Christopher Bookers Seven basic Plots. Plot 4: Voyage and Return

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"Voyage and return" is a basic plot type about a journey,  but of a different kind compared to "Plot 3 The Quest". Here the protagonist is transported from their everyday world into another world where everything seems abnormal and dreamlike. Initially the experience seems wonderful but gradually “a shadow” develops, and the protagonist can feel trapped and eventually threatened in this world, and so the story usually ends in a great escape where the protagonist escapes back to their normal world.

Three classic stories which are the greatest examples of "Voyage and Return" are very much centred on female protagonists. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. In the first story, Alice is bored on a hot summers day, and falls through a hole in the ground where she encounters a wonderland which causes her size to change relative to the surroundings, and she meets a succession of strange animals talking to her in riddles. This wonderland then starts to turn into a nightmare when the Queen of Hearts orders her beheading prompting Alice to walk up and find herself safely in her normal everyday world.

There are a host of other such stories: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Robinson Crusoe, The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, Swift’s Gulliver travels, Journey to The Centre of the Earth, The Lord of the Flies, and Total Recall. There are variations to the extent of the “other world” which need be so overt like Alice’s wonderland, but a more subtle “other world where there has been a change of social circumstances. Like in Brideshead Revisited the central character is plucked out of his tedious world and put into an exotic upper class world. In Gone with The Wind, the world is the destructive one the American Civil war.

The main difference that this plot has from the Quest, is that the protagonist stumbles upon their journey unexpectedly whereas in the Quest the protagonist initially sets out with a purpose and is conscious of their task. The protagonist is violently propelled into this world (such as Alice falling through the hole in the ground) and the other world operates on an entirely different framework. Their goal is often to make sense of this puzzling other world and return back to their normal world.

The protagonist can fall into one of two types, one that has been changed by their experience of this other world or one that has not been changed.  The first type of protagonist starts out often as a selfish character who is naïve and in the darkness but their experience in the other world transforms them into a much greater character .  On the other hand, if the protagonist remains completely unchanged from their experience in the other world, they may often develop a relationship with the opposite sex in that world and then return to the normal world with a sense of loss.

This plot  reflects the way that sleep and dreams can transport us into another world every night and then we are return to our normal worlds when we wake. The journey in Voyage and return  is often an exploration of the unconscious mind!


About the author


Born In Adelaide, Australia, Alex Nakone is of Ukrainian Descent. Alex grew up with a passion for the arts, but like many Eastern European migrants settled in Australia, there were great expectations for Alex to become a medical practitioner, which he did. Alex Nakone’s first narrative film Biotech 8, a…

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