Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The 31 Functions of a Folk Tale

Last week, I featured the 36 dramatic situations. Now, let's dig in a little deeper and look at how such stories may be structured. Everyone already knows about the Hero's Journey, based on Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces so here's something which actually preceded it: Vladimir Propp's 31 functions of a folk tale.

Propp studied Russian folk tales and broke them down into their smallest narrative units, known as narratemes. Using this technique, he concluded that there were 31 generic themes that occured in sequence (though they don't always have to appear and there may be variations).

These are:

  1. A member of a family leaves home (the hero is introduced);
  2. An interdiction is addressed to the hero ('don't go there', 'go to this place');
  3. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale);
  4. The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (either villain tries to find the children/jewels etc; or intended victim questions the villain);
  5. The villain gains information about the victim;
  6. The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim's belongings (trickery; villain disguised, tries to win confidence of victim);
  7. Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy;
  8. Villain causes harm/injury to family member (by abduction, theft of magical agent, spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone, casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc, comits murder, imprisons/detains someone, threatens forced marriage, provides nightly torments); Alternatively, a member of family lacks something or desires something (magical potion etc);
  9. Misfortune or lack is made known, (hero is dispatched, hears call for help etc/ alternative is that victimised hero is sent away, freed from imprisonment);
  10. Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action;
  11. Hero leaves home;
  12. Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor);
  13. Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles disputants, performs service, uses adversary's powers against him);
  14. Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters);
  15. Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search;
  16. Hero and villain join in direct combat;
  17. Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf);
  18. Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished);
  19. Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revivied, captive freed);
  20. Hero returns;
  21. Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero);
  22. Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognisably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life);
  23. Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country;
  24. False hero presents unfounded claims;
  25. Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks);
  26. Task is resolved;
  27. Hero is recognised (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her);
  28. False hero or villain is exposed;
  29. Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc);
  30. Villain is punished;
  31. Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).

2 comments:

  1. But where is "hero delivers a rousing monologue before eliminating villain (indirectly or by accident to preserve hero's morality)"? ehehehe

    It's Propp's way of saying that Russian writers are predictable.

    ... or maybe it's a drinking game-take two shots of vodka each time this scene comes up hehehe

    ... Jamie Kennedy did his own list of horror movie cliches in the first Scream, remember that? lol

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually, that's "villain delivers monologue on his plans, giving the hero time to escape."

    ReplyDelete