Booker’s taxonomy

I mentioned Christopher Booker’s reductionist but intriguing taxonomy of “Seven Basic Plots” in my previous post. In summary, according to Booker, the seven types of story-sequences or plot devices are as follows:

  1. Overcoming the monster” (see chapters 1 & 2 of Booker’s book) in which the protagonist, the hero or heroine of the story or “H” for short, sets out to defeat an evil force;
  2. Rags to riches” (see chapter 3) in which H acquires power, wealth, or a mate (or all three!), loses it all, and then ends up on top;
  3. The quest” (chapter 4) in which H sets out to acquire an important object or to get to a location but must confront many temptations or other obstacles along the way;
  4. Voyage and return” (chapter 5) in which H goes to a strange land and, after learning important lessons unique to that location, returns wiser;
  5. Comedy” (chapters 6 & 7) in which H finds himself entangled in a perplexing situation but is somehow, against all odds, able to get the girl (or vice versa);
  6. Tragedy” (see chapters 8-10) in which H suffers from a character flaw that is ultimately his undoing;
  7. And last but not least, “rebirth” (chapter 11) in which an external event or threat leads H to change his ways and become a better person.

How do these plot devices or story-sequences apply to legal narratives? My initial reaction, when I first began to consider this question, was to identify the most compelling or entertaining stories about lawyers or the law — books like Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) or any of John Grisham’s best-sellers; or movies like A Few Good Men (1992), My Cousin Vinny (1992), or Legally Blonde (2001); or TV shows featuring such iconic lawyer-protagonists like Perry Mason, Matlock, or (my all-time favorite) anti-hero Saul Goodman, the crooked conman lawyer in Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul series — and then show how these works of popular culture can be used to illustrate Booker’s narrative categories. I even thought of conducting a comprehensive survey and meta-analysis of TV lawyer ads in the Orlando, Florida market in light of Booker’s taxonomy.

But as tempting or fun as this sounds, I quickly vetoed that approach. Such a matching exercise is not only too facile. (We already know that movies like My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde are comedies and that most lawyer ads fall into Booker’s “rags to riches” category.) Worse yet, such an exercise would also be pointless. Is Better Call Saul, for example, a tragedy or a story about rebirth, or both? Either way, who cares? What’s the point? (What really matters instead is, Are those shows worth watching?) Instead, I want to look at legal narratives not from the perspective of popular culture but from the perspective of the legal profession itself. How do lawyers, law professors, and judges talk about the law? What kind of stories do we tell? I will explore this question in my next post by introducing the top three most-cited law review articles of all time: (1) “The Problem of Social Cost” by Ronald Coase (1960), (2) “The Right to Privacy” by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis (1890), and (3) “The Path of the Law” by Oliver Wendall Holmes (1897).

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to Booker’s taxonomy

  1. Pingback: What kind of story is Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “The Path of the Law”? | prior probability

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