The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories Paperback – 11 Nov 2005
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This is a truly important book, an accolade often bestowed and rarely deserved in our modern age.
-Dame Beryl Bainbridge <br \><br \>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
This is a truly important book, an accolade often bestowed and rarely deserved in our modern age. --Dame Beryl Bainbridge
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
Breathtaking in its scope and originality, "Seven Basic Plots" examines the basis of story telling in literature, film, and libretto. No one will ever see stories in the same way again. 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. See all Product description
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Booker’s main focus is literature and I particularly liked his chapters on Thomas Hardy and Anton Chekhov. Indeed, these were stand out chapters for me.
Booker also covers film. I loved the way he compared Beowulf, Jaws and James Bond and saw them as essentially the same story; that is, they are all build around the same archetypes, though on the surface they may appear different. I also loved for example reading his account of Straw Dogs and his exposition on Citizen Kane. I’d certainly never thought of these stories in this way before.
I also love big books, and this is one. At at over 700 pages it provides much to chew on. If there are any drawbacks they are few. I did for example consider the first part of the book better, and perhaps easier to read, than the latter parts. This I think is due to some of the latter parts of the book being written at an earlier stage, perhaps as part of a talk or lecture Booker made, and later decided to insert them into The Seven Basic Plots. The section on Hamlet is an example of this. And the fact that Booker took over 30 years to write the book lends itself to slight style fluctuations throughout the text.
The book is a magnum opus for any literature buff. I have filed my copy with two other works of literature that I like – Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel and Colin Wilson’s Outsider. Wilson’s Outsider not only covers literature but also delves into the minds of the artists as well. In short: I would thoroughly recommend Christopher Booker’s impressive work of literature. Five stars, without question.
(If you want to write, then out of the dozens of books I've bought on writing, I only refer back to these four, and I use them regularly:
- The Seven Basic Plots;
- Save the Cat;
- The Art of Dramatic Writing;
- The Artist's Way.)
The first section of the book deals with the hypothesis itself, looking at the seven basic plots; overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, tragedy, comedy and rebirth. Booker then goes on to look at archetypal characters and to draw his own conclusions on why we read stories and the fundamental psychology involved.
The extent of research and detail involved in the book is incredible and I am not surprised it took half a lifetime to write.
As a major contribution to story theory it is a must read for those interested in the subject and has to merit a five star rating as a consequence. However, notwithstanding the amazing achievement that this book represents, there are aspects open to challenge. Booker does not look at alternate theories of plots, not even to dismiss the reductionist theory that there are only two plots (going on a journey, or a stranger coming to stay). It is also fair to say that the use of references is questionnable, both in the conclusions drawn and in the selection of sources that appear to support the hypothesis. I can't recall a single instance of any source being used to challenge the theory.
The final section is, perhaps, the most controversial. The fundamental argument is that stories are all designed to reinforce our understanding of the world in terms of traditional values, with those behaviours not leading to a traditional resolution resulting from a triumph of the ego. This is a fascinating argument, but does leave difficult questions unanswered.
This is a thought-provoking, extraordinary book. It should be on every writer or critic's bookshelf.
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