The basic premise to the basic plots: • Christopher Booker argues that all storytelling is woven around basic plots and archetypes that are inescapable and help to define the human condition. We are psychologically programmed to tell stories in a way that reflects our most basic physiological needs.
The plots are: • Overcoming the Monster • Rags to Riches • The Quest • Voyage and Return • Comedy • Tragedy • Rebirth
Overcoming the Monster • Essence of the plot: • A community falls under the shadow of an evil power (more on this later). • The monster threatens destruction, often has in its possession a great prize -- treasure or a “Princess” • The hero, often armed with a magic weapon, must confront the monster, usually near its lair. • Hero makes a thrilling escape from death, slays the monster, inherits the prize and the kingdom.
Overcoming the Monster • Epic of Gilgamesh • James Bond novels and films • Many tales in Greek mythology (Perseus, Theseus) • Dragon slayer stories • Gothic novels: Frankenstein, Dracula
Rags to Riches • The plot is rooted in folk tales from around the world and is regarded as one of the most basic stories in the world.
Rags to Riches: the hero or heroine • We are introduced to the central figure in childhood, or at least before full maturity. We know immediately that the story is about the process of growing up. • The hero or heroine is usually inferior: an orphan, or the youngest child and disregarded by family and peers. • They languish in the shadows of a dominant, antagonistic “dark” figure, frequently an adult.
Rags to Riches • Legend of King Arthur • Pygmalion/My Fair Lady • The Ugly Duckling • Aladdin This plot is one of the earliest we come to know as children.
Rags to Riches: the central crisis • Early on the story, the inferior hero experiences some success and is elevated from his original lowly status. • However, these changes in fortune are superficial, and soon the hero encounters a CENTRAL CRISIS in which all seems lost. (Ex: Jane Eyre’s failed attempt at marriage, and her subsequent desperate wandering around the moors.)
Essence of the plot • Far away, there is a priceless goal, worth any effort to achieve: a treasure, a promised land, something of infinite value. The hero sets out on a hazardous journey to attain the goal and overcomes any number of perilous hindrances in order to achieve the objective.
The Quest • Arthurian/Grail legends • Dante’s Divine Comedy • Homer’s Odyssey • The Lord of the Rings • Indiana Jones movies
Voyage and Return: essence of the plot • The hero or heroine travels out of their familiar, everyday “normal” surroundings into another world completely cut off from the first, where everything seems abnormal. The early experience might feel exhilarating, but eventually a shadow intrudes. By a “thrilling escape” the hero is returned to his normal world.
Voyage and Return • Goldilocks and the Three Bears • Alice in Wonderland • The Time Machine • Robinson Crusoe • Prodigal Son parable from the Bible • Gone with the Wind
Comedy: a history • Etymology of “comedy”: a banquet, a jovial festivity, a festal procession • Many of the conventions of the comedy plot have scarcely changed in 2,000 years
Comedy: a history • “Old Comedy” • The plays of Aristophanes, performed between 425 and 388 BC • At heart of his comedies lay an agon, or conflict, b/w two characters or two groups of characters • One side is life-giving, the other side life-denying (freedom vs. oppression) • The losing side (always the meanies) is suddenly forced to recognize something so important about themselves that it changes their ways and leads to reconciliation.
Comedy: a history • “New Comedy” • Biggest mutation is that comedy became a love story • Central characters are a hero and heroine; the purpose of the confusion or conflict in the story is to keep the two apart until they are brought triumphantly together in the closing scenes
Comedy: Examples • A Midsummer’s Night Dream • Much Ado about Nothing • Pride and Prejudice • Emma • The Hangover
Tragedy : • Usually centers around a character of high status who is forced into a situation where he/she is downtrodden and the important things in life are taken from him/her. • Often this is used as a starting point leading to revenge, justice, enlightenment, liberation, etc.
Tragedy : Examples • Macbeth • Hamlet • Goodfellas • The Godfather
Tragedy : Hero as Villian • Some tragedies can end on a note of solemn rejoicing because the hero/life-denying monster has been destroyed, and life can begin to flow again. • “Ultimately the destruction of the dark hero has been a victory for light.”
Rebirth: synopsis • A hero or heroine falls under a dark spell which eventually traps them in some wintry state, akin to living death: physical or spiritual imprisonment, sleep, sickness or some other form of enchantment. For a long time they languish in this frozen condition Then a miraculous act of redemption takes place, focused on a particular figure who helps liberate the hero or heroine from imprisonment.
Rebirth: examples • Beauty and the Beast • A Christmas Carol • Star Wars