Vladimir Propp proposed that there are distinctive character types and actions in all fairy tales. He said that characters have narrative functions as well as being representations of people, he said that all fairytales had only 8 main character types:
- The villain - struggles against the hero
- The donor - prepares the hero or gives the hero some magical object
- The (magical) helper - helps the hero in the quest
- The princess - person the hero marries, often sought for during the narrative
- Her father
- The dispatcher - character who makes the lack known and sends the hero off
- Hero or victim/seeker hero - reacts to the donor and weds the princess
- False hero/Anti hero - takes credit for the hero’s actions/tries to marry the princess
He also suggested that all fairytales had a similar narrative structure and he broke it down into 31 functions that followed roughly the same order. He then broke these 31 functions down into 4 spheres which were:
- 1st Sphere - The introductory sequence
- 2nd Sphere - The body of the story
- 3rd Sphere - The donor sequence
- 4th Sphere - The hero returns
Propp's theory applied to Lion King
A young lion prince is born in Africa, thus making his uncle Scar the second in line to the throne. Scar plots with the hyenas to kill King Mufasa and Prince Simba, thus making himself King. The King is killed and Simba is led to believe by Scar that it was his fault, and so flees the kingdom in shame. After years of exile he is persuaded to return home to overthrow the usurper and claim the kingdom as his own thus completing the "Circle of Life".
The 8 main character types
- The villian - Scar
- The donor - Rafiki
- The helper - Timon and Pumba
- The princess - Nala
- Her father - Her mother Sarafina
- The dispatcher - Nala
- Hero - Simba
- False hero - Scar
Our board game
We showed the character/character types in the following way:
- Scar - If you land on a square with Scar, you have to go back or miss a go which disrupts your game as Scar disrupts Simba’s life.
- Rafiki - There is a big drawing of Rafiki in the centre of the board with the words “What will your destiny be”, showing he is the magical donor as he is in the film.
- Timon and Pumba - If you land on Timon and Pumba, they take you across a bridge which advances you in, and lets you skip some of the game, this is a memorable part of the film when they take Simba across the bridge and we are shown the time skipping as he grows from a child to an adult.
- Nala - If you land on Nala, she helps you move forward a few spaces and when you reach the end of the game, you marry her.
- Simba - You play as Simba so you are the hero moving through.
- Also if you land on a certain square, you must return to Prideland and miss a go to ‘restore’ it as Prideland needs restoring by Simba in the film.
- We drew a small image of Rafiki holding up Simba over Pride Rock when he is born symbolising Simba’s importance.
Examples of functions in Lion King
- Villian attempts to deceive hero with trickery – Scar tricks Simba into believing it is his fault his dad Mufasa died
- Hero is deceived - Simba believes Scar
- Hero leaves home - Simba leaves home because he is so ashamed of what he thinks he has done, what Scar has convinced him to believe
- Hero discovers the lack - Nala finds Simba and tells him about what has happened to Prideland
- Hero decides on counteraction - Simba decides to return to Prideland, fight for it and restore it
- Hero and villian in direct combat - Simba and Scar have a big physical fight
- Villian defeated - Simba defeats Scar and Scar dies
- True hero recognised - Simba restores Prideland and becomes king
- Hero marries and ascends throne - Simba marries Nala and is now king
Evaluation of Propp's theory
The biggest problem with Propp’s theory is that it was written such a long time ago, in the 1920’s, and it is hard to apply it to modern films. Also, the 8 character types are meant to be different characters but some of them double up in Lion King eg. Nala is the princess and the dispatcher and some of them were different characters completely eg. Nala’s father is not mentioned. Also, we found it hard to identify all of the functions as some didn’t happen and some weren’t quite right. As his theory is so old, contemporary films might not match his theory completely.