On a very sad day, I found reason to smile in a unlikely place: the LA Times op-ed page. In a column entitled "Cracking the Story Code", Christopher Booker summarizes his now book by explaining that all stories are basically retellings of seven basis plot lines. He labels these "Overcoming the Monster", "Rags to Riches", "The Quest", "Voyage and Return", "Comedy", "Tragedy" and "Rebirth." According to Booker, the really good stories, like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, have all these elements.
What struck me as so funny about this is that Booker’s research seems to have given him no clear understanding as to why we continue to retell these same plots. He wonders aloud about the reason in the column and apparently makes a very unsatisfactory attempt at an explanation in the book, sighting psychological motives.
Here is my advice for Mr. Booker. First of all, don’t start from the naturalistic, evolutionary worldview that you explicitly reference in your column. Open your mind to other possibilities. Having done that, you might consider the idea that the plot lines you rightly found to be central to our humanity do not originate with us and are not ends in themselves. Rather , they are pointers to and reminders of another story. All our fictional plot lines are shadowy images of the one real plot – the actual story of our existence.
We tell the same general story again and again because it is true! There is a monster to overcome, there is a rough road to travel and a serious mission to carry out, there is a humble hero who sacrifices himself and is reborn, there is oneness with our beloved to achieve. It’s all explained right there in the book that inspired Lord of the Rings: the Bible.
As C.S. Lewis said, the story of Jesus is one of myth becoming fact. He is the one who cracks the story code.