July 12, 2012

back to basics: propp's functions, pt. 8

We’re to the end of Propp’s Fairy Tale Functions, finishing with the last four stages: Exposure, Transfiguration, Punishment, and Wedding. I’ll continue using the films Aladdin, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Stardust as example material. Commentary on stages belongs to Christopher Vogler and David McKenna, authors of Memo from the Story Dept. Examples and story analysis are mine.

28. Exposure: The villain fails to perform the task or otherwise is revealed to be an imposter.

This is the mirror image of the previous function (Recognition), revealing the villain’s true nature. It’s a positive moment for the hero, canceling out the last threat to his or her success. It may not be necessary to expose the villain if his evil nature has been discovered earlier in the story, but there may be an equivalent neutralizing of the villain as he is disarmed, blocked, or abandoned by his supporters.

In Aladdin, this occurs when Jafar steals the lamp from Aladdin and makes himself Sultan and then the most powerful sorcerer in the world. His treachery is revealed in full.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Quirrell fails to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone from the Mirror of Erised, whereas Harry does succeed.  He then reveals himself to be harboring Voldemort.

In Stardust, we already knew the nature of the witch Lamia, when she attacked Tristan and Yvaine in the inn. However, we find out how truly nasty she is when her sisters die. She lets Tristan and Yvaine go free, and we think for a moment that maybe she’s not so evil after all. But then she changes her mind, and attacks them again.

29. Transfiguration: The hero acquires a new appearance. He or she is magically transformed or receives new garments symbolizing a new status.

Transfiguration is an outward sign of an inner change. Saints acquire a halo after a transcendent experience. Ordinary people walk and talk differently after a brush with death or a difficult ordeal.

When Aladdin gives Genie his freedom, the Genie is transformed, losing the shackles that bound him to the lamp. Aladdin is also transformed, given new clothes to symbolize that he is no longer a street rat, that he is indeed fit to marry the princess.

Another tricky one to pinpoint in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because it’s the first story in a series. It could go hand in hand with Harry’s Recognition, as everyone realizes that Harry isn’t just some famous boy wizard; he’s someone much more, someone who deserves their respect. The transfiguration is everyone else’s opinion of him, even Voldemort.

Tristan picks up the Royal Ruby, which returns to its deep red color. It’s then revealed that Tristan is the only living male heir to the throne of Stormhold. He’s instantly transformed from boring, English shop boy to the new king of Stormhold.

30. Punishment: The (second) villain is punished by the princess or her father.

This is going the extra mile to thoroughly defeat and humiliate the villains, required by the fairy tale’s rigid sense of justice. It’s not enough that they are thwarted, neutralized, and exposed as imposters; they must also receive a formal sentence from the authority figures in the tale, the princess or her father the king. (This is similar to a scene of courtroom judgment that caps many legal thrillers.) Villains may be executed on the spot, stripped of honors, or banished from the realm.

Jafar is punished when Genie imprisons him in the Cave of Wonders.

Quirrell dies, and Voldemort is once again little more than evil smoke.

Lamia is fried by Yvaine’s star power.

31. Wedding: The hero marries the princess or takes possession of all or half of the kingdom.

Fairy tales and Hollywood movies specialize in happy endings, unlike myths, which always seem to end badly if you follow their threads long enough. The wedding is a convenient way to close the circle of a story, showing the beginning of a new cycle. The restless energy of the story, set in motion by the disruption of a perfect, happy family in the beginning (Absentation), can finally be stilled.

Many stories end with the equivalent of a wedding as a new alliance or contract is agreed upon. Or it may be that two sides of a warring personality are now at peace, or that two conflicting ideas or ways of life have been reconciled.

In some fairy tales, there is no princess to marry, and so the hero only takes possession of the kingdom or is given half the kingdom by the grateful king. Both the wedding and the hero’s assumption of the throne symbolize the beginning of a new cycle and a return to the perfection that fairy tales seem to crave.

Aladdin and Jasmine ride off on the magic carpet, the promise of marriage and sultanhood ahead.

Gryffindor wins the House Cup (the equivalent of a kingdom in this story), and Harry, along with Ron, Hermione, and Neville, are raised to new heights in the opinions of their peers.

Tristan and Yvaine become king and queen of Stormhold. He both marries the princess and seizes the kingdom, even though that was never his intention.


So that’s the end of Propp’s Fairy Tale functions. Next week, I’ll go over these stories as a whole, so you can see how everything fits together.

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Read the previous post in the series: Propp's Functions, Part 7

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

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