narrative theory (propp)

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Narrative TheoryPropp

Vladimir Propp was a Russian and Soviet folklorist and scholar.

He analysed the plot components of folk tales to identify their basic narrative elements.

He looked at over one hundred folk tales and came to the conclusion that they were all made up of 31 plot elements, which he called functions.

He also found that despite the large number of characters which appeared in the folk tales, there were only 8 basic character types.

The Villain

The Helper

The Princess or prize

Her Father

The Donor

The Hero

The False Hero

The Dispatcher8 Character typesThe character types can often still be found in modern story telling although sometimes they are combined and sometimes it can be harder to identify them

1. The Hero Generally the hero leads the narrative. The story being told is the story of the hero. They are usually looking for something - a quest, or trying to solve something- a mystery. Usually they are the person we want to succeed in the story.Examples:

The Villain struggles against the hero. The Villain is typically shown as being morally bad. This turns the audience against him and drives them to support the hero. The Villains lack of morals serves to highlight the goodness of the Hero.The Villain may seek to prevent the Hero from achieving the goal or may quest after the same artefact. 2. The VillainExample:

The Princess may take two forms. First, he/she may be the object which is deliberately sought by the Hero, perhaps finding where the Villain has taken him/her. Secondly, she may be the reward, such that after completing some other mission, they gain his/her affections or hand in marriage.

The Princess may be seen very little in the story, perhaps appearing only at the end, or may be an important character, accompanying the Hero on their mission.

The Princess may be pursued by many, in particular by the False Hero.

3. The Princess/PrizeExample:

The Donor is a person who gives the Hero something special, such as a magical weapon or some particular wisdom, a clue or a special power. This gift enables the Hero to complete their quest.

This role may be combined with that of a Helper. The Donor may not give up their gift without setting the Hero another task, from a simple riddle to another quest. 4. The DonorExample:

The Hero is supported in his or her quest by a Helper, who appears at critical moments to provide support.

The Helper may also be found in a support role, helping the hero throughout the story.

The limitations of the helper often help to highlight the hero's defining characteristics such as intelligence, determination, courage, etc.5. THE HELPERExample:

The Princess Father gives the task to the hero.

The Princess's Father is a key figure for the Hero to persuade, as the Father is almost always protective of his daughter. The Father may also be in competition in some way with the Hero for the Princess's affections and a triangle may form.

Propp noted that functionally, the princess and the father can not be clearly distinguished.

This may be a difficult character to define in modern story telling6. The Princess FatherExample:

The False Hero appears to act heroically and may even be initially mistaken for the real Hero.

The False Hero will try to steal the Hero's thunder, grabbing the credit and perhaps trying to marry the princess instead.

The False Hero may also gain the respect or other control of the Princess's Father, thus frustrating the Hero's ability to gain the hand of the Princess.7. The False HeroExample:

An early role in the story is that of the Dispatcher who sends the Hero on the mission. This may be a family member such as a mother or father.

It can also be the Princess's Father, who gives the Hero a set of quests to be completed before he gains the hand of the Princess.

The Dispatcher may also be combined with another role, for example the False Hero who then trails along behind (perhaps disguised as a Helper).

8. The DispatcherExample: