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It started so promisingly
on 21 March 2008
This lengthy book begins with an exposition of the seven basic plots identified by Booker. He goes on to explain that, essentially, these plots are about the universal human story of growing up, detaching from parents, getting together with one's 'other half' and producing the next generation.
So far, so interesting - and reasonably persuasive.
It is when Booker starts relating everything to Jungian archetypes and examining how literature has developed in the last two centuries (and, latterly, film) that things start to go awry.
Having decided that stories are all about maturing and having your own family, Booker takes the unwarranted leap to saying that any story that departs from this underlying theme is a story that has 'gone wrong'. Moreover - and as an even more unwarranted leap - Booker infers that any author whose story has gone wrong must himself have failed to mature properly.
Briefly, anything that doesn't end up with a man and woman being united is, according to Booker, indicative of egotism. (Oh yes, and said man and woman must be 'mature': an assessment which Booker makes only by reference to their conformity with his hypothesised archetypal characters and themes.) The literature of the last 200 years has experimented outside of his archetypes and themes, indicating, he says, a more egotistical and shallow culture.
This is simply unconvincing, and annoying.
So, a story that ends with, say, a happy homosexual union can't be a 'proper' story? And there must be something psychologically immature about its author? Any story that deals with social alienation and moral shades of grey is a 'bad' story that is infested with egotism, because it doesn't use the black and white 'goodie vs baddie' world of his archetypes?
In my view, the literature of the last two centuries may feature more egotism, but it also features a great deal more reality. How often, in real life, can people really be designated as 'goodies' or 'baddies'? How often are supposed happy endings untainted by uncertainty?
It seems to me that if the only way you can uphold your hyopthesis is by denigrating anything that doesn't fit with it, it is probably a sign that your hypothesis needs rethinking.
In summary, I think Booker is right that many stories are, at their core, about growing up and establishing one's own identity and family. I also agree that some stories are shallow and governed by egotism. However, it does not follow that stories that fail to follow his archetypes are necessarly about the ego, and it's a shame he chose to go down this alley. A little more open-mindedness about the merits of more modern literature would have made a better book.