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The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  789 Ratings  ·  135 Reviews
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 them ...more
Paperback, 728 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Bloomsbury Academic (first published October 28th 2004)
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Sep 20, 2007 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: know-when-read
An absolutely infuriating book. The basic premise, that there are a limited number of basic structures to be found in narrative storytelling, is fair enough but hardly anything new. Booker makes some good connections and some of them are undeniably on-the-money. But the whole book is infected by Booker's right wing, traditionalist ideology that it becomes, as it goes along, a deeply unpleasant, reactionary read. For Booker, the ideal man is a martial warrior & the ideal woman a housewife (sa ...more
Oct 28, 2008 Richard rated it really liked it
“My notes:
[Sorry, looks like I never got around to constructing an essay]

• Read all of Section 1, containing descriptions of the seven basic plots in erudite detail.
• Skip to Chapters 21 through 24 of Section 3. These explore the “dark” and “sentimental” variations of the foregoing.
• Skim Chapters 26 and 27, wherein the author is revealed to be a sexist reactionary. Keep in mind that if one can enjoy the music of Frank Sinatra while ignoring the fact that he as a sexist jerk, one
Oct 30, 2007 Katie rated it really liked it
Shelves: fairy-tales
700 pages! A great deal of which is repetition of ideas and extensive plot summaries of exemplar stories throughout time, and can be skimmed. The ideas put forth in this book are appealing intuitively if ultimately unfalsifiable, and familiar if you've ever gotten into Jungian psychology or Joseph Campbell. Basically we're talking about archetypes, the psyche, and evolutionary drives; the human desire to "re"connect with "something greater," which might be god or more likely perpetuation of the ...more
Milena March
Sep 28, 2013 Milena March rated it it was ok
Though I'm a little uncomfortable dismissing a book that has taken someone half a lifetime to write, I can't help but think that when it comes to The Seven Basic Plots the author's time could really have been better spent. There were points where this book outright insulted me; as a literature student, as a feminist, as a psychology major, and as a lover of stories in general.

The idea of applying Jungian theory to literature is not new, but reading this book often had me wondering whether such a
Jessica Healy
Nov 14, 2011 Jessica Healy rated it did not like it
Shelves: criticism
So I was uncomfortable, early on, with the extreme heteronormative attitude, and the appropriation of Freudian/Jungian discourse as if these theories are just self evident, but I gave it a bit of leeway, because, if problematic, that kind of analysis is at least widespread... But my discomfort and suspicion grew, and at last, I could read no more. I gave up after he attempted to discuss Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Here are the sentences that almost broke my brain:

"The question which then ari
Michael Herrman
Jun 24, 2013 Michael Herrman rated it really liked it
This book is 5x thicker than it needed to be. If it didn't make a very few fine observations I would have thrown it against the wall, which would have left a considerable hole.

Repetition aside, its greatest weakness is Booker's inability to disentangle his personal prejudices from what makes a story work in the general sense. For example, according to Booker, if the hero doesn't vanquish the villain and run off with the (victimized) female who, he maintains, is nothing more than a projection of
Nov 08, 2013 Rachel rated it did not like it
Shelves: literary
Finished at last. What an utter waste of time - but in a sick sort of way I just had to keep going, to see just how bad it could get. He started off with a good idea - that a lot of stories have similar basic plot outlines. Unfortunately he then gets a bit carried away, comes up with a formula, then applies it not just to literature, but the whole of human history. Which is all a decline from some prelapsarian state of blessedness. It's like the theory of the four humours in medicine - it seems ...more
Rita Crayon Huang
Apr 06, 2009 Rita Crayon Huang added it
Recommended to Rita Crayon by: Heidi
I didn't mean to read this book. I just wanted to know see what the seven basic plots were! But I devoured the first 300+ pages in a way that made me realize I just might read all 700. (It's just so lucid! With all this yummy discussion of well-known stories from throughout the ages, FOR all ages . . . )

The next 150 pages or so have made me increasingly uneasy, as we discuss all the ways in which stories can go "wrong"--AND what this says about their authors. Not to mention us as a society. AND
Nov 23, 2011 Carl rated it really liked it
Perhaps you have heard that there are no new stories, there are only the retelling of old stories. Or maybe you have heard it said that there are only a small number of basic stories. Well, Christopher Booker took these statements seriously, and spent a lifetime writing his book about them and published it in 2004. He asserts in the beginning that there are only seven basic plots: Overcoming the Monster as exemplified by Beowulf and Star Wars, Rags to Riches with Joseph in the Bible and David Co ...more
Santiago Ortiz
Dec 13, 2014 Santiago Ortiz rated it it was amazing
This book is actually many things:

- An introduction to the seven basic plots and their many associated archetypes that work in combination.

- A system. It can be applied to any story you know (and it’s fun to do so).

- A tool. An almost obligatory read for anyone who invents stories. If you don’t tap on this 37 years research you’re simple on disadvantage. It’s not that everyone should follow the author's guidance in order to write stories that fulfill the self and not the ego, on the contrary, a
Erin Lale
Jul 06, 2011 Erin Lale rated it really liked it
This book helped me do something I find excruciatingly difficult: describe my own novel. I read this book when I was trying to write back cover copy for Punch book 1: The Loribond. It was only in reading The Seven Basic Plots that I realized I had unwittingly written a comedy.

The Seven Basic Plots is a humongous tome. For a book that purports to survey all of human literature to reveal the basic driving psychology of human storytelling, it's focused on the DWMs a bit too much for me. There were
Mar 14, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A fascinating but infuriating book which requires one to accept the premise that Jungian archetypes form the only satisfying basis for a narrative. This premise is explored through the means of numerous if partial examples from both literary and popular culture. The author's bias and erudition make this an enjoyable read and it is worth persevering to the end, however there are several annoying factual errors in the plot summaries. And Booker's despair with regard to novels and other works from ...more
Sep 13, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it
The thing I recall most about this book was the author's feeling that something has grown askew within the 21st Century story if we can't resolve things 'the way we used to' - Post modernism? Something about storytelling inside that giant evolving universal perspective appealed. Stories are incredibly powerful. I didn't finish this book, but I cherry-picked some gold. However, I read these structural writing books and then instantly try to forget them. I don't want to feel to head ...more
Emma Sea
I'm quitting this. I'm really perlexed that Brooker is acting as if the idea of the commonalities in stories is merely a "teasing notion" to everyone else, and that he's the only person to actually research it. Plus this review.
Dec 22, 2013 Starry rated it it was ok
Full disclosure: I didn't finish this book. But that's partly why I give it only 2 stars.
1. It was much longer than it needed to be.
2. It made me angry, or at least uncomfortable, with where the author was taking his arguments.

The first section of the book was interesting and worthwhile. The author demonstrated how stories -- from all over the world and from ancient times to modern -- can be categorized by seven basic plots. I enjoyed reading the examples (summaries of books, movies, operas, f
Daniel Teo
Mar 21, 2009 Daniel Teo rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers, readers
Shelves: writing
Anyone who likes reading or writing, or even some other form of storytelling (like movies for example) really owes it to themselves to read this book. This book will give you so many great new insights and you will gain a much deeper understanding and appreciation on how stories are built up. I found myself looking at stories differently than I did before.

Booker explains how all stories basically fit into one of the seven basic plots. What's more, those stories will go through the same five main
May 07, 2011 Chris rated it liked it
Booker's identification of the principal narrative structures underlying the best examples of stories, novels, plays and films is attractive and, seen retrospectively, intuitively right. Those seven plots (which he entitles Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Rags to Riches, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth) singly or in combination naturally appear to underpin a very large proportion of the narratives Booker approves of. The first part of this mammoth study seems to triumphantly pr ...more
Mar 06, 2011 Heather rated it it was amazing
An exellent book that I highly recommend to any writer, or "wannabe" writer. It helps if you have some concept of Jungian psychology, but the author does a good job of making his discussion of the concept of the "self" and "ego" very approachable. He does synopses of many famous stories, ranging from ancient folk tales to modern Hollywood blockbusters. If you've ever wondered why you found a particular story unappealing, reading this book might help you understand why. I foresee this book being ...more
Amanda Patterson
May 19, 2011 Amanda Patterson rated it really liked it
This book explains storytelling, and it does it extremely well. What it doesn't do is give practical advice if that's what you're looking for. It's too long and too unwieldy for most creative writers to digest. I was bored at times. A good reference book for your library shelf.
Apr 01, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it
Shelves: storytelling
This book is above all thought-provoking, the kind of book that sends your brain in so many directions that you stop thinking about it to avoid the headache. It is also the very nearest to giving a non-Christian account of Christian morality (more on that later).

The basic thesis is that all stories have five basic divisions:
1. The Anticipation Stage: Hero is somehow immature and he must go on a journey to grow.
2. The Dream Stage: He enters another world or quest, and has some initial success.
Jan 14, 2013 Joff added it
As Harry Hill is fond of saying, "You gotta have a system!"

In this case, it's Christopher Booker, a europhobe journalist who helped found the venerable satirical magazine Private Eye in the 60s. This is Booker's life's work: a breakdown of the fundamental structure of stories to show how alike they all are. Leading us through myths, novels, poems and movies, Booker claims that all stories are basically based around seven plots, which are:

Overcoming the Monster

The Quest

Voyage and Return

Rags to Ri
Aug 01, 2013 Rebekah rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
It took Booker 34 years to write this 700 page tome, which means that he draws on a LOT of ancient stories instead if more contemporary ones, and a lot of his ideas about feminine/masculine feel incredibly forced. I really enjoyed his breakdown of plots But I never really felt like he talked about mysteries, and I disagreed with some of his value judgements of books that don't clearly fit in his rubric, and he started relying on outdated stereotypes as the book progressed. Anyway, here are my no ...more
Janice(JG) George
Jun 30, 2012 Janice(JG) George rated it it was amazing
I purposefully did not research this author before finishing the book because I wanted to absorb the book on its own merit.

I loved the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed Booker's conjectures and conclusions about why humans seek meaning in their stories, and what meaning they seek. The only real flaw in the book (for me) was toward the end when he was discussing contemporary fiction... I think Booker's British experience and passionate nationalism clouded and somewhat distorted his otherwise mostly
Garry Powell
Nov 28, 2013 Garry Powell rated it it was amazing
This is first-rate criticism--and I am usually averse to criticism, as in my view few critics understand literature. (Perhaps that sounds absurd, but I think most writers agree with me.) It's also a particularly useful book for writers. Its basic premise is that Jung is correct on his theory of the archetypes, and if stories are to mean anything to us, they need to conform, basically, to archetypal patterns. Obviously that doesn't mean that they need to be formulaic. Booker thinks that western l ...more
Michael Jones
Jun 10, 2015 Michael Jones rated it liked it
Shelves: deep, historical, best
A very large book, but don't be put off: it can be dipped into as it is a treasure trove for the lover of cultural trivia as it discusses an amazing amount of books and films through its 1000 plus pages. Booker presents the theory that there are seven basic plots which are a direct reflection of basic psychological states or archetypes, with the ultimate goal being to integrate our male and female sides. All this is very Jungian, and owes not a little to Joseph Campbell, which you may or may not ...more
Wayland Smith
Jun 16, 2013 Wayland Smith rated it it was ok
It's an ambitous book, I have to give it that. The first two thirds of it or so are really interesting, talking about the basic structures that underlie most stories in the thousands of years that stories have been told.

The author breaks them down by plot type, with detailed sections on each one, and offers some great insights.

Unfortunately, after that, he takes a sharp right turn in his writing, and I can't get the image of him standing on his front step shaking his fist at kids on his lawn ou
Adam Stevenson
Mar 13, 2012 Adam Stevenson rated it did not like it
I read the book in one sitting, powered through the sheer weight of verbiage by the force of my hatred for it.

To say there are 7 plots and they represent ways of talking about overcoming the ego is fair enough - but when he can't find a single novel that properly exemplifies these ideas, it may have been time to ditch the theory.

Instead he concludes that all authors since the romantic movement have not been emotionally mature enough to fit his theory, so it must be the author's fault. Not a faul
Dec 08, 2013 Mattie rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I've now typed and lost two versions of this review. Gah. Here's the bottom line: It starts out well enough, describing the seven basic story patterns (and the comic and tragic variations thereon) and the psychological archetypal characters that populated them. Interesting. However, Booker's inability or refusal to acknowledge that a book in which the patterns or characters are subverted could actually have artistic merit and his inability/refusal to entertain the notion that the psychological a ...more
Aug 30, 2011 Old-Barbarossa rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this.
Like many models this can at times feel as though the facts are hammered to fit the theory.
Seems to note that each of the 7 plots is the most recognisable...they can't all be.
Also, misquotes some sources. No bibliography, which considering the point of the book seems to be a flaw.
I'll stick with Joseph Campbell and Marina Warner.
Linda Robinson
Too much of a muchness, as my grandmother was fond of saying. Nothing revelatory or fascinating, and every other word could be eliminated. I appreciate the research and the hours behind the book, but the outcome is a daunting and misnamed book. Covers "how" in great detail and leaves hanging the "why."
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Christopher John Penrice Booker is an English journalist and author.
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