An extended summary of the 31 functions included by Vladimir Propp in his Morphology of the Folktale (1928); a structural analysis of Russian (and Ukrainian) folktales. Propp’s approach constitutes a syntagmatic structural analysis. I.e. the structure of the folktale is described following the linear sequence of elements in the text in chronological order. Sadly the book itself was first translated in 1958, and as a result is not in public domain.
Element 0: Initial situation (α / alpha)
|α1||Introduction of protagonist(s) and setup for story (context)|
Preparatory Section (Functions 1 -7)
Function 1: Absentation (β / beta)
A member of the hero’s community or family leaves the security of the home environment. This may be the hero themselves, or some other relation that the hero must later rescue. This division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline. This may serve as the hero’s introduction, typically portraying them as an ordinary person.
|β1||Absentation (departure) of elder(s)|
|β2||Death of parent(s)|
|β3||Absentation (departure) of sibling(s)|
Function 2: Interdiction (γ / gamma)
A forbidding edict or command is passed upon the hero (‘don’t go there’, ‘don’t do this’). The hero is warned against some action.
|γ2||Inverted form of interdiction issued as order or suggestion|
Function 3: Violation (δ / delta)
The prior rule is violated. Therefore the hero did not listen to the command or forbidding edict. Whether committed by the Hero by accident or temper, a third party or a foe, this generally leads to negative consequences. The villain enters the story via this event, although not necessarily confronting the hero. They may be a lurking and manipulative presence, or might act against the hero’s family in his absence.
|δ2||Order or suggestion executed|
Function 4: Reconnaissance (ε /epsilon)
The villain makes an effort to attain knowledge needed to fulfill their plot. Disguises are often invoked as the villain actively probes for information, perhaps for a valuable item or to abduct someone. They may speak with a family member who innocently divulges a crucial insight. The villain may also seek out the hero in their reconnaissance, perhaps to gauge their strengths in response to learning of their special nature.
|ε1||Reconnaissance by antagonist(s)
|ε2||Reconnaissance by victim(s) / protagonist(s)
|ε3||Reconnaissance by other person(s)|
Function 5: Delivery (ζ / zeta)
The villain succeeds at recon and gains a lead on their intended victim. A map is often involved in some level of the event.
|ζ1||Antagonist(s) receives information about victim(s) / protagonist(s)
|ζ2||Victim(s) / protagonist(s) receives information about antagonist(s)|
|ζ3||Information received by other means|
Function 6: Trickery (η – eta)
The villain attempts to deceive the victim to acquire something valuable. They press further, aiming to con the protagonists and earn their trust. Sometimes the villain make little or no deception and instead ransoms one valuable thing for another.
|η1||Deceitful persuasions by antagonist(s)|
|η2||Direct application of magical agents by antagonist(s)
|η3||Use of other forms of deception or coercion|
Function 7: Complicity (θ / theta)
The victim/protagonist is fooled or forced to concede and unwittingly or unwillingly helps the villain, who is now free to access somewhere previously off-limits, like the privacy of the hero’s home or a treasure vault, acting without restraint in their ploy.
|θ1||Protagonist(s) reacts to persuasions of antagonist(s)|
|θ2||Protagonist(s) falls victim to influence of magical agent|
|θ3||Protagonist(s) gives in or reacts mechanically to deceit of antagonist(s) — preliminary misfortune caused by deceitful agreement.|
Complications (Functions 8 -11)
function 8 (and/or 8a) is always present in tale
Function 8: Villainy (A)
The villain harms a family member, including but not limited to abduction, theft, spoiling crops, plundering, banishment or expulsion of one or more protagonists, murder, threatening a forced marriage, inflicting nightly torments and so on. Simultaneously or alternatively, a protagonist finds they desire or require something lacking from the home environment (potion, artifact, etc.). The villain may still be indirectly involved, perhaps fooling the family member into believing they need such an item.
|A1||Kidnapping of person|
|A2||Seizure of magical agent or helper|
|AII||Forcible seizure of magical helper|
|A3||Pillaging or ruining of crops|
|A4||Theft of daylight|
|A5||Plundering in other forms|
|A6||Bodily injury, maiming, mutilation|
|A7||Causes sudden disappearance|
|AVII||Bride is forgotten|
|A8||Demand for delivery or enticement, abduction|
|A10||Casting into body of water|
|A11||Casting of a spell, transformation|
|A13||Issues order to kill [requires proof]|
|A16||Threat of forced matrimony|
|AXVI||Threat of forced matrimony between relatives|
|A17||Threat of cannibalism|
|AXVII||Threat of cannibalism among relatives|
|A18||Tormenting at night (visitation, vampirism)|
|A19||Declaration of war|
Function 8a: Lack (a)
|a1||Lack of bride, friend, or an individual|
|a2||Lack of helper or magical agent|
|a3||Lack of wondrous object(s)|
|a4||Lack of egg of death or love|
|a5||Lack of money or means of existence|
|a6||Lacks in other forms|
Function 9: Mediation, the connective incident (B)
One or more of the negative factors covered above comes to the attention of the Hero, who uncovers the deceit/perceives the lacking/learns of the villainous acts that have transpired.
|B1||Call for help received, protagonist(s) as seeker(s) dispatched|
|B2||Protagonist(s) as seeker(s) dispatched directly|
|B3||Protagonist(s) as seeker(s) released, allowed to depart|
|B4||Annoucement of misfortune in other forms, protagonist(s) as seeker(s) departs|
|B5||Transportation of banished protagonist(s) as victim(s)|
|B6||Condemned protagonist(s) as victim(s) released, spared|
|B7||Lamment or plaintive song by/about victim(s), heard/sung by protagonist(s)|
Function 10: Beginning counteraction (C)
The hero considers ways to resolve the issues, by seeking a needed magical item, rescuing those who are captured or otherwise thwarting the villain. This is a defining moment for the hero, one that shapes their further actions and marks the point when they begin to fit their noble mantle.
|C1||Protagonist(s) as seeker consents to counteraction|
Function 11: Departure, dispatch of protagonist(s) from home. The hero leaves the home environment, this time with a sense of purpose. Here begins their adventure.
Donors (Functions 12 -14)
Function 12: First function of donor (D)
The hero encounters a magical agent or helper (donor) on their path, and is tested in some manner through interrogation, combat, puzzles or more.
|D1||Donor tests protagonist(s)|
|D2||Donor greets and interrogates protagonist(s)|
|D3||Request of favor after death|
|D4||Entreaty of prisoner for freedom|
|*D4||Entreaty of prisoner for freedom, with preliminary imprisonment|
|D5||Request for mercy|
|D6||Request for division|
|d6||Argument without express request for division|
|*D7||Other requests, with preliminary helpless situation of person making request|
|d7||Helpless situation of donor without stated request, possibility of rendering service|
|D8||Attempt to destroy|
|D9||Combat with hostile donor|
|D10||Offer of magical agent as an exchange|
Function 13: Protagonist’s reaction (E)
The hero responds to the actions of their future donor; perhaps withstanding the rigours of a test and/or failing in some manner, freeing a captive, reconciles disputing parties or otherwise performing good services. This may also be the first time the hero comes to understand the villain’s skills and powers, and uses them for good.
|E1||Protagonist(s) withstands ordeal (or not)|
|E2||Protagonist(s) answers greeting (or not)|
|E3||Protagonist(s) renders service to dead person (or not)|
|E4||Protagonist(s) frees of captive|
|E5||Mercy to suppliant|
|E6||Protagonist completes apportinment and reconciles disputants|
|EVI||Protagonist(s) deceives disputants|
|E7||Performance of some other service, fulfillment of request, pious deeds|
|E8||Attempt at destruction averted by turnabout|
|E9||Protagonist(s) vanquishes hostile donor (or not)|
|E10||Deception in an exchange, protagonist(s) employs magical agent on donor|
Function 14: Acquisition of magical agent (F)
The hero acquires use of a magical agent as a consequence of their good actions. This may be a directly acquired item, something located after navigating a tough environment, a good purchased or bartered with a hard-earned resource or fashioned from parts and ingredients prepared by the hero, spontaneously summoned from another world, a magical food that is consumed, or even the earned loyalty and aid of another.
|F1||Agent is directly transferred|
|f1||Gift is of a material nature|
|F-||Agent is not transferred|
|F=||Protagonist’s negative reaction provokes cruel retribution|
|F2||Agent is pointed out|
|F3||Agent is prepared|
|F4||Agent is sold and purchased|
|F43||Agent is made on order|
|F5||Agent is found by chance|
|F6||Agent suddenly appears of its own accord|
|FVI||Agent appears from out of earth|
|F7||Agent is drunk or eaten|
|F8||Agent is seized|
|F9||Agent offers its services, places itself at someone’s disposal|
|f9||Agent indicates it will appear of its own accord in some time of need|
|F96||Meeting with magical helper(s) who offers their services|
Entry of helper to end of first move (Functions 15 – 22)
Function 15: Transference, guidance (G)
The hero is transferred, delivered or somehow led to a vital location, perhaps related to one of the above functions such as the home of the donor or the location of the magical agent or its parts, or to the villain.
|G1||Protagonist(s) flies thru air|
|G2||Protagonist(s) travels on ground or water|
|G3||Protagonist(s) is led|
|G4||Route is shown to protagonist(s)|
|G5||Protagonist(s) makes use of stationary means (stairs, bridge etc.)|
|G6||Marked trail shows the way (blood, tracks, yarn, etc.)|
Function 16: Struggle (H)
The hero and villain meet and engage in conflict directly, either in battle or some nature of contest.
|H1||Fight in an open field|
|H3||Game of cards|
|H4||Weighing with scales|
Function 17: Branding (J)
The hero is marked in some manner, perhaps receiving a distinctive scar or granted a cosmetic item like a ring or scarf.
|J1||Application of mark to body of protagonist(s)|
|J2||Transference of token (ring, towel, etc.)|
Function 18: Victory (I)
The villain is defeated by the hero – killed in combat, outperformed in a contest, struck when vulnerable, banished, and so on.
|I1||Antagonist(s) defeated in open battle|
|*I1||Antagonist(s) defeated by one protagonist(s) while the other(s) hide|
|I2||Antagonist(s) defeated in contest|
|I3||Antagonist(s) defeated at cards|
|I4||Antagonist(s) defeated in weighing with scales|
|I5||Protagonist(s) kills antagonist(s) without preliminary fight|
|I6||Expulsion of antagonist(s)|
Function 19: Liquidation (K)
The earlier misfortunes or issues of the story are resolved; object of search are distributed, spells broken, captives freed.
|K1||Direct acquisition thru application of force or cunning|
|KI||Direct acquisition thru application of force or cunning (compelling)|
|K2||Acquisition accomplished by several helpers at once|
|K3||Acquisition achieved with help of an enticement or decoy(s)|
|K4||Liquidation of misfortune as direct result of previous actions|
|K5||Object of search attained instantly thru use of magical agent|
|K6||Poverty done away with thru use of magical agent|
|K7||Object of search captured|
|K8||Breaking of spell on victim|
|K9||Resuscitation of slain|
|KIX||Resuscitation, with preliminary obtaining of water of life|
|K10||Release from captivity|
|KF1||Liquidation in form F: object of search is transferred|
|KF2||Liquidation in form F: object of search is pointed out|
|KF3||Liquidation in form F: object of search is prepared|
|KF4||Liquidation in form F: object of search is sold, purchased|
|KF43||Liquidation in form F: object of search is made on order|
|KF5||Liquidation in form F: object of search is found|
|KF6||Liquidation in form F: object of search appears of its own accord|
|KFVI||Liquidation in form F: object of search appears from out of earth|
|KF7||Liquidation in form F: object of search is drunk or eaten|
|KF8||Liquidation in form F: object of search is seized|
|KF9||Liquidation in form F: object of search offers its services|
|KF96||Liquidation in form F: object of search are helpers who offers their services|
Function 20: Return
Return of protagonist(s). The hero travels back to their home.
Function 21: Pursuit (Pr)
The hero is pursued by some threatening adversary, who seeks to capture or eat them.
|Pr1||Antagonist(s) flies thru air|
|Pr2||Antagonist(s) demands guilty person|
|Pr3||Antagonist(s) pursues, accompanied by series of transformations into animals|
|Pr4||Antagonist(s) pursues, with tranformations into enticing objects|
|Pr5||Antagonist(s) attempts to devour protagonist(s)|
|Pr6||Antagonist(s) attempts to destroy protagonist(s)|
|Pr7||Antagonist(s) attempts to gnaw thru tree with protagonist(s) up in it|
Function 22: Rescue (Rs)
The hero is saved from a chase. Something may act as an obstacle to delay the pursuer, or the hero may find or be shown a way to hide, up to and including transformation unrecognisably. The hero’s life may be saved by another.
|Rs1||Protagonist(s) carried thru air or runs quickly|
|Rs2||Protagonist(s) places obstacles in path of pursuers [with transformation]|
|Rs3||Fleeing, with transformation to escape recognition|
|Rs4||Fleeing with concealment of escapee|
|Rs5||Concealment of escapee by blacksmiths|
|Rs6||Escapee goes thru series of transformations into animals, plants & stones|
|Rs7||Warding of temptation of enticing object(s)|
|Rs8||Rescue or salvation from being devoured|
|Rs9||Rescue or salvation from being destroyed|
|Rs10||Leap into another tree|
Beginning of Second Move
(repeat from new villainy to unrecognized arrival)
Function 23: Unrecognized arrival (o)
The hero arrives, whether in a location along their journey or in their destination, and is unrecognised or unacknowledged.
Function 24: Unfounded claims (L)
A false hero presents unfounded claims or performs some other form of deceit. This may be the villain, one of the villain’s underlings or an unrelated party. It may even be some form of future donor for the hero, once they’ve faced their actions.
|L1||Claims of false protagonist(s)|
Function 25: Difficult task (M)
A trial is proposed to the hero – riddles, test of strength or endurance, acrobatics and other ordeals.
|M1||Ordeal by food and drink|
|M2||Ordeal by fire|
|M4||Ordeal of choice|
|M5||Hide and seek|
|M6||Test of strength|
|M7||Test of adroitness|
|M8||Test of fortitude|
|M9||Test of endurance|
|M10||Tasks of supply|
|MX||Tasks of manufacture|
Function 26: Solution (N)
The hero accomplishes a difficult task.
|N1||Food and drink consumed|
|N4||Correct choice selected|
|N5||Protagonist(s) not found|
|N6||Test of strength passed|
|N7||Test of adroitness passed|
|N8||Test of fortitude passed|
|N9||Test of endurance passed|
|N11||Sorting tasks completed|
|N12||Other tasks completed|
|*N||Solution before deadline|
Function 27: Recognition (Q)
The hero is given due recognition.
|Q1||Recognition of protagonist(s) by mark on body|
|Q2||Recognition of protagonist(s) by token|
|Q3||Recognition of protagonist(s) by accomplishment of difficult task|
|Q4||Recognition of protagonist(s) by family member|
Function 28: Exposure (Ex)
The false hero and/or villain is exposed to all and sundry.
|Ex1||Exposure by lack of mark on body|
|Ex2||Exposure by lack of token|
|Ex3||Exposure by failure to accomplish difficult task|
|Ex4||Exposure thru song / lament|
Function 29: Transfiguration (T)
The hero gains a new appearance. This may reflect aging and/or the benefits of labour and health, or it may constitute a magical remembering after a limb or digit was lost (as a part of the branding or from failing a trial). Regardless, it serves to improve their looks.
|T1||New physical appearance by magical action of helper|
|T2||Protagonist(s) builds palace|
|T3||Protagonist(s) puts on new garments|
|T4||Humorous and rationalized forms, new appearance achieved by deception|
Function 30: Punishment (U)
The villain suffers the consequences of their actions, perhaps at the hands of the hero, the avenged victims, or as a direct result of their own ploy.
|U||Punishment of false protagonist(s) or antagonist(s)|
|U-||False protagonist(s) or antagonist(s) pardoned|
Function 31: Wedding (W)
The hero marries and is rewarded or promoted by the family or community, typically ascending to a throne.
|W#*||Protagonist(s) weds and ascends throne|
|W*||Protagonist(s) ascends throne|
|w1||Protagonist(s) promised marriage|
|w2||Protagonist(s) resumes marriage|
|w0||Protagonist(s) given monetary reward or other forms of material gain|