Thursday 13 September 2018

arc of narrative

From Three-Toed Sloth’s recommended reading list, we encounter the mathematical dissection of the narratology of comparative myth-making in Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (1928). Drawing on the canon of Russia fairy stories, Propp’s treatment abstracts motifs into thirty one categories (that merit enumerating since that act alone tells a story) and assigns them their own transformative function, distributive property, designed for analysis, as did the Brothers Grimm and Joseph Campbell, and for formulaic writing.

One of the members of a family absents himself from home (β)
An interdiction is addressed to the hero (γ )
The interdiction is violated (δ)
The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (ϵ)
The villain receives information about his victim (ζ)
The villain attempts to deceive his victim in order to take possession of him or of his belongings (η)
The victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps his enemy (θ)
The villain causes harm or injury to a member of a family (A) or One member of a family either lacks something or desires to have something (a)
Misfortune or poverty is made known; the hero is approached with a request or command; he is allowed to go or he is dispatched (B)
The seeker agrees to or decides upon counteraction (C)
The hero leaves home (↑)
The hero is tested, interrogated, attacked, etc., which prepares the way for receiving either a magical agent or helper (D)
The hero reacts to the actions of the future donor (E)
The hero acquires the use of a magical agent (F)
The hero is transferred, delivered, or led to the whereabouts of an object of search (G)
The hero and the villain join in direct combat (H)
The hero is branded or marked (J)
The villain is defeated (I)
The initial misfortune or lack is liquidated (K)
The hero returns (↓)
The hero is pursued (Pr)
Rescue of the hero from pursuit (Rs)
The hero, unrecognized, arrives home or in another country (o)
A false hero presents unfounded claims (L)
A difficult task is proposed to the hero (M)
The task is resolved (N)
The hero is recognised (Q)
The false hero or villain is exposed (Ex)
The hero acquires a new appearance (T)
The villain goes punished (U)
The hero marries and ascends the throne (W)

The bracketed Roman and Greek letters and symbols are the functions to be combined and recombined, which Propp definitely, exhaustively tries. What stories do you recognise that follow this structure?  It’s well worth a look at the permutations and further commentary at the link up top.