Fellow Fable fans! I wrote this the other day. I'm hoping it's relavant to the community - it is Proppian analysis, afterall.
In the wake of the breadcrumbs (filched when the evil stepmother wasn't looking) and talking animals (the best
, naturally, was in boots) left in the wake of Vladimir Propp's formalist functional classification of folk-tales, I'm wondering if his methodology can be harnessed to classify popular genre fiction. More specifically, to 1) civilly register the ironically All-American dream of the ubermensch
and 2) the current (mainly) neo-Norse selection of fantasy fiction.
Briefly, Propp's function-based methodology was a break from the motif-based scholarship of Veselovskij and the classification-by-narrative-weight of Aarne. He saw characters and incidences as simply fulfilling plot functions in folk-tales. Further, he noted that the number of functions in folk-tales in limited, and that the sequence of functions is always identical - he concluded then that all folk-tales are of one type with regard to their structure.
Now, the case against (because it's easier to be cynical):
The most striking problem is that popular fiction is a chaotically polytheistic pantheon. By contrast, no new folk-tales are being added to the canon. This means that for popular genre fiction, the markers of genre are shifting with every new release of key texts. It'll be like propping up boundaries in quicksand. (Yeah, that's the old anti-genre-classification argument.)
Second, the superhero comics industry is so much more postmodernist than Propp's milieu. Narration is not necessarily in a traditionally chronological once-upon-a-time-then-happily
-ever-after style. There's in media res
, flashbacks and a tight extra-diegetic universe. Worse, universes
- where different agents rework different functions. The 'What If...'
universes were the first I thought of...then i realize there's also Earth-2
, Astro City
and definitely others. And the movie universes, which are in prime position to accumulate enough cultural capital such that they can inflect their meaning upon the core universes, such that what previously came to pass is now never was.
The proposition then
says that stories change anyway. They first need to be born - someone has to think them up. Later on, stories decay (cf. various passages in Genesis and Kings). Closer to Propp, the Grimm tales were Chinese-whispered throughout Europe by generation after generation of nursemaids and godknowshowmany regional dialects - things like little red-caps were lost in translation, and steps were added to mothers...so increased mutability should not stop a formalist classification. Superhero stories are similarly chimerical mutants.
And the non-key texts, they prop up genre conventions and narrative structural functions through their sheer volume and force or repetition (this force, tail-bitingly, from existing genre dictates and expectations)
*chews on sardine puff, thinking some more*