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27. Common Literary Themes

27. Common Literary Themes

Whether we realize it or not, most stories fall into one of a few dozen literary themes. I use “a few dozen” loosely, as you’ll probably never find two people who study these structures who will be able to agree on just how many themes there are.

According to the Daniel Snyder, who I am going to believe for the sake of this portion of our story, there are anywhere between 3 and 40 literary themes in all. He recognizes 10 of them. Take a look at some of these themes, and the stories that embody them. I’ll start you off with three, excerpted from Daniel’s website.

The Great Journey

This follows a character or characters through a series of episodic adventures as they travel. It may be a sad story or a happy story, or it may even be comedic. Huckleberry Finn, Heart of Darkness, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and The Odyssey are good examples. In film, this theme can be seen in Apocalypse Now and National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The Fall From Grace

This theme shows us people going where only God should go, doing what only God is meant to do, or attempting to do something that human beings should never do. This is always followed by misfortune, whether it is the direct result of their action or an act of God. We see this in the tales of Coyote’s theft of fire in the Native American tradition, or in the story of the Tower of Babel and the Garden of Eden in The Old Testament. Other examples would be the Prometheus myth, Pandora’s Box, and the story of Icarus. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly is another work exploring this theme, and we have seen it at work in the films Jurassic Park and Westworld.

The Big Trick

In this one, someone or some group of people intentionally trick someone else. Rumplestiltskin and Little Red Ridinghood are in this category. Stone Soup is an old story in which several men trick the inhabitants of a village into providing them with food. This theme was evident in Snatch, starring Brad Pitt, and The Sting, staring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

Pay special attention on how well each of them fit into the storytelling structures that we’ve talked about before. You might be surprised.

Well, by now, probably not.

For the first time this story I couldn’t find a video that I liked. I’ve included a powerpoint, but as far as I can tell, a powerpoint isn’t a video. I invite you all to take this moment to step into the story and help me find something or maybe create it for yourself. How would you explain common literary themes?

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