The Magnificent Seven

This afternoon, I read a review of The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker, wherein the reviewer seems to like Aristotle better than Carl Jung. But then, who doesn’t?

In any case, the book apparently argues (I say “apparently” because I haven’t actually read it) that the plots of all stories, from Beowulf to Robinson Crusoe can all be boiled down to the same seven basic storylines:

— Overcoming the Monster
— Rags to Riches
— The Quest (no, not this one)
— Voyage and Return
— Tragedy
— Comedy
— Rebirth

This is an interesting idea (I suppose, I mean, I once heard Vonnegut speak, and he boiled all stories down to “There’s a person, doing stuff. And it’s okay. And then, oh shit! Something happens!” which is much more succinct), or at least I think it is. If you could break down all works of literature (at least the storytelling kind) into seven categories, which ones would you pick? Do you agree or disagree that everything really comes down to the same handful of plots?

And perhaps, most importantly, if Aristotle and Carl Jung were to fight in a steel cage, who do you think would win?

6 Responses

  1. Well …On one hand, it’s
    Well …

    On one hand, it’s easy to react and say “no way, there are so many more storylines” — like the storyline where the aliens come and eat all the tulips then turn into Bratz dolls, sporting pirate fashions. But then again, you could also even boil these seven down, because isn’t a voyage and return a quest? Isn’t a comedy really a tragedy without the killing and such? Or with more killing, depending on how you slice it? Rebirth and rags to riches seem eerily similar… and so on.

    I think I tend to side with Vonnegut on this one, but if Aristotle and Carl Jung were in a steel cage match, I think Jung would eventually squeak by … Why? I don’t know.

  2. Ain’t Vonnegut cool?Yeah, I
    Ain’t Vonnegut cool?

    Yeah, I agree with Vonnegut. For any book to be good, there has to be that moment of “oh shit, something happens.”

    You know when a book or a movie sucks? When it’s over and you say “nothing happened! That sucked.”

    So, yeah. Something has to happen. And the thing that happens doesn’t have to be something getting blowed up or some hot girl getting naked and jiggley, although this certainly helps.

    The “something” can be a change in the protagonist or change in the reader — as long as it’s interesting. Make the story interesting. Make it move. Because if it’s not moving. . . it’s not moving.

    More importantly, when did you see Vonnegut? How was he?

  3. Love storiesWhat about the
    Love stories

    What about the love story, boy meets girl, or boy; or girl meets girl; or boy meets two girls; or all the boys and girls get together in the Anderson’s basement and dim the lights.

    What about the death story, boy meets bullet from .45 calibre handgun; girl meets train; motorcycle versus SUV; convertible versus tractor trailer.

    Aristotle would knee Jung in the groin and it would be curtains from there.

  4. Vonnegut is cool. I heard
    Vonnegut is cool.

    I heard him a few years ago when he was the keynote speaker at this research symposium at my fabulous alma mater. His talk was good — funny and loaded with sharp observations — but a little scattered and hard to follow at times. (And, as a friend observed when he walked up to the podium, “dude, he’s old.”)

  5. and then something
    and then something happens…

    Vonnegut’s analysis is way more interesting than the other guy’s. He says it all and in a sentence, instead of needing a WHOLE book.

    Anyway, I don’t know how I can remember this, but way back in elementary school (yep, that’s right; back there in the days when we did our reading by the coal oil light) I had a teacher whose format for a book report required that we identify the basic conflict in the story. Evidently, according to her… all books had one and to complete our assignment you had to identify the conflict and tell why it was so… I’m sure I don’t remember her categories perfectly, but she had 3.

    1. Man against Man
    2. Man against Nature (but what about nature against nature… like stories that don’t have man in them at all. That seems omitted.)
    3. Man against Self (internal struggles)

    But as Singlmalt has pointed out… if it’s not interesting to read about then who cares how you define it?

    So there’s that list.

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