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The Seven Basic Plots

Why We Tell Stories
Narrated by: Liam Gerrard
Length: 38 hrs and 58 mins
4.1 out of 5 stars (25 ratings)

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Summary

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 reveals 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 analyzes 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 5,000 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.

©2004 Christopher Booker (P)2019 Tantor

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    4 out of 5 stars

Narrator makes this book: Masterclass in narration

I honestly don't think the other reviewer listened to this book. Liam Gerrard's narration is sublime! A masterclass in narration and acting. The book ties together the notion that every story can fit into one of 7 pre-determined 'plots' (although the author admittedly says the boundaries are very loose). As such the author takes the listener on a journey through the most famous, infamous, epic, romantic and spellbinding stories known to mankind; from Gilgamesh, through Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austin, George Elliot, Dostoyevsky, Rabelais, Joyce, Chaucer, Beckett, DH Lawrence, Tolstoy, Tolkien and many many more. If you ever wanted a potted description of the best the history of literature has to offer; you won't go far wrong with this. The listener is treated to descriptions, analyses, excracts and performances from the greats of literature and Gerrard's performance is sensitive and measured, yet the characters shine when they need to. This book deserves a narrator with the pedigree expected to pull it off, and I'm glad that the publishers chose Gerrard. The last quarter of the book lets it down, purely because of the writing, not Liam Gerrard's performance. For some reason the author decided instead of stopping and finishing the book, he would carry on and give his own opinions on things as varied as politics, religion and his own treatiste on social anthropology. This is unecessary and not wanted. The desctiption and exploration into the stories up to this point are enough. In short, an excellent way to delve into the greats of literature, all read superbly by my new favourite narrator. Will be buying more of his titles!

12 people found this helpful

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It's all about archetypes. Long but worth the time

It's all about archetypes. A new way to look at stories. Long but worth the time. I did wonder at times if I'd manage the entirety, but actually, once I'd settled into listening, this sped by. A fascinating account spanning the whole of recorded storytelling, splitting the narratives we are familiar with (or not so) into seven categories. These are each broken down into constituent parts, elements focused on important to each, examples given that exemplify their structure and characteristics. I liked the way the author details each book he utilises - the synopsis of the entire plot, useful if you've not read it or can't remember the detail, in order to compare it with whichever of the seven plots it fits into. I even learnt about several books I've not yet read (and sometimes not heard of). Even some popular films (Close Encounters, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial) are used as examples, showing that it's not just literary fiction that fits. It did take some concentration, on audiobook, to continue listening for in excess of 38 hours, but the narrator's voice was absorbing and rousing. This is a book I actually own in paperback and would want to read again on paper, to really attempt to take in more, there is so much detail that it feels impossible to soak up everything and see the constituent parts as sections of the whole. Seeing stories as one of seven plots is an unfamiliar way of looking at a particular narrative, but a useful one, and picking out the common elements and archetypes an excellent means of classifying, breaking down, or potentially creating one. Surprisingly enjoyable, though I would want a second read-through. With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

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interesting ideas spoiled

I really wanted to keep going with this book, but the narrator sounded as if he was taking the Mick the whole time. I will probably - though sometimes the writer flogs a well deceased horse - buy Seven Plots in physical form. Seriously, though I'm a writer and love reading about story structure, I couldn't stand listening a moment longer.

1 person found this helpful

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A disappointingly narrow view on modern literature

The book started promising with a very broad list of stories deconstructed but as soon as mainstream literature stops following the basic plots and ending in marriage or death, described at the beginning, the book becomes a rant on degrading art and society. A lot of the book’s mass is retelling of the stories it talks about. Yet the understanding and deconstruction of modern literature pieces of the author seem to be very narrow and lacking context. I didn’t find this book to be very useful in understanding story telling and would suggest rather listening to the base material itself - from greek myths, Aristotle to the modern pieces from Albert Camus and James Joyce (who the author seem to have hated) - it would give you a much more understanding of the subject and would be less of a waist of time.

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  • Thoughtful Learner
  • 17-03-19

Narration forced me to return it.

The narration forced me to return it. The content appears to be well-researched and more worth one's time and attention. I am continually mystified over the poor narration of good material. I have to assume that the author was powerless to stop it.

6 people found this helpful

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  • discerning shopper
  • 20-02-20

So much more than a book about plots.

I was looking for deeper insight into story telling, but this author showed me story telling is not a simple topic to be understood without a full dive into history, psychology, science/nature and the ultimate questions in life. This is one of those books I wish everyone would read and I have no doubt it will play a role in humanity’s future. Wish I could meet Mr. Booker and thank him for what must have been an incomprehensible amount of work in bringing us this insight.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 20-08-20

Save your time and money, the book is worthless

I started listening to the book with a lot of enthusiasm, taking notes, very interested as to where this was going. As the book progressed, however, little by little I realized how limited, reductive, but more importantly how inaccurate and baseless the attitude proposed by the author is. I determined to finish the book to hear out what the author had to say and, frankly, it got only worse. 1. Booker creates his basic plot structures by observing and interpreting certain stories and his solution to stories that don't fit the moulds he's made is to declare that all the stories outside of his own definition are failed stories in one way or another. And what is the basic principle of storytelling according to Booker? Maturing and succeeding one's parents in order to continue the cycle of life. Maturing for Booker also implies going from an egocentric view to a more altruistic one. To quote the author himself: "They reach the central goal of life which is true maturity as they develop to the point where they can play their proper role as a succession of one generation to another." Following the book, every good story should in one way or another tell this story and anything else is a failure. These failures include most of the literature written in the last two hundred years. Apparently, Joyce, Proust, Camus, Balzac, Stendhal, Chekov, Salinger, Beckett, basically the entire detective and mystery genre, and many more are all failed stories and symptoms of how our societies have been becoming more and more egocentric. But hey, Crocodile Dundee is mentioned many times with great admiration. If this framework interests you, by all means, buy this book. But I feel like this is an extremely reductionist view of literature, to limit all of the human storytelling to this one premise is ridiculously narrow and demands that we willfully ignore anything that does not fit in with this narrative. 2. Booker never actually engages with the texts he's criticizing. He outlines his seven basic plots in the first two parts and then proceeds to berate the stories he dislikes in the third, but he does not prove in any way how those stories are bad or don't function, he merely points out that they do not conform to the criteria he himself created. For example, when talking about Stendhal's The Red and the Black his sole criticism of the protagonist is that he's two-dimensional (never mind that up to that point he's never mentioned dimensionality in the book and all of a sudden it's an important aspect). Why is the protagonist two-dimensional? Well, because he does not mature exactly as Booker has defined maturation i.e. going from egotistical to non-egotistical. The entire book is basically this: Booker deduces criteria for literature from a couple of dozen stories and when encountering the stories that do not fit his criteria he does not revise the criteria but berates the stories. 3. Thirdly, Booker is far more concerned with attacking authors than the texts themselves. As noted above he almost never engages with the texts themselves but simply points out how they do not conform to his own nonsensical ideals, the rest of his criticism is simply a series of Ad Hominems against the authors. Booker feels himself very qualified to make psychological portraits of people he's never met, while himself not being a psychologist. For example, the criticism of Frankenstein is taken up far more by how much of a volatile character Percy Shelley, the husband of the author, was than by actually criticizing the text ( which obviously consists of simply stating that the text does not conform to Booker's own "overcoming the monster" narrative). 4. Another important aspect is where did Booker gets the idea that maturing and succeeding is the definitive force in any person's psyche. He got it from Booker's own interpretations of Jung and the book is full of praise of that man. Now Jung is a very interesting thinker, but the complexity of all of his research as well as the complexity of entire psychology is reduced to basically a small number of Jungian archetypes. Booker simply runs with a couple of Jungian ideas as if they are the be-all and end-all of psychology and if you know anything about psychology, you know that is not the case. Jung's contribution was important, but the science of psychology is far more complex than Booker thinks. 5. Booker is simply not well-read enough to discuss such a complex issue. He skips many important works even in the timeframe and place he does like. For example, Booker blames Romanticism for stories becoming egotistical, but the Iliad is filled with egotistical characters far before Romanticism and it is scarcely mentioned. There's no mention of important authors such as Rabelais or Laurence Stern and Divine Comedy, or most of the Bible apart from a couple of stories are barely mentioned. More importantly, the book concerns itself almost solely with mythologies, literature, and film from Europe and America. Apart from Aladin, I don't think Booker is aware of any middle Eastern story. The delightful complexities of the rest of 1001 Nights or the importance the stories in Koran are simply not present. Chinese or Hindu or Japanese mythology and literature are also absent. Amazing Latin-American literature is barely mentioned. Complex mythologies of the Norse or Egyptians or Aztec and Maya are omitted. The book which is supposed to get to the core of all story-telling sure does omit an immense part of story-telling. 6. The fourth part of the book is concerned more with history and psychology and how Booker's crackpot ideas manifest themselves in those fields according to him. I found it to be almost complete gibberish, but it would be too much to cover here. Just keep in mind that if you do read this part, you'll be lectured on psychology and history from a man who neither a psychologist nor a historian. If you're interested in those fields, read the actual scientists. 7. Even had I loved the book, it's just horribly edited! The same stories are re-told again and again, infinite repetitions of all concepts and archetypes. No wonder the book last for almost 40 hours. 8. On a final note, I personally find many of his interpretations to be complete nonsense. Gilgamesh does not really become less egotistical as the story progresses, he simply concludes he can prolong his identity in other ways. He criticizes Ulysses for being nothing like the Oddysey - can you imagine missing the point more? His interpretations of War and Piece are almost childish, the complexities of competing theories of history are completely lost on him. He thinks Don Quijote is about how an old man finally overcomes his madness, I don't think Booker is aware of the concept of meta-textuality. He praises Dostoevsky, but I think he's only read two of his books. The Idiot or especially the Letters from the Underground do not fit his plots at all, but Booker seems to have never read them. And boy oh boy, does he misrepresent Shakespeare. In the epilogue, Booker contends that anyone who disagrees with his views probably thinks that they already know what stories are about. The irony seems to escape him. He then states how his way of breaking down stories will definitely be "widely accepted." Yeah, that didn't happen. What pathetic, delusions of grandeur. This book is Dunning–Kruger effect manifested in physical form. It is honestly shameful that the author dedicated 34 years of his life to something that breaks down at the slightest examination. In short, if you want to hear how all of storytelling is about growing up, getting married, and having some kids, this book is for you. If you think the human experience, as well as storytelling, is far more complex than this, don't waste your time here.

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  • CHughes
  • 24-08-19

Insightful but too long

I did enjoy the book but it went on and on and on and on. It could have been jut as effective if they had been more proficient in editing it down.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Martin M
  • 10-05-19

Excellent!

Fantastic and brilliant. Content you won't find elsewhere. I enjoyed the narrator and thought he did an excellent job of bringing this wonderful book to life. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • lindsay
  • 20-01-20

Absolutely love

I like patterns, and this book is full of the patterns of our literature. Especially liked learning about hamlet and the epic of Gilgamesh. Neat. Easy listen.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 18-11-19

Magnificent!

Interesting form, great insights on development trends, wise observations and bright, strong humor make this book absolutely fascinating. Thank you!