Propp and the Hero Journey

Vladimir Propp was born in Petersburg, April 29, 1895.

In 1932 he was called to a position at the University of Leningrad and went on to make major contributions to Russian folklore studies, comparative mythology, and the classification of folklore genres. His international fame is closely tied to the contributions he made to the structural analysis of folklore in Morphology of the Folktale.

His analysis details the cycle of events the hero or heroine experiences in a fairy tale. This analysis is relevant to studies of many literary heroes because (1) heroes (and the texts) of the great Epics are generally literary survivals of complex, oral texts and (2) these literary survivals from predominantly oral cultures frequently preserve (use) an episodic structure and formulaic use of language similar to that of the oral fairy tales Propp used for his research.

Particularly relevant for any discussion of the hero journey are the stages in Propp’s structure numbered 11-18. These stages bridge two of Propp’s four main categories within his structure: II. The Body of the Story and  III. The Donor Sequence.


Propp's Structure of the Magic Tale/Fairy Tale

I. Introductory Sequence

1. Family member leaves family--the hero is introduced.
2. Interdiction--don't do X
3. Interdiction is violated--hero does X anyway
4. Villain--reconnaissance of hero
5. Villain gets information about hero
6. Villain attempts to deceive hero with trickery
7. Hero submits to trickery -- complicity.

II. Body of the Story

8. Villain causes harm or injury through villainy; villain carries off a victim, the hero or the desired magical object, which must be retrieved.
8a. A member of the hero's family lacks something, or wants something.
9. Lack is made known to the hero.
10. Hero agrees to counteraction
11. Hero leaves home

III. Donor Sequence (magic agent obtained)

12. Hero is tested/questioned.
13. Hero reacts.
14. Hero receives a magical agent/object that helps in quest.
15. Transfer to place where the lack is to be found
16. Combat with villain
17. Hero is branded
18. Villain is defeated
19. Lack is liquidated--object of the quest is obtained by the hero (the tale often ends here, but may continue to the fourth sphere of action)

IV. Hero's Return

20. Hero sets off for home
21. Hero is pursued
22. Rescued from pursuit (tale often ends here, but can continue)
23. Hero arrives home and is not recognized
24. False hero presents claims of true hero
25. Difficult task is set
26. Task is resolved
27. True hero is recognized
28. False hero is unmasked
29. Epiphany of true hero--new appearance/ transfiguration
30. Villain is punished
31. Marriage and rule of true hero