Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Overcoming the Monster
Anticipation Stage and "Call"
Grendel's vicious attacks on the Danes in Heorot Hall become the stuff of legend. Across the sea, a Geatish warrior, Beowulf, hears about Grendel and decides to travel to Heorot to fight him.
The narrator of Beowulf describes at length not only Grendel's attacks on Heorot, but the way that they get publicized. People begin to talk about Grendel, bards make up songs about his vicious cruelty and cannibalism, and his reputation spreads far and wide. Although Beowulf isn't officially summoned or called to fight Grendel, we get the sense that any great warrior living at this time would feel challenged by an adversary of this nature.
Beowulf and his Geatish warriors travel across the sea to the Danish coast, where they are greeted by a guard and escorted to Heorot Hall. King Hrothgar receives them graciously and everyone prepares for Beowulf's confrontation with Grendel.
So far, everything seems to be going just fine. The Geats survive a perilous sea-crossing and are able to explain their presence to the Danes. Everybody is getting along and things are going smoothly. Until…
Beowulf fights and narrowly defeats Grendel, aided by God and by his valiant decision to meet Grendel in hand-to-hand combat. But just when Beowulf seems to have narrowly avoided death, he must fight a second demon, Grendel's mother. His fate is in God's hands again.
At this point, Beowulf begins a roller-coaster ride of wild emotional ups and downs. First Beowulf meets Grendel in hand-to-hand combat, and it seems like he might be defeated. When he finally manages to deal Grendel a mortal wound by tearing his arm out of the shoulder socket, he only gets to relax for a little bit before Grendel's angry mother shows up.
Beowulf has been king of the Geats for fifty years, but he still may not have what it takes to fight the ultimate foe: a dragon.
The narrator has been reminding us all along that Beowulf lives or dies at God's whim and that he can't escape his eventual doom. Even Beowulf himself feels a little nervous about this final confrontation with the dragon. Well, maybe not nervous exactly – but he's definitely not expecting to win.
The Thrilling Escape from Death, and Death of the Monster
Although Beowulf, with Wiglaf's help, does manage to defeat the dragon, he doesn't manage to make a thrilling escape from death. Instead, he suffers a fatal wound, and he's able to stay alive just long enough to get one glimpse of the treasure he's won from the dragon.
Beowulf has had several thrilling escapes, but he's run out of luck this time. After all, the greatest test of a warrior is how he behaves when he knows he could die. Plus, Beowulf may not escape death, but he does escape ignominy. He orders a barrow to be built over his funeral pyre, commemorating his heroic deeds. So, even though Beowulf dies, his memory will stay alive – that may sound like a cliché, but it was very important to Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon warriors.