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The girl with all the plots.

In the early seventies, writer and journalist Christopher Booker started working on a book. Thirty years later, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories was released. It claimed that all plots—from the Bible to a catfood commercial—fall into one (or more) of seven elemental plotlines. 

[image credit: tomremington.com]

I decided to take a look at how well the old fairy tales do with those seven plots, so I plugged in Little Red Riding Hood. Turns out Red nailed it.

Little Red Riding Hood (more or less…) Seven Basic Plots (source: Wikipedia) If Little Red Was a YA Novel…
Once upon a time, a little girl was given a wonderful basket full of goodies. We’re talking the really good stuff—macarons fresh from Paris, artisan goat cheeses, and a box of special edition Swiss Chocolate Truffles—all done up in a fussy wicker basket from Fortnam & Mason.

Then they told her she had to give it away.

Plot #1: Rags to Riches—The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person. Red is an orphan, compelled to excel at martial arts by her Granny, who keeps hinting that Red is actually The Chosen One, and who even makes her a special red cape for her secret identity. Red would say that she’s a completely average girl, who just happens to have long red hair, big green eyes, pouty lips, and a black hole of darkness within her very soul. And don’t even get her started on her ridiculously large rack! The way the twins bounce around when she’s doing her sword practice is just ridiculous.
“Take these goodies and share them with Granny,” her mother told her. “She lives in a cottage in the woods with 3.2 bathrooms, four bedrooms, plus a spa room with a jacuzzi and home theater. It’s a long hike through the dark forest, though. And along the way you’ll have to watch out for wolves, real estate agents, and Joe the Woodsman who’s been sucking up to Granny lately.” Plot #2: Voyage and Return—The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience. Red lives with her stepmother (evil, of course), who plots to get rid of her by sending her on pointless tasks in the middle of the wolf-infested forest. All that changes the day Red accepts her true quest—to finally make it through those woods as The Prophecy predicts. She straps on her sword, packs a goody basket with some throwing stars and her favorite knives, and sets off.
“Granny is old and ill, and it’s super important to her to see you just once more before she dies. She’s going to leave that cottage to someone, so you should definitely get your foot in her door before Joe gets his wood in there first.” Plot #3: The Quest—The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way. The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of one kickass red-caped heroine and her (snarky, possibly LGBTQ, undoubtedly racially-diverse) posse.
“But whatever you do, watch out for the wolf. Wolves are big and bad and spend a lot of time licking their private parts.”

“Gross,” said Little Red. She promised her mother to stick to the straight and narrow path.

Plot #4: Overcoming the Monster—The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland. There’s a rumor that the sexy new bad boy in Red’s algebra class is a wolf (with a devastating secret, of course). Red feels a strange attraction, although she’s never spoken to a boy with actual facial hair before, so she flicks her long red hair. To make things even more confusing, there’s a tall blond guy named Joe in her woodshop class—also with facial hair—who keeps trying to ask her to the dance. What the heck. She flicks her hair at him too.


Red skipped along the sunny path, surreptitiously munching on the odd macaron (which she was sure Granny would never miss because she had to peer at everything through those teeny little Granny glasses). Red hadn’t gotten very far when her iPhone dinged. A new friend request from ImaWulf. She checked as her mother had taught her, and noticed that Ima was already Facebook friends with some of her online BFFs including Goldilocks and all three Little Pigs. No sooner had she accepted, than she got a private message. “Thanks for friending! Watcha doin Red? XOXO”

“Goody run to Granny. You?”

“Um…I’m doing a Meals-on-Wheels pickup myself. KetchUp later!”

Plot #5: Comedy—Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. (Booker makes sure to stress that comedy is more than humor. It refers to a pattern where the conflict becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event. Most romances fall into this category.) But Red doesn’t have time to worry about a date for Homecoming Dance because The Test is coming, probably in Algebra Class. And then she has to save the world, of course.

Nobody ever seems to mention schoolwork, and the only ones who have parents are those with abusive dysfunctional families. Granny, the only sympathetic adult, is captured by Them.


Sadly, what Red didn’t know was that her new FB friend was none other than the Big Bad Wolf of song, legend, and several Public Service Announcements (which Red actually kind of enjoyed because each one starred some sexy fairy tale guy, usually with some seriously great background rap). Despite the fact that several of the PSAs had specifically warned about Granny-grabbing, Red skipped along happily unaware that BBW had raced ahead and…there’s no other way to say this…eaten Granny. And not in the good way. Plot #6: Tragedy—The protagonist is a hero with one major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally ‘good’ character. Meanwhile the Wolf keeps popping out of the woods to chat up Red. He’s still trying to get into Red’s goodie basket when when Joe shows up waving his axe from woodshop class (luckily, it’s a slightly dull axe because with all their emphasis on college prep classes, the school doesn’t really have a budget for new shop equipment). Joe attacks Wolf from behind, and as he lays bleeding, Red is forced to fight for both of their lives.
Little Red Riding Hood arrived at Granny’s house at last, and spent a few minutes taking some outside measurements and mentally restocking the garden. Still, she had to admit there was a lot of curb appeal in the old place. She was a little sorry she’d eaten so many of the macarons, but knocked anyway. Inside, however, it was surprisingly dark, and she wondered if she’d have to redo all the lighting and replace some windows. She could barely make out Granny, but politely mentioned the size and amount of Granny’s teeth, hair, etc. Then she pulled out her Glock (it was easy access under her cape, thanks to her concealed carry permit) and shot Granny through the head because even Red could tell the difference between a little old lady and a big bad wolf. Just then, Joe the Woodsman came running in calling for Granny. Red pointed to the bulge in the Wolf’s tummy, and before she could stop him, he had cut open the wolf. So yeah, that was pretty gross. Like Granny could survive being eaten by a wolf! To their surprise, however, that tummy bulge was actually a baby wolf. Joe the Woodsman delivered the baby wolf and decided to devote the rest of his life to reintroducing wolves into their natural habitats where they wouldn’t be killed at the end of each fairy tale.

Little Red Riding hood slapped a coat of paint over Granny’s cottage and flipped it for a healthy profit, allowing her to move to Paris and set herself up with her own shop, Macarons du Petite Rouge, where she lived happily ever after.

Plot #7: Rebirth—During the course of the story, an important event forces the main character to change their ways, often making them a better person. Because Red is a Good Girl, she of course ends up with Wolf, the Bad Boy. After The Kiss (which Red has been thinking about for the past 17 chapters, and which takes an entire chapter to describe including what everybody is smelling), Red ends up going steady with The Wolf, who it turns out, has a Heart of Gold—which was actually very uncomfortable and led to a number of regrettable medical issues as time went on.

But that’s a story for the sequels. All 28 of them.


LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD—the fairy tale that keeps on giving. [image credit (with apologies to Jessie Wilcox Smith): Internet Weekly]

For a look at what really happens to fairy tale characters after the Happily-Ever-After, check out Lucinda E Clarke’s hilarious parody, Unhappily Ever After: A Fairy Tale for Grown-ups.


Review #4:

Unhappily Ever After: A Fairy Tale for Grown-ups by Lucinda E Clarke

Fairyland is in chaos. It is nearly time for the Grand Royal Annual Ball and Cinderella has had enough of Prince Charming and is desperate to get a divorce – as long as she can continue to enjoy her current standard of living. Harold and Snow White quarrel over his philandering and her refusal to go where every woman has gone before. Augustus also has a problem, his wife Sleeping Beauty is making up for lost time, producing 28 children, and he can’t meet the household bills. There is a dearth of suitable princes for the available spinster princesses and the annual festivities are held for that very reason. There is friction between Ermintrude the Fairy godmother by Royal Appointment and Featherduster who favours the proletariat. Into all this turmoil, the Green Giant arrives, sent by the ‘Party’ to ferment an uprising among the downtrodden peasants who appear quite happy as they are and not interested in anything he has to say – unless he can provide them with TV sets. A non-politically correct tale much closer to the truth than anything you have ever seen on the movies.


My Review: 4 stars out of 5

So they got married and lived happily ever after. The End.

At least, that’s how the fairy tales all end in Fairyland. They have to. There’s no such thing as divorce. So even when couples decide to get married within hours of first meeting—often while one of them was actually asleep or under a spell that made her look…well, there’s no nice way to put this…dead—they are doomed to spend eternity together. And because it takes a really long ever-after to die of old age in Fairyland—and royalty often don’t manage it at all—they have a loooong time to grow into two people who find they have nothing in common.

Bestselling author Lucinda E Clarke takes a look at what comes after the happily-ever-after. And it’s not pretty. The animated birds and rodents who made the happy couples’ wedding dresses and did their cleaning have retired. The peasant manners that were once so charming to er… Prince Charming… have lost their appeal, as Cinderella acknowledges:

Onest Chrmin’ yer never should’a done it. Never ‘ave married me. I ain’t good enough fer you. I told yer that one lousy dance an’ me tryin’ shoes on weren’t a good basis fer marriage.

Cinderella never really fit in up at the palace. [Image credit: Fallen Princesses series, by Dina Goldstein]

Her fellow fairytale kings and queens are having similar issues with their HEAs. King Harold and his bride—the former Maisie now known as Snow White—loathe each other, and remain childless. Sleeping Beauty and her King Augustus are similarly estranged, perhaps due to her forty children (who were, in all probability, not related to Augustus).

Add into this mix the next generation of princes and princesses (not to mention a pair of dysfunctional fairy godmothers and a Green Giant trying to organize the peasants on behalf of the ‘Party’) and this cycle of defective HEAs seems doomed to lather-rinse-repeat forever. Their only hope for true happy-ever-after, Cinderella realizes, lies in that most wonderful, elusive, illegal magic: divorce.

This is such a rich vein for parody, and author Lucinda E. Clarke mines it for every laugh, bad pun, and hilarious result. If you can’t take one more Disney Princess, are fed up with saccharine formula romance, or if you’re just in the mood to be amused, I recommend this little book. You’ll laugh happily ever after.