Journey of The Hero (Not the One You’re Thinking)
By: Mason Johnson
WALESKA, Ga. — At some point in your life, you likely encountered a narrative structure known as the “Hero’s Journey,” which likely preceded the claim that every story uses this narrative construct. Despite the frequency of its use, The Hero’s Journey is a useful introduction to the narrative structure of various popular works, and — perhaps most notably — “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” closely conforms to the model.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell first proposed this narrative structure in 1949 with his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Building upon the works of Freud, Jung, and Frazer, Campbell proposed the mono-myth: a single archetypal story that, Campbell suggests, appears across cultures and throughout time. The book became highly influential and successful, however, Campbell was one of several interested in deciphering the underlying structure of heroic stories.
Enter Vladimir Propp. Propp was a Soviet-era folklorist who analyzed 100 Russian folktales and came up with the 31 functions to describing the tales narrative structure. He is not very well known outside Europe which is probably why he never comes up when discussing Hero-tales. Despite this, he was important in the field of folkloristic morphology, which is the study of structure in folk tales.
Propp detailed his model of narrative structure in his book “Morphology of the Folk Tale” which was originally published in Russia in 1928. However, the list I am using is a reprinted except finding in 2017 edition of Norton’s “The Classic Fairy Tales” edited by Maria Tatar on pages 506 to 507.
- Absentation: Status Quo established, usually tension is established by a member of the community leaving
- Interdiction: The hero is forbidden from doing X
- Violation of Interdiction: Hero does X, the unintended consequence of this allows the villain to enter the tale
- Reconnaissance: The villain searches for valuable information
- Delivery: The villain learns information on his intended victims
- Trickery: The villain deceives someone in the aim of gaining something
- Complicity: The deceived gives the villain what they desire
- Villainy Or Lacking: The villain performs a harmful action to the hero or his community
- Mediation: The villain’s actions are revealed to the hero
- Beginning Counteraction: The hero reacts to the villain’s actions
- Departure: The normal world is abandoned
- First Function of The Donor: The hero meets a helper of some kind
- Hero’s Reaction: The hero performs various feats to gain the helper’s aid
- Receipt Of A Magical Agent: The hero receives a minor boon to help in his quest
- Guidance: The hero arrives at a specific location for the plot to continue
- Struggle: The hero and villain engage in some way
- Branding: The hero is changed visibly throughout his quest, usually an injury
- Victory: The hero defeats the villain is some way
- Liquidation: The conflicts sort themselves out
- Return: The hero journeys home
- Pursuit: A monster pursues the hero
- Rescue: Escape from the purser
- Unrecognized Arrival: The hero arrives unrecognized
- Unfounded Claims: A false hero deceives the world
- Difficult Tasks: Task is designed to reveal who the hero is
- Solution: Tasked is solved
- Recognition: The hero is shown to be the true hero
- Exposure: The false hero is revealed as a fraud
- Transfiguration: The hero is changed physically in some away, typically seen as an improvement
- Punishment: The villain receives punishments for their actions
- Wedding: The hero rises in status
Now to make one thing clear I am not trying to perform a gotcha on Campbell. Despite my belief that his work’s status is overinflated, he did provide a useful story structure. However, I believe that it is important to expose creative people to other models of story structure and to show that there is more to the field of comparative mythology and folklore than Joseph Campbell.
Tatar, M. (2017). The classic fairy tales: Texts, criticism. New York; London: W.W. Norton et Company.
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