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Vladimir Propp was a Russian and Soviet folklorist and
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
The Princess or
The False Hero
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.
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 Villain
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/Prize
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 Donor
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
The limitations of the helper often help to highlight the hero's defining
characteristics such as intelligence, determination, courage, etc.
5. THE HELPER
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
This may be a difficult character to define in modern story telling
6. The Princess’ Father
The False Hero appears to act heroically and may even be initially mistaken for the
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 Hero
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 Dispatcher