May 14, 2012

back to basics: propp's functions, pt. 2

Today, we resume the more in-depth analysis of Propp’s Fairy Tale Functions, continuing with the next four stages. As in the last post, we’ll be using the films Aladdin, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Stardust as examples. The examples are mine, but the comments on each stage are paraphrases of the material in Christopher Vogler and David McKenna’s book Memo from the Story Dept. Propp’s Functions are not a rigid structure. The functions can be swip-swapped around in nearly any order, as you’ll find is the case in my examples.

4. Reconnaissance: The villain, perhaps tipped off by the third function (but not always), seeks information about the hero. (Or the hero may seek information about the villain. Somebody’s interested in somebody else.)

In modern literature, the villain may not make an appearance until the end of the first act or early in the second, but his minions will likely track down the hero and keep tabs on him. The hero can also perform this function, seeking information about the villain, attempting to right whatever wrong that the villain might have done.

In Aladdin, the Reconnaissance function occurs when Jafar uses his hocus pocus to find the “diamond in the rough” who the sand tiger says is the only person who can retrieve the genie’s lamp from within the Cave of Wonders.

It’s a bit tricky pinpointing this function in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Upon visiting Diagon Alley, Harry is bombarded with a plethora of information, and naturally, he has a lot of questions. First, Harry asks Hagrid, after leaving the Leaky Cauldron, why he’s so famous, but Hagrid refuses to answer. Next, Harry finds his wand, and Mr. Ollivander tells him that his wand is the brother to the wand that gave him his lightning bolt scar. Of course, Mr. Ollivander does not elaborate very much beyond that. Harry then asks Hagrid what he knows about the man who killed his parents and gave him his scar.

In Stardust, the villains perform the Reconnaissance—both the witches who wish to eat the heart of the star and the princes searching for the king’s ruby. Each of them use magical runes to track down their prize, all the while, the hero Tristan is oblivious that he carries what both parties seek.

5. Delivery: The villain gets information about the hero. Or the hero gets information about the villain, perhaps brought by an informant.

At some point, the villain knows that the hero exists, and vice versa. This function pairs with the previous. The hero may find the information he was seeking about the villain, or the villain’s inquiries may tip off the hero to the danger. The purpose of this function is to make the hero and the villain aware of each other.

Jafar’s magic reveals that Aladdin is the one who must fetch the lamp.

Hagrid tells Harry the story of his parents’ deaths.

The witch’s runes tell her where to capture the star, and Tristan learns from the stars in the sky that Yvaine is in trouble.

6. Trickery: The villain uses information to deceive or entrap the hero, or to steal something.

The villain may assume a disguise or take on a new form. They may try to persuade the hero to do something, use magic against them, set a trap, or mislead the hero somehow.

Jafar-in-disguise asks Aladdin to venture into the Cave of Wonders.

Voldemort uses Professor Quirrell to regain strength and hide from his enemies.

The witch disguises herself as an innkeeper’s wife in order to trap the star.

7. Complicity: The hero is tricked, or unwittingly helps the enemy.

The hero may be tricked into thinking an enemy is actually an ally, and may even be tricked into helping the enemy for a while before realizing the truth.

Aladdin enters the Cave of Wonders to retrieve the lamp for Jafar-in-disguise.

Harry, and nearly everyone else, is oblivious to Voldemort’s hold on Professor Quirrell. Harry believes that Snape is the villain, not Quirrell.

Yvaine enters the magical inn, unaware that the innkeeper’s wife is a witch and means to eat her heart.


Read the previous post in the series: Propp's Functions, Part 1
Read the next post in the series: Propp's Functions, Part 3

Read a summary of all Propp's functions in the Introduction to Propp's Fairy Tale Functions

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