How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Propp's Dramatis Personae
As well as finding the 31 narratemes, Vladimir Propp also identified a limited set of eight broad character types in the many tales that he analyzed.
In every story there is a major character with whom the reader will normally associate most strongly and who is the key person around which the story is told.
Although this person is often a hero in some sense, they may also take another form, such as a victim or a seeker after some treasure or knowledge. Or maybe they are all of these.
The Hero is supported in his or her quest by a Helper, often a wise old man or magician, who appears at critical moments to provide support. Thus Obi Wan Kenobi appears to help Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, even after Kenobi's death.
The Helper may also be found in a support role, such as Sherlock Holmes' Dr. Watson or Don Quixote's Sancho Panza. The contrast between the limitations of this person and the hero may provide a further elucidation of the hero's defining characteristics such as intelligence, determination, courage, etc.
Other helpers appear along the way as friends or random people who act pro-socially to support the Hero.
The sharpest contrast against the hero is the villain, who struggles directly against the hero. This is the clearly bad-guy person such as Darth Vader in Star Wars or Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. The Villain typically is morally bad, highlighting the goodness of the Hero.
The Villain may seek to prevent the Hero from achieving the goal or may quest after the same artefact. The Villain may also be a tempter, such as when Darth Vader tries to seduce Luke Skywalker over to the 'dark side'.
A variant on the villain and a potential complication within the plot is the False Hero, who appears to act heroically and may even be initially mistaken for the real Hero.
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 is thus an usurper, a thief perhaps of the worst kind, who plays on people's good nature to boldly steal in broad daylight.
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.
The Donor is a person who gives the Hero something special, such as a magical weapon or some particular wisdom. They may typically be Gods, Oracles or Wise Persons, although they may also be as simple as gatekeepers.
This role may be combined with that of a Helper. The Donor may also be capricious and not easily swayed and may not give up their gift without setting the Hero another task, from a simple riddle to a whole other quest.
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).
The Princess may take two forms. First, she may be the object which is deliberately sought by the Hero, perhaps finding where the Villain has taken her. Secondly, she may be the reward, such that after completing some other mission, he gains 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 integral character, for example where she accompanies the Hero on his mission, where he may win her heart by the courage and determination of his actions.
The Princess may be wooed by many, in particular by the False Hero. When we see the Princess being won by the False Hero we may rail and rant in frustration as we see her falling unwittingly into her clutches.
Finally, there is the Princess's Father, who constrains the Princess or who may Dispatch the Hero on his mission to save the Princess.
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, V. (1927). Morphology of the Folktale. Trans., Laurence Scott. 2nd ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968
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