Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate this feast!
But I'm not talking turkey today, I'm sharing stories with you.
I've always been fascinated by the idea that out of all the stories in the world, there are only seven basic plots, or so they say. I recently found an excellent book by Christopher Booker called exactly that.
He maintains these seven basic plots are:
- Overcoming the Monster
- Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage & Return
Okay I've seen these called by other names, and the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell combines some, but Booker used interesting comparisons when he compared Steven Spielberg's Jaws with the ancient Beowulf tale...both examples of the Overcoming the Monster plot.
Here is a quick overview of the Jaws' plot (cue the Jaws theme...):
The peace of a little Long Island seaside resort is shattered by the arrival of a monstrous shark of almost supernatural power. For weeks, citizens are frightened and confused by the shark's savage attacks on one victim after another. When it gets too much to bear, the hero, local police chief Brody, sets out with two companions to do battle with the monster. In the climactic fight there is much severing of limbs and threshing about underwater before the shark is slain. The community comes together in jubilation. The threat has been lifted. Life in Amity can begin again.So, twentieth-century movie goers were gripped by this horror story as it unfolded on the screen. But how many noticed that the story had a lot in common with a smelly bunch of unkempt animal-skinned Saxon warriors gathered around the fire in a wattle-and-daub hall 1200 years earlier, listening to a minstrel chanting an epic poem.
This ancient poem has survived fire and humans and has been dissected by baffled students the world over. (I had to work my way through much bafflement as I taught this poem to my students.)
The first part of Beowulf tells of how the peace of a little seaside community of Heorot is shattered by the arrival of Grendel, a monster of almost supernatural power who lives in the depths of a nearby lake. The inhabitants of Heorot are frightened and confused as night after night, Grendel makes his mysterious attacks on the hall where they sleep, seizing one victim after another and tearing them to pieces. Finally, when the threat seems too much to bear, Beowulf sets out to do battle, first with Grendel, then with his even more terrifying monster mother. There is a tremendous climactic fight, with much severing of limbs and threshing about underwater, until both monsters are slain.Spot the similarities? Pretty obvious.
In terms of bare outline of plot, they tell the same story. Did the author of the modern book, Peter Benchley, steal the Beowulf plot? Hardly. Yet the fact remains that the two stories share a remarkably similar pattern, as do many others down the centuries. Beowulf's plot is basic and we still follow the structure today. It's a prime example of Overcoming the Monster, as is Jaws as so many others.
"Legends of the slaughter of a destructive monster are to be found all over the world. The thought underlying them all is that the monster slain is preternatural and hostile to mankind."
E.S. Hartland, The Legend of Perseus (1896)
- Thanks for coming by! I appreciate the time.
- Where does your genre fit into the seven basic plots?
- And the winner of the WEP October Halloween/Constellations challenge was Pat Hatt. Today he's over at WEP dishing out some writing advice. I'm sure you could learn something if you pop on over!
- And on December 1st, WEP announces the December challenge--