This theory was developed by Vladmir Propp, based on the work of the Russian Formalists. Propp used Russian Folktales as the basis for his theory but it can be applied to all types of fiction as well as many movies. The basic premise is that there are several basic archtypes that appear in a lot of films, and that they all play very similar roles.

These characters are:

  • The Hero - who is seeking something
  • The Villain - who tries to stop the hero from achieving his goal
  • The Donor - who gives the Hero an item of power
  • The Helper - Who aids the Hero
  • The Princess - This could be a person or thing, which acts as an award for the hero
  • The Dispatcher - Who sends the hero on his Journey
  • The Father - Who rewards the Hero

Sometimes, some of the characters do not fit into certain films, which is one of the theory's main downfalls.

I will use Star Wars as an example.

After an initial situation is set-up, the story usually follows the following structure:

  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, commits 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); Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action;
  10. Hero leaves home;
  11. Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor);
  12. Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles disputants, performs service, uses adversary's powers against them);
  13. Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters);
  14. Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search;
  15. Hero and villain join in direct combat;
  16. Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf);
  17. Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished);
  18. Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revived, captive freed);
  19. Hero returns;
  20. Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero);
  21. Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognisably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life);
  22. Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country;
  23. False hero presents unfounded claims;
  24. Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks);
  25. Task is resolved;
  26. Hero is recognised (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her);
  27. False hero or villain is exposed;
  28. Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc);
  29. Villain is punished;
  30. Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).

(This could be applied to the later part of the Star Wars Trilogy.)

So go on, try it yourself with your favourite film! I guarantee a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. *grin*

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