Back to Basics: Propp's Functions, Introduction

This post, by Brooke Johnson, originally appeared on her blog on 5/7/12.

Next up in the Back to Basics series is Propp’s Fairy Tale Functions, which I discovered upon reading Memo from the Story Dept. by Christopher Vogler and David McKenna. Most of what I have to say on the subject will be story analysis. The actual breakdown of each stage is Vogler and McKenna’s doing. In their book, they compare the functions to the Hero’s Journey, but I’m not going to list that here. In all honesty, you should read the book. I learned a lot from it.

Propp’s Functions result from his observations of about a hundred Russian fairy tales. In those stories, he found repeating patterns, identifying thirty-one in all. These functions are not necessarily a structure, as we would consider The Hero’s Journey or Three Act, but instead, they are pieces that can be mixed and matched, a “compendium of possibilities” as Vogler says.

I’ll do a quick summary today, and then starting Thursday, I’ll cover the first six or so functions more in depth with examples. As I said before, these are Vogler’s words, not mine. I haven’t studied Propp’s functions as extensively as I’ve studied the Hero’s Journey, and so honestly, I don’t feel qualified to expound with my own opinions and theories about them. However, I do plan to attempt writing a story based on these functions, so perhaps in the future, I’ll be better equipped to analyze the functions more deeply.


For another, simpler summary, check out the Wikipedia page on Vladimir Propp.
Propp’s Functions
The Initial Situation: There’s a family or a hero living somewhere.
1.      Absentation: A member of the family is dead, kidnapped or lost. Something’s missing from the hero’s life.
2.      Interdiction: Someone tells the hero “Whatever you do, don’t…” (open the door, go into the woods, etc.)
3.      Violation of Interdiction: The hero does exactly what has been forbidden, or fails to do something he’s been told to do.
4.      Reconnaissance: The villain, perhaps tipped off by Function III, seeks information about the hero. (Or the hero may seek information about the villain.)
5.      Delivery: The villain gets information about the hero. Or the hero gets information about the villain, perhaps brought by an informant.
6.      Trickery: The villain uses information to deceive or trap the hero, or to steal something.


Read the rest of the post, which includes 31 functions in all, on Brooke Johnson’s blog.