The Function Of Fairytales: Understanding & Applying Propp's Structure

Tuesday 7 April 2020

With the recent launch of Disney+ it seemed a prime opportunity to highlight the function of fairytales, and why these adaptations are still very relevant for us as writers and filmmakers. Especially when we can make the most of this staying at home business and turn our Disney movie marathons into an educational opportunity!

Today at Into The Script, I'm breaking down Vladimir Propp's theory on the function of fairytales - and HOW you can apply this to your own projects. Propp identified 31 typical functions in a narrative structure that could be applied to all fairytales. 

Yes, 31 functions that form a narrative sequence that even major Hollywood blockbusters follow to this day!

  • 0: The Initial Situation - The setup is established. 
  • 1: The Absentation - A parent/Guardian leaves or dies. The stable/safe family 'environment/unit' is abruptly removed/taken from our hero. 
  • 2: The Interdiction - The main rule is established/warning given to our hero. 

  • 3: Violation - The main rule (established earlier) is broken.
  • 4: Reconnaissance -The villain and hero learn of one another. 
  • 5: Delivery - Information is gathered.

  • 6: Trickery - Our hero is tricked by the villain.
  • 7: Complicity - The hero is influenced by either magic/force/other to commit something bad/make a mistake. 
  • 8: Villainy - The villain does something evil - usually the act of 'kidnapping the love interest'.

  • 9: Meditation - The hero and band of supporters figure out a plan.
  • 10: Beginning counteraction - The hero and their supporters agree they will all fight back.
  • 11: Departure -  They set off on their journey to execute the plan.
  • 12: First function of donor - Our hero will meet a donor/magical entity/wise being which may ask the hero to pass a test in order to gain a magical prop/object to help them on their journey.
  • 13: Protagonist reaction - Our hero is able to overcome the test and acquire the magical object/prop.
  • 14: Acquisition of Magical Agent - The wise one/magical entity agrees to assist the hero on their quest. 

  • 15: Transference - Our hero undergoes a transformation in every possible way.
  • 16: Struggle - The transformation is tough for our hero to endure
  • 17: Branding - It is clear to other characters that our hero is a hero because of a specific trait or mark signalling them as so. 

  • 18: Victory - Hero beats the villain! YAY!
  • 19: Liquidation - Band of supporters help save the day 
  • 20: The Return - They all return!

  • 21: Pursuit - Our band of heroes are pursued by the villain
  • 22: Rescue - They escape by planting obstacles in the villain's path
  • 23: Unrecognised - Our hero returns home but is unrecognisable

  • 24: Unfounded Claims - Another character proclaims the hero saved the day
  • 25: Difficult Task - The hero must prove themselves
  • 26: Solution - They are successful in proving they are a hero

  • 27: Recognition - Their heroic mark/trait is recognised by others
  • 28: Exposure - A false hero is exposed
  • 29: Transfiguration - A final transformation - either physical or materialistic, often both takes place for our hero. They get fancy clothes/ inherit a kingdom for example!

  • 30: Punishment - The villain gets a healthy dose of KARMA!
  • 31: The Wedding - A big celebration to finish off our hero's journey, they save the day!

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