After thirty years of research, Christopher Booker concluded there were only seven basic plots in all the stories ever written

After thirty years of research, Christopher Booker concluded there were only seven basic plots in all the stories ever written. Quite a claim. Might the truth be somewhat different? Possibly. Is there a great deal of truth in what he discovered? I believe so. Here they are (and I apologize for the length of this newsletter but thought it best to get them all in at once).

 

Overcoming the Monster

Whether Dracula and Frankenstein or King Kong and Godzilla, from days gone by; or Darth Vader (Star Wars), Sauron (The Lord of the Rings), and Voldemort (Harry Potter), we have no difficulty recalling these characters, for they dominate the stories we love.

Mr. Booker found humanity’s stories contain nothing as unusual or incredible as this frightening, immensely powerful monster the hero must seek out and destroy. This creature may be human but is often superhuman, an incarnation of the greatest evil you could ever imagine. He will threaten the local village or town but could be capable of destroying the whole kingdom, even the whole world. This monster is so strong, so dangerous and formidable, the single most important thing in the story is that he is defeated, and everyone saved from this great evil.

 

Rags to Riches

An ordinary lad pulls a sword out of a stone, fulfills a prophecy and becomes King Arthur. An abandoned and downtrodden young woman, Cinderella, is magically transported to a royal ball and becomes the envy of all, for the prince cannot take his eyes off of her. A clumsy, awkward young reporter, Clark Kent, steps into a phone booth and emerges as the greatest superhero this world has ever known.

Over and over in the stories of humanity, there is an everyday, commonplace individual whom no one considers significant, who abruptly steps forward and becomes quite extraordinary. These individuals are always humble, frequently orphans, and may have been greatly neglected or abused. As the story continues, it becomes evident they always had another, more remarkable self within, for it manifests before our very eyes and moves us beyond words.

 

The Quest

Frodo and eight companions set out on a journey that may take their lives, but are committed to its success, for they know the fate of all Middle Earth depends on it. Moses first has to deal with Pharaoh, no small feat, but then leads millions through the wilderness, all the way to the promised land. Indiana Jones is willing to risk everything to find the Ark of the Covenant and its divine contents, lost since biblical times.

These stories may be among the easiest to recognize. Somewhere, far away, there is a specific goal, a priceless treasure, something of immeasurable value that must be found. The hero will soon be leaving home, for there is nothing more important than securing this prize. The journey will always be long and perilous, for there is also something that has very much gone wrong with the world. Some great threat has arisen that must be dealt with.

 

Voyage and Return

A tornado in Kansas transports a young girl named Dorothy to a strange new world. She journeys to find the great Wizard of Oz with three new friends, for they believe he can give each of them what they most need. Three children in the Darling family are given the power by a tiny fairy to fly, all the way to a magical land where they meet Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Four children from London discover inside a wardrobe they can be magically transported to another world where an evil witch has made it winter, but a great lion wants their help to defeat her.
In Voyage and Return stories, our hero somehow travels from their own every-day, familiar world, to another world altogether, where everything is very different. This strange new world is confounding and confusing, but may also be exciting. Before long, however, some type of darkness intervenes and causes our hero to be quite vulnerable and helpless. Thankfully, after some time, they find a way to escape this other world and safely return home. In some stories, this other strange world is an uncivilized land far, far away, whereas in others, this other world clearly came from the imagination.

 

Comedy

In the ancient comedy, Lysistrata by Aristophanes, the men, who are always away because of their obsession with war, are lured home by their wives who refuse to have anything to do with them, including their conjugal rights. Ultimately, the men realize how perverse their priorities have become and all are joyously reunited. In many of Shakespeare’s plays, there is a community of people who have been reduced to complete confusion and misery because of one selfish, dark character; but ultimately, sanity, health and wholeness are restored. In Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth comes to see that people’s true characters can be concealed behind first mistaken impressions, and her own pride and arrogance may have been the greatest.

Although there are stories that follow the Comedy plot that are not intended to be funny at all, all comedies follow a similar formula. Certain characters have become dark and can only be rescued and redeemed if they can recognize this fact, have a change of heart, and change into a better version of themselves. If this does not happen, they will have to be confronted, and justice served for the welfare of all. There can also be characters who, over time, turn out to be quite different than previously thought; characters who are meant to find the one person who most complements them; and characters that simply need to discover their “other half” within. Most importantly, division and estrangement must be reconciled, brokenness must be healed, and anything out of place must be reestablished. Everything in the shadows must be brought out into the light.

 

Tragedy

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a general of the same name is told by witches that he will one day be king, which ultimately prompts him to take matters in his own hands, including murder. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a doctor discovers a secret potion that allows a much darker, exhilarating personality to emerge at night. Eventually, this darker side begins to take over until the man is permanently trapped inside of it. In Romeo and Juliet, the most famous lovers of all time do not struggle with a darkness that lies within but are brought to destruction, nevertheless, by the unrelenting darkness that resides in their own families.

In a Tragedy, our hero also responds to a call at the beginning of the story, but it’s of a different type. There is a part of them, a temptation, a dark desire, which they cannot resist. They may be part of a community with healthy relationships, but over time, they are more and more consumed with the gratification of this selfish desire. Their course just becomes darker and more self-destructive. Others come together to protect themselves from this threat, to thwart them and ultimately defeat them.

 

Rebirth

In Sleeping Beauty, the blessings upon an infant princess are interrupted by the curse of a wicked fairy, that the child will prick her finger and die before she grows up. It seems only a sentence of a hundred years of sleep will avert this disaster, although in the end, it is the love and kiss of a young prince who frees her forever. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, our familiar character Scrooge has been trapped all of his life within a bitter, cold, and angry heart, but he is gradually brought back to the light and life through the assistance of three of the most unlikely companions. In the Silver Chair, the sixth book in The Chronicles of Narnia series, Prince Rilian is captured by an evil witch and taken to underground world. For ten years he is so enchanted, he has no memory of who he is; but Aslan, the lion king, sends two children to rescue him.

In Rebirth stories, our hero becomes so enchanted by an evil spell, so overcome, like a living sleep, that we wonder if they can ever be revived. This affliction may also contaminate their inner mind and emotions, even their spirit. They may be so entrapped in their own narcissism, and so blind to it that their fate seems sealed. At last, however, a redeemer arrives who is somehow able to awaken them from their slumber. Whereas the hero in the Tragedy is not able to overcome the darkness, or just chooses to succumb to it, the hero in the Rebirth story is able to resist and step out again into the light.

 

And I know that was a lot, but it was good to get all seven introduced together. Next time, we will dive in deeper.

Sam

Welcome, I'm Sam!

A fellow traveler on this journey we call life and this path we call the Christian faith, wanting to speak to anyone who will listen about the incredible things that God (only because of His incredible grace) chose to reveal to me. Stories have always been a mirror in which we can see ourselves, if we only look more closely. We are all like the children of Israel in the wilderness, wanting and needing to establish ourselves in the promised land. Stories can help us to get there, and to flourish there.

I can't wait to get to know you!

Best,
Sam

Search the Blog

Recent Posts

New Release

Once Upon a Time Selah 2024 Winner