Vladimir Propp was a Russian formalist scholar who devised a theory to identify the basic narrative
elements of stories. He did this by analyzing one hundred Russian folk tales to identify their different
elements that they are made up of.
After completing his studies, Propp concluded that all stories are made up of 31 plot elements that he
called functions. He also discovered that, although the folk tales feature many characters, that these
characters fit into only 8 different types.
These character types are;
The Princess or Prize
The False Hero
I will now compare and look at how this theory applies to my story; The Dragon Princess.
Comparison-8 character types
The villain in my story is definitely the Dragon King. He I portrayed as being morally bad, shown
kidnapping the princess from the Emperor and Empress while they slept. He also struggles against the hero
of the story when an attempt at rescuing the princess is made, fighting him and eventually being slain by
him. The lack of morals and weaknesses of the villain serve to highlight the superiority of the Hero.
The helper of a story has one purpose, to aid the hero in their quest or journey to meet a goal. They often
appear in critical moments to offer help or provide support to the hero. The helper is never as good as the
hero, and these shortcomings; often in intelligence, courage, skill or determination again serve to highlight
a hero’s defining characteristics.
The princess/prize can either be a the actual thing that the hero searches to get, as they may have been
stolen by the villain. They can also be the reward the hero will gain having completing a quest or mission, as
through doing so they gain their affection and/or hand in marriage. Often the princess is scarcely seen
during a story perhaps only appearing at the end of a story. The princess is also often pursued by many
characters including the false hero and villain as well as the hero himself. In my story the Dragon princess is
takes on this role. She falls for the hero when she's saved by him and the hero then gains her affection.
The princess’ father sets the hero on their task or quest. They are a key figure as they are often very
protective over their daughter and so the hero must persuade them to grant the princess’ hand in marriage.
The hero and princess’ father also can start competing for the princess’ affection forming a triangle
between the three characters, this could be the reason behind the princess’ fathers common over
protectiveness. The princess’ father is quite an outdated character as the idea of having to gain the father’s
permission for marriage isn’t really common anymore so this character is difficult to identify in modern
storytelling. The Emperor is the Princess’ father in my story and he grants the hero permission to marry his
daughter after rescuing her and reuniting them.
The donor is a person who gives the hero something special to aid them, perhaps a magical weapon, a
clue or piece of wisdom or a special ability/power. This gift enables or at least helps a hero in completing
their quest. A donor may not always let the gift be taken for free, often setting the hero another task such
as a simple riddle or even another quest. This role is often merged with the role of helper.
The hero usually leads the narrative and the story being told is the hero’s story. They are often looking
for something such as a quest or are seeking to solve a mystery or crime. Usually they are the person we
want to succeed as an audience. In my story the young samurai is the hero, he is at first searching for a
quest and then completes this quest, slaying the villain and gaining the affection of the princess.
The false hero always appears to act heroically and is stereotypically what we would expect from a hero
as an audience so much so that we may even mistake them for the true hero. Eventually though it is
realised that the false hero will try to steal the credit for the good deeds done by the hero and may even
try to steal the princess from him. Another way false hero’s often try to steal credit is by gaining the
respect or other control therefore becoming an even bigger obstacle for the hero in gaining the princess’
The dispatcher is the character in a story who sets the hero on his mission or quest. This could be a
family member, friend or even a completely new person that appears it the hero’s life. This role can be
combined with the role of the princess’ father or even the false hero. In my story it could be argued that
the princess’ father is also indirectly the dispatcher as it is a quest that he sends out a reward for. The
hero finds out abut the quest from an old piece of scripture advertising it however and so it could also be
argued that there is no real dispatcher.
Comparison- 31 functions
There are a lot of functions that Propp thought up to try and show that the structure of all stories fall
into some kind of pattern. Not every tale includes every one of the 31 functions but when they appear the
functions usually come in the original order Propp put them in. Here are the functions I believe appear in
ABSENTATION: someone goes missing (the princess is kidnapped by the dragon king)
INTERDICTION: the hero is warned (hero finds a flyer warning of the abduction and advertising a quest)
BEGINNING COUNTER-ACTION: hero chooses positive action (he decides to rescue the princess)
DEPARTURE: hero leaves on mission
GUIDANCE: hero reaches destination
STRUGGLE: hero and villain do battle
BRANDING: hero is branded (could be when the dragon strikes him and disarms him)
VICTORY: villain is defeated
LIQUIDATION: initial misfortune or lack is resolved (princess is found)
RETURN: hero sets out for home (with the princess)
RECOGNITION: hero is recognised
WEDDING: hero marries and it can be assumed them ascends the throne.
Toderov, a Russian structuralist believed that all narratives followed the same simple pathway. He
devised a 3 and 5 step version of this theory. I have compared the three step version to my story;
Equilibrium: is where the story starts and is the everyday life of our character. This doesn’t mean its nice, no
mater what is going on, its just the norm for the people in the story. My graphic novel almost skips this
part as the first panel shows the princess being abducted, but you get the idea that before this event it
was quite a nice environment as the whole palace were just asleep when she was abducted.
Disequilibrium: is the where the story really starts because of an event occurs disrupting the equilibrium
known by the characters in the story previously. Now, the whole story resolves around the characters,
mainly the hero, reacting and trying to return to the equilibrium. In my story the disrupting event happens
immediately and the rest of the story does consist of people trying to slay the dragon king and rescue the
princess, firstly with war being declared, then with many people attempting single handedly before our
hero is successful 16 years later.
New Equilibrium: is the ending to a story and the re-establishment of a equilibrium. As an audience we expect
that things will continue like this after the ending. In my story the Princess is rescued and re-united with
her father; the Emperor and the hero is granted her hand in marriage.
Claude Levi Strauss, a French theorist, came up with the idea of binary opposition believing that the
conflict between two opposites is the driving force behind a story and you can find this in every narrative.
Often many binary opposites can be found in one story, here are a few I think appear in mine;
Good Vs. Evil
Humans Vs. Dragons
Natural Vs. Supernatural
My graphic novel is a closed, single strand story. It is closed strand because it reaches a conclusion at the end,
this means there is a clear end to the story and it isn't just continuous as an open narrative is. Multi-strand
narratives have a number of different storylines before they all meet usually at then end of a story to allow
connections to ne realised and for the story to make sense. My story is single strand because of the
narrative only having a single storyline.
A Linear structure is one that starts at the beginning and goes straight through to the end without any
backtracking, each step to progress the story follows the last. It is a very simple ,method of getting a story
across and largely due to this is the most common structure for stories. Non-linear narratives don’t
progress through a story in the conventional way, instead jumping backwards or forwards to give the
storyline more depth. The structure of my story is linear as it just runs straight through from start to
A realest narrative is one that reflects “real life”. It handles events that could actually occur in real life
and an audience finds these events believable or at least plausible. An anti-realest narrative on the other
hand id one that include events that couldn’t take place in real life often including fantasy characters such
as dragons, as the ones that feature in my story. Because of this my story is anti-realist.