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Overcoming the Monster

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > Booker's Seven Basic Plots > Overcoming the Monster

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Description

From the ancient Sumerian tale of the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Greek Iliad and Odyssey and the modern-yet-ancient tale of The Lord of the Rings, we have been fascinated with stories of monsters and heroes. Even religions have gone big on them, with stories such as David and Goliath, St. George and the Dragon and so on.

The monster typically starts as a Predator, killing, dominating and taking what it wants. It also has a lair in which it becomes the Holdfast, guarding its treasure or captured princess. When threatened, it becomes the fierce Avenger, destroying all who would challenge or steal from it.

The hero has various encounters with the monster or its agents throughout the story, culminating in a final death-match battle where the hero only just wins through. The power of the story is in the steady build-up to what seems like inevitable defeat followed by the miraculous, glorious, triumphant turning of the tables. The hero's reward varies, typically being wealth, property or love.

Booker describes the generic monster plot as:

  1. Anticipation stage: Hints of the monster with a call to action and preparation.
  2. Dream stage: Initial stage, brushing with the monster or agents. Dream-like success with seeming immunity to danger.
  3. Frustration stage: Confrontation with the monster but failure to defeat it.
  4. Nightmare stage: Final ordeal death match where only one can survive. It seems inevitable that the monster will win.
  5. Miraculous escape: The monster is killed through the courage, skill and ingenuity of the hero.

Discussion

Booker's monsters are egocentric, concerned only for themselves and harming others in ways that allow them to be framed as totally evil. In contrast with the monster, the hero is typically seen as selfless as they seek to rescue the princess or destroy the marauding and terrifying beast.

The monster appears in many forms across literature and reality, for example Dickens' unpleasant, overbearing and dominant characters, or war enemies such as Hitler. Any opponent, in fact, may have monster characteristics that sets them up as the villain of the piece. Monsters hence turn up in war stories, thrillers, and so on.

Monsters are a theme of traditional folklore as indicated in Campbell's 'Hero's Journey', although the focus is more on the events along the way rather than the actual defeat of the monster. Unlike Campbell's journey, Booker's five-stage monster process involves early and ongoing brushes with the monster before the final battle. Campbell has more detail about the aftermath and return from the final battle.

'Monster' can become an even wider metaphor, indicating any problem in life that has to be overcome. The journey in any monster plot is as much internal as external, with the hero learning courage, resourcefulness and other life skills in facing and overcome danger.

Although the hero's reward is typically material, the greater reward is the enhanced social status they gain (and, in storytelling, the opportunity to star in further tales).

Examples of monster stories include Gilgamesh, Jack and the Beanstalk, King Kong, Star Wars, James Bond, Aliens and Day of the Triffids.

'Overcoming the Monster' is the first of Booker's Seven Basic Plots.

See also

Villainous characters, Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' Monomyth, Propp 22. Rescue: pursuit ends

 

Booker, C. (2004). The Seven Basic Plots, London: Continuum Books

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