Alexander Waugh

From ‘Gilgamesh’ To ‘Doctor No’

The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

By

Continuum 728pp £25 order from our bookshop

Long and often has it been said that there are only a few basic plots underpinning all the stories we know. Wagner’s Die Meistersinger has the same storyline as the Australian comedy film Strictly Ballroom; Jane Eyre, says Christopher Booker, has the same basic plot as Aladdin; and Ian Fleming’s Doctor No is a regurgitation of the 5,000-year-old Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Dr Johnson said it in the eighteenth century: ‘how small a quantity of real fiction there is in the world; … the same images, with very little variation, have served all the authors who have ever written’. So who can be bothered to count them? Perhaps this is what that pompous pedant Casaubon was up to in Middlemarch as he laboured at his magnum opus, The Key to All Mythologies – a life’s work that was never finished.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate… ,
    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,