A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

Vladimir Propp and the methodology used to study folk culture

Issue 26
Vladimir Propp  and the methodology used to study folk culture

After Vladimir Propp proposed theoretical foundations for the study of the tale, he focused on exploring the tale’s historical roots in his study ‘ The Historical Roots of the Wonder Tale’ (1946). I will use the French translation published in 1983 to introduce Propp’s historical approach to studying tales.

The book consists of an Introduction and ten chapters entitled Background; Drawstrings; Mysterious forest; Great house; Magic gifts; Crossing; Rivers of fire; Distant lands; Bride; and Tale as a whole. The book is considered the second part of Propp’s study of folktales, which began with his work ‘Morphology of the Folktale’. Originally, ‘The Historical Roots of the Wonder Tale’ was supposed to be part of the last chapter of Propp’s first book, but it was so long that he published it as a separate work.

As Daniel Fabre and Jean-Claude Schmitt wrote in the Introduction to ‘The Historical Roots of the Wonder Tale’, the root of the tale takes us to the origin of communities so it is, by definition, unlimited by time.

Propp’s structure can be read as a clarification of the semantic system of the wonder tale, which is unrestricted by time. The wonder tale addresses subjects such as royal succession, the transition to young adulthood, and the spiritual journey to other worlds. However, the book goes beyond these subjects and addresses historical, ethnographic and folkloric research at the international level. Propp was thirty years ahead of his time when he defended the ethnographic value of folklore.
Propp’s student, folklore scholar Boris Nikolaevič Putilov (1919-1997), summarised the primary principle of ethnography that Propp considered the cornerstone of his methodology: “In spite of the fairytale’s limited structure, it is structurally related to the rituals and concepts of primitive communities. However, the relationship between folklore and ethnography is not always direct, although both are present in each case… we have to find the ethnographic component responsible for such folkloric material...”

In the Introduction, Propp questioned the best way to approach the tale within its historical framework and to trace its historical roots. He explained that his

Yaqub Yosuf Al-Muharraqi

All Issue