Study Guide

Foundation Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

By Isaac Asimov

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Okay, okay, you get it: Foundation is actually five different stories sharing a fictional history. What does this have to do with Booker's Seven Basic Plots? Since Foundation is five different stories, we can't say the novel Foundation fits into one of the basic plots. Instead, each story is going to have its own plot structure.

We're going to focus on Booker's "Rags to Riches" plot with Foundation's fifth story "The Merchant Princes." After seeing the process with this example, it should be easier for you to see how to analyze plot structure with Booker's plots. Try it out for yourself!

Whoops. Almost forgot. If you're curious, Booker's other six plots are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. The Quest
  3. Voyage and Return
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Rebirth

You can learn more about these plots in Christopher Booker's imaginatively titled book: The Seven Basic Plots. (Or you can check out what the Internet has to say about it.)

Initial Wretchedness at Home and the "Call"

The initial wretchedness phase starts the story with the hero in a state of misery. Not Kathy-Bates-with-a-sledgehammer-type Misery, but more of a subtle, emotional misery due to a dark force mistreating the poor hero. The dark force can be society, a father figure, or maybe a job. Either way, the hero is eventually called into the great big old world to do something or rather with the general promise of getting out from underneath the dark force.

"The Merchant Princes" starts pretty close to the mark on this one. Mallow isn't miserable in the sense that he's sulking about the local Hot Topic. But the prejudice of the Foundation is keeping him from reaching his true potential.

See, Mallow's from Peripheral planet Smyrno, and a trader, neither classification exactly granting him a fair shake in Foundation society. So when he's called off to Korell to investigate the possibility of nuclear armament, Mallow sees opportunity. Unfortunately for him, the dark forces of Foundation society—here represented by Jorane Sutt—are planning a bit of a double cross.

Out into the World, Initial Success

Out in the world, our intrepid hero confronts new ordeals and might be rewarded with a bit of success. He could even get a glimpse of his eventual destiny. But the success is never complete, and the hero must continue to prepare for further conflict ahead.

It's only the second stage after all, so there's still plenty of story to go.

Mallow's trip to Korell fits this stage nicely. He heads out into the larger universe and then, on Korell, resolves a situation between Korell and a fugitive missionary. Through his dealings with the Commdor, he ushers in a new trade agreement between the Foundation and Korell. This successful venture hints at Mallow's destiny as a Master Trader and Merchant Prince, although to be fair it's not a very obvious hint. Mallow himself might not even know about how important this trade route will eventually become for him.

But Mallow's journey isn't complete. When he discovers nuclear weapons inscribed with the old Empire's insignia, Mallow knows he needs to uncover the link between the Empire and Korell.

The Central Crisis

In the Central Crisis stage, everything goes topsy-turvy for the protagonist. The dark figures from the first stage return more powerful than ever. The hero becomes overwhelmed as everything is stripped away. This is rock bottom, guys.

Here, "The Merchant Princes" deviates quite a lot from a traditional "Rags to Riches" story. Like a lot, a lot. Mallow journeys to the planet of Siwenna and finds out that the Empire remains intact, despite belief that it has vanished years ago. Worse, the Empire maintains nuclear power. Worse and then some, it trades said nuclear weapons with Korell.

But it's not really a low point for Mallow. He doesn't despair or become overwhelmed with the new adversity. Instead, he takes it in stride and prepares himself to deal with the situation at hand. He's just too stoic for all that emotional hubbub.

Also, Mallow has no other character to have striped away from him: no love interest, best friend, or traveling companion. So strike that part of the traditional "Rags to Riches" story too.

We're 2 for 3. Better luck on the next stage.

Independence and the Final Ordeal

In the Independence and Final Ordeal stage, the hero returns from the low point of the previous stage, and we find a new strength in him. But, just like your dad's brand new 10.1 sound system, this new strength must be put to the test to see if it was worth the cost. Usually, this means a showdown between the dark figure and the hero, each needing to defeat the other to reach their goals. At the end of the struggle, the hero emerges free of the dark figure and moves onto the Fulfillment stage.

"The Merchant Princes" gets back on track here. Mallow returns to Foundation with new knowledge of the nuclear weapons and the universe at large. He knows about the Empire and Korell's union with it. But the dark figure, here Jorane Sutt, accuses Mallow of the murder of a Foundation priest. This leads to Mallow's trial, this story's showdown between the hero and the dark forces. Using his new knowledge, Mallow handily defeats Sutt at his own game.

Mallow's victory represents his meeting his goal, as he hasn't risen far enough in Foundation society to become the mayor. It also marks the end of Sutt's ability to pose a serious threat to Mallow, though he sticks around as an annoyance for a while yet.

Final Union, Completion, and Fulfillment

During the final act of the "Rags to Riches" story, the hero gets the girl (or boy) and the keys to the kingdom. Although the story ends, it's implied that the hero's journey has developed him into the type of person who will rule the kingdom well and live happily ever after. This stage grants a feeling of wholeness too the story.

Well, this is Asimov we're talking about, so the love interest is kaput right out of the gate. But what about the other parts? Check, check, and double check. Mallow becomes the mayor of the Foundation and his use of rationale thinking, willingness to challenge social dogma, and all around good-guy demeanor leaves you with the feeling that he'll be a good fit for the Foundation.

But wait, what about the whole Korell and Empire threat thing? Well, remember how we suggested in the second stage that the hero's initial success would hint at his overall destiny?

For Mallow, the trade agreement he created with Korell actually solved that problem. By governing a trade system where Korell became dependent on Foundation commerce, Mallow set up a system where Korell's economy would fall apart should he cut off trade. When Korell declared war, that's exactly what Mallow did. The situation wrapped itself up nice and neat, Martha Stewart-style. It practically came with a bow.

And that final stroke brings to the story a sense of completion.