Updated: Jan 7
In the first blog post of our 'Series of 7' resources, we looked at the 7 Story Types and how they are important in developing a child's knowledge and understanding of literature beyond the 'story mountain'. You can read that blog post and download the resource HERE.
I'm not sure what it is about the number 7. It occurs more than 700 times throughout the Bible and 54 time in the Book Of Revelation, which refers to seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets and seven stars. Perhaps it's the fact that there are 7 colours in the rainbow, 7 deadly sins, 7 wonders of the world or a dreaded 7 year itch. Whatever the reason for the number 7, it seems fitting that literature should go the same arbitrary way. 7 is also the age I read Danny the Champion of the World and fell in love with books. There, sorted!
It begins with Vladimir Propp who was a scholar and literary critic from Russia, born in 1895. He believed that there were 7 main/typical character types and 31 narrative functions that follow a simple plot with characters often fulfilling more than one role within a story. These old stories have formed the basis of many more stories since and Propp's morphology is useful not only in understanding Russian folk tales but most other stories too.
"Propp has been both lauded for his structural approach and criticized for his lack of sensitivity to subtle story elements such as mood and deeper context." David Straker (M.Sc. (Psychol), M.Sc. (Mgt & Tech), PGCE., Dip.M., FRSA changingminds.org, 2020)
1.) The Hero/Heroine
Propp describes this as just the hero but we will describe them as the hero/heroine. Typically, the hero/heroine is the protagonist that reacts to the donor and dispatcher, defeats the villain, resolves corruption and marries the princess (or wins the prize).
Examples: Harry Potter (Harry Potter Series), Felix (Once), Lucy (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe), Marinka (The House with Chicken Legs), Nobody Owens (The Graveyard Book), Lila (The Firework Maker’s Daughter) etc.
The villain is the antagonist that creates problems for the hero/heroine. They usually try to prevent the hero/heroine from reaching their goal or may clash on a quest for similar interests.
Examples: Voldemort (Harry Potter Series), Sebastian Eels (Malamander), Scramashank (Podkin One-Ear), Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker (James and the Giant Peach), Eudora Vane (Brightstorm), The Ice Queen (Sky Song), Miss Trunchbull (Matilda) etc.
3.) The Helper
The helper can often be a wise old man or magician (but certainly not always) that supports the hero/heroine in their quest and often appears during a critical moment in the story.
Examples: Hermione (Harry Potter Series), Praveen (When the Mountains Roared), Cludge (Varjak Paw), Sam (The Light Jar), The Queen (The B.F.G.), Dr Barnardo (Street Child), Mina (Skellig), Matteo (Rooftoppers), Virgo (Who Let the Gods Out) etc.
4.) The Donor
The donor is a character that imparts their wisdom or a magical items to the hero/heroine. The donor and helper are usually combined as one and the same. The donor may also be unpredictable and not easily swayed. They may not give up their gift without setting the hero/heroine another task first.
Examples: Dumbledore (Harry Potter Series), Glinda the Good Witch of the North (The Wizard of Oz), Fairy Godmother (Cinderella), Genie (Aladdin) etc.
5.) The Dispatcher
The dispatcher is a character who dispatches (sends) the hero on their mission. Dispatchers can be combined with roles such as donor, helper or false hero.
Examples: Dumbledore (Harry Potter Series), Nate Pullman (Wonder), Mother (Little Red Riding Hood), Gandalf (The Hobbit), Cadellin Silverbrow (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen) etc.
6.) The Prize
Propp describes this as the princess but we will refer to this as the prize. Generally, the prize is for the hero/heroine in completing the mission; he/she gains their affection, seeks marriage, or perhaps rescues them from the villain. The prize may be seen very little in the story or could be an integral character (e.g. where they accompany the hero/heroine on his mission, where he/she wins their heart by the courage and determination of his/her actions). If we see the prize being won by the false hero, we as readers become increasingly frustrated as we see them fall into their hands.
Examples: Ginny (Harry Potter Series), Abilene (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), Podkin’s mother and father (Podkin One-Ear), The Prince (Sleeping Beauty) etc.
7.) The False Hero/Heroine
Propp describes this character as the false hero but we will refer to it as the false hero/heroine. The false hero/heroine is a character that appears to be heroic and may be mistaken as the real hero/heroine. The false hero/heroine is selfish and manipulative who attempts to steal the hero’s spotlight, take credit for their achievements and may even try to win the prize.
Examples: Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter Series),Vernon Vincent (Atomic! The Vengeance of Vinister Vile), Fulbert Freakfinder (Stitch Head), The Wizard of Oz (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) etc.
Just as children in KS2 should be taught the various story types that they might encounter, so too should they understand the types of characters they might read about. Not only will this help them understand the roles characters play, but also allows them to predict what might happen and start making links and comparisons with other characters they have read about in the past.
Download the 'Series of 7' resources HERE!