Michiko Kakutani reviews books for the New York Times. She's usually good—but when she's bad she's great! (By "bad", I mean tearing into something she doesn't like.) Kakutani recently critiqued The Seven Basic Plots, a thick new work by Christoper Booker that attempts to characterize all of storytelling. As a sucker for parlor-game taxonomy I must salute his list:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Rebirth
  6. Comedy
  7. Tragedy

... even if, as Kakutani suggests, the analysis is derivative, biased, or obtuse. At least Booker is trying to bring some order to the world of words!

Pursuing this theme further, I find that the Internet Public Library offers multiple answers to the frequently asked reference question "What are the basic plots in literature?" Paraphrasing loosely, they range from the One:

  1. Conflict

... true, but less than helpful—through the Three:

  1. Happy ending
  2. Unhappy ending
  3. No ending

... but there are not "plots", in my opinion—through the Seven:

  1. man vs. nature
  2. man vs. man
  3. man vs. environment
  4. man vs. technology
  5. man vs. supernatural
  6. man vs. self
  7. man vs. god

... promising, but distressingly non-orthogonal—to the Twenty, credited to Ronald B. Tobias:

  1. Quest
  2. Adventure
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. The Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Excess
  19. Ascension
  20. Descension

That last is quite an excellent list, detailed enough to be useful but not overwhelming in length. (The IPL does offer one more, a rather disorganized and uninteresting set of 36 or 37—severe overkill in my judgment.)

Now, taking the initial letters of the Tobias Top Twenty Themes, can anybody make a good anagram out of QAPRERTRUTMTMLFSDWAD? ("Dr. Trump warms aft Q.E., Ltd." isn't good enough. Nor is "Mutt perqs dwarf Dr. Malt.") Or maybe better as a mnemonic would be to rearrange the 20 and add words to make a little story to connect them?

(cf. CoincidentalTaxonomy (19 Oct 2001), CoincidentalTaxonomy2 (14 May 2002), ArsMagna (27 Sep 2002), SwayingMusicians (30 Apr 2003), HarmonicMotel (23 Oct 2003), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicHumor - 2005-05-02

(correlates: FreeAssociation, CertainExpression, PartyLines, ...)