four chapters. There is a lot of information packed into the pages--analysis of stories, a lot of psychology, a lot of history. It's not really a book to sit down with and read cover to cover, but a book that needs a lot of time to really think about what Booker puts down on the pages. Since the book is required for school, time isn't a luxury I had while reading this book.

As a writer, I found the first twenty pages the most helpful (parts one and two). The types of plots Booker identifies are dissected in great detail, using well-known works as examples. I have a lot of highlighting and post-it flags in those two sections. There is a lot of helpful information in what Booker says; information that will be useful in my own writing. This is a book I will keep close at hand.

( )
  Cheryl.Russell | May 25, 2019 |
Don't let the fact that Booker is a journalist by profession make you think he isn't as well versed on myth, storytelling, and Jungian psychology as a professional in those fields. He clearly knows the topic backwards and forwards. But this is not a psychology book, it is a very digestible analysis of plot forms and an explanation as to why specific patterns appeal to the mass mind and appear throughout all story telling traditions and the arts. This will especially appeal to fiction writers that are interested in learning the elements as to what makes a story really appeal to as many people as possible. Also might be good for aspiring propagandists trying to take over the world or start a cult. ( )
  Chickenman | Sep 13, 2018 |
The Seven Basic Plots
Author: Christopher Booker
Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group
Published In: New York City, NY / London, UK
Date: 2004
Pgs: 728
_________________________________________________

REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Summary:
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.
_________________________________________________
Genre:
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.

Wisdom:
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:
809.924
B724s

Would recommend to:
no one
_________________________________________________ ( )
  texascheeseman | Apr 5, 2017 |
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Título canónico
Título original
Títulos alternativos
Fecha de publicación original
Personas/Personajes
Lugares importantes
Eventos importantes
Películas relacionadas
Premios y honores
Epígrafe
Información del conocimiento común inglés. Edita para encontrar en tu idioma.
'We dance around in a ring and suppose;

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

                                                                      Robert Frost
Dedicatoria
Información del conocimiento común inglés. Edita para encontrar en tu idioma.
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.
Primeras palabras
Información del conocimiento común inglés. Edita para encontrar en tu idioma.
Imagine we are about to be plunged into a story - any story in the world.
Citas
Últimas palabras
Información del conocimiento común inglés. Edita para encontrar en tu idioma.
(Click para mostrar. Atención: puede contener spoilers.)
Aviso de desambigüedad
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Información del conocimiento común inglés. Edita para encontrar en tu idioma.
Idioma original
Información del conocimiento común inglés. Edita para encontrar en tu idioma.
DDC/MDS Canónico
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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