Story types in ACW history

Christopher Booker, cofounder of Private Eye magazine, has written a book proposing that there are just seven story types.

That would not interest us, except that Civil War history is so polluted by storytellers that story structures and archetypes constantly come into view in this genre.

For instance, the Centennial interpretation of the war in the east - encapsulated in the formula "Lincoln finds a general" - I have long felt to be a grail myth. It's the story of Percival; the knights in his party fail due to personal shortcoming and Percival succeeds based on personal strengths; King Lincoln assigns the quest, which is ardulous and unfolds over many years and through all sorts of travail.

Booker recognizes "the Quest" as a story archtype.

Sears' rendering of McClellan's biography is, of course, a pastiche of various Shakespearean tragedies. For those too dull to get it, Sears even uses the word "tragedy" repeatedly in referring to McClellan's character and circumstances.

Booker recognizes "the Tragedy" as a story type that (in the words of one reviewer) "portrays human overreaching and its terrible consequences."

The question for us is not whether seven types can accurately cover all story cases, nor is it whether this or that Civil War biography more closely matches this or that standard storyline. The matter is one of "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup," i.e. "What the hell is this story type doing in my history book?!"

If you can lay a standard narrative template over your nonfiction reading, your author has failed you. Life, unlike art, is vastly variegated; mix up the patterns of public service, war, bureaucracy, friendship, estrangement, treason, loyalty, abandonment, ambition, intrigue, and destruction and you should be able to view rainbows glowing with near infinite combinations of color.

Booker has spent 34 years of his life on this 736-page essay, The Seven Basic Plots, and I look forward to reading it. I don't relish his book reminding me of all that bad history I've read during those 34 years.