Thanks to Vaughan, I spent a greater time of my day researching the ‘basic plots’ that are behind all good stories. Regular readers of this blog, would know that I am a sucker for ‘five basic’ or ‘eight basic’ anything (with a variation that ‘seven basic’ is also accommodated as, as per my theory the eighth basic may be on a different qualitative level and thus likely to be missed!
The original Mind Hacks post was regarding Levitin’s new book that claims that there are only six basic types of songs: Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Ceremony/religion/ritual and Love, but I strayed from the main course and started savoring the eight basic dramatic plots served by Dennis Johnson: Cinderella, Achilles, Faust, Tristan , Circe, Romeo&Juliet, Orpheus and the Irrepressible Hero (The FOOL anyone?) (all but the last named after famous characters). It wasn’t long before I was reading ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker.
The seven basic plots Booker outlines are : Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage & return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. while I’ll most probably write more on the topic after reading the whole book , I would like to comment now on the first plot: ‘Overcoming the Monster’ .
In this, typically a Hero is pitted against a monster, whom he slays to win a princess/ treasure / kingdom etc. While reading this plot, two famous Lord Krishna myths immediately flashed before me:
The first is the myth of how Satrjit’s Mani (pearl) came in possession of Jambvant and how Krishna fought and defeated Jambvant to defend himself from the false theft accusation of the pearl. Now this is no ‘traditional’ overcoming the monster myth as Jambvant is no monster- rather he is a revered chiranjivi being. Also, Jambvant is not killed, but gracefully withdraws from the fight after realizing the ‘god’ nature of Krishna. Howvere, like traditional ‘overcome the monster’ plot, there is treasure guarded and a princess (Jambvati , the daughter of Jambvant) married after the defeat. This time another princess (two marriages!) Satyabhama, who is the daughter of the King Satarjit, is also married to Krishna. Krishna, of course doesnt take the pearl (treasure) buts ends up with two wives! So some form of the plot is there, but not in its entirety. Also, the whole narrative is pre-ordained as Krishna saw moon during inauspicious time, so the take home is that there is no real evil or fight involved – it is all Maya or illusion!!
The second ‘overcoming the monster’ myth is again from Krishna myth. This time the monster is indeed really monstrous-a big, venomous serpent called Kaliya, and like traditional story the kingdom and the common people are troubled by this serpent; but in this case also no death of Kaliya is involved: he is just tamed and sent to a different place; also it seems Kaliya was there because of fear of Garuda, so again Kaliya per se is not ‘really ‘ evil and all is Maya.
I like this circularity and ‘fictional maya-like’ view of things of Indian culture very much and I am sure the other plots would also have been similarly adapted by Indians: circular and without any ‘real’ ‘evil’ lurking around.