The Seven Stories Theory
The seven stories theory is a product of Christopher Booker’s lengthy 2004 book, “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” Its premise, based largely on Jungian psychology, is that all stories have one or more of only seven plots. These are tragedy, overcoming the monster, comedy, voyage and return, the quest, rags to riches, and rebirth. The theory has stimulated much debate about its validity, and the book itself has received considerable criticism in regard to what its critics consider to be its sloppy scholarship and ideological biases.
In Booker’s tragedies the protagonist has a fatal flaw and deteriorates into iniquity before finally meeting defeat, thereby freeing others. The inverse of this, overcoming the monster, involves a protagonist destroying some powerful evil threatening the land. In Booker’s comedies, heroes and heroines reach romantic consummation by overcoming some ominous obstacle, which repents, allowing other relationships to fall into line. The protagonists of voyage and return stories travel to magical places with fantastic, ridiculous rules, triumph over the insanity, and return home better people. Quest story protagonists desperately want to obtain something and search for it, often with others. Rags to riches stories involve protagonists surrounded by malevolent forces whom they overcome as they mature, and who ultimately obtain what they desire, whether material, metaphoric, or both. Rebirth stories begin by resembling tragedies, but their protagonists manage to realise the error of their ways in time, and find a new reason to live.
Most critics have criticised Booker’s analyses of these plots as contradictory and ideologically reactionary. Although many agree that the number of basic plots is limited and that authors’ originality comes out in how they tell their stories, they have engaged in an unresolved debate in regard to just what those plots are and have reached no consensus in regard to how many of them exist. Then again, according to a probably apocryphal story, a Hollywood producer once said that all his movies had the same plot: “I get ‘em up a tree, shake a stick at ‘em, then get ‘em back down.”
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