Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Procrustes writes a book
Christopher Booker is the author of The Seven Basic Plots, a much-lauded book that purports to classify all literature into seven pigeon-holes. It's quite a tour de force. Of course, for every Fay Weldon who gushes “This is the most extraordinary, exhilarating book,” there is an Adam Mars-Jones who cites “distortion” and concludes that it is “a stimulating, ambitious and unsatisfying book.” Still, the estimable Margaret Atwood admires it; that should count for something.
Booker's tome is my current bedside book. I have not fully plumbed its depths, but I dig through a few more pages each evening. I frequently chuckle. As someone who is widely and eccentrically read, I am susceptible to the book's charms. Perhaps I am particularly vulnerable because I especially enjoy catching literary or cultural allusions. “Aha! I see what you did there!” No doubt there are many that sail right over my head, but The Seven Basic Plots is by its very nature a name-dropping, title-dropping work, and my decades of reading have equipped me to occasionally nod my head in a knowing way when certain books are cited. Ooh! I feel so smart!
But my bedtime browsing has not been spared the sudden twinge at odd intervals, as I purse my lips, frown, and regard some authorial pronouncement with suspicion. On page 77, Booker referred to the “Portugese explorer” in H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. Ah, careless proofreading! One demerit! But then I got to page 90, where Booker is immersed in a discussion of Robinson Crusoe and refers to a mutiny aboard a “Portugese ship.” Fie! The man cannot spell “Portuguese”! I naturally take particular offense.
It turned out he also did not know how to spell “Pharaoh.” It's an admittedly tricky word, but there's no good excuse for using “Phaoraoh” multiple times. One begins to despair!
When he got to the “Voyage and Return” plot, Booker faced the problem of distinguishing it from the Quest. He proved his mettle: “The Quest is altogether a more serious and purposeful affair.” By contrast, of course, the Voyage and Return is rather a lark. Since Frodo and Sam suffer somewhat dramatically on their casual little trip to Mordor and back, Booker points out that The Lord of the Rings is really a dog's breakfast of a work that embodies all seven plots in a glorious mash-up (with due attention to the Thrilling Escape plot device, of course). By the way, the Return component of a Voyage and Return plot needn't be taken too literally. If the protagonist doesn't get to go home again, he might instead return to some condition of normality after the abnormality of his Voyage experiences. It's a Voyage and Return plot as long as the hero has to return to something.
There's no way Booker can lose.
There is one additional fly struggling in the ointment. After a few too many plot-rackings, I decided to check up on Mr. Booker's credentials. Is he some distinguished litérateur whose name I should have recognized? Wikipedia soon tipped me off to the awful truth. Christopher Booker is one of those self-deluded “thinkers” who imagines that he has pierced the veil of climate change's mysteries and penned a denialist book titled The Real Global Warming Disaster. Of course, when one reads history at Cambridge, one is clearly qualified to evaluate the technical claims of climatologists.
Damn. The man is unsound.