TRIZ Textbooks:  CID Course for Children, 1-2G4
Topic 4.  Constructor for the Fairy Tales
       (Propp's Cards)
Fairy Tales School:
Course of Creative Imagination Development (CID), 1st Grade, 2nd Semester, Methodical Guide-Book
Natalia V. Rubina, 1999 [published in Russian]
English translation by Irina Dolina, March 13, 2001
Technical Editing by Toru Nakagawa, May 1, 2001
Posted in this "TRIZ Home Page in Japan" in English on May 8, 2001 under the permission of the Author.
(C) N.V. Rubina, I. Dolina, and T. Nakagawa 2001

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Topic 4.  Constructor for the Fairy Tales 
(Propp's Cards)

Lesson 1

1.  Warming up

     "Yes-No" from a fairy tale.
     "To match incompatible".
     "Index Card for the first grade. Part 2".

2.  Home work

     Pictures of the "Spoiled fairy tales".

3.  Introduction to the lesson

     The topic of our lesson today is very unusual: "Constructor for the fairy tales".
     You certainly know what a constructor is.  It is a set of parts that can construct something.
     And what is a constructor for the fairy tales?

     Before answering let's go back to a far away past.  Maybe it was like this about  1000 years ago…

4.  Main topic

        Once upon a time on a sunny morning all the boys who had never hunted before, were called together on a large clearing near the river.  Each one was equipped for a long trip.  An old man who in their childhood had been cutting for them wooden toys, led them deep into the woods.  Of course they were frightened.  But how could they show the fear to their friends?  They walked along for a long time and reached a small hut.  They had heard a lot about this hut: those who had been to this hut and come alive, would be strong and safe.  What was in store for them in this hut?  The old man led them to the gate, knocked and pronounced some words.  All the boys were let inside.  Summer passed and  autumn came, winter brought snow and frost, spring was short, the sun melted the snow, it began dripping… The boys turned into the men during this hard year.  Now they will be able to go hunting with the adults, will have beards, build their own house, have a family.  One day their sons will go to this misterious hut to keep their ansestors' traditions going.

     Music will help to create the atmosphere of an ancient legend.  You may use the music by Russian and foreign composers for the fairy tales (you may create musical illustrations to Propp's cards).   Our children have developed a very peculiar habit: they know Russian fairy tales very poorly and they don't know the foreign fairy tales – they were replaced by the charactrs of the popular animated cartoons.   Of course, it's impossible and even not necessary to forbid to watch the television, to limit the children's curiousity.  Besides, the adventures of these inventive characters might be rather useful for developing the imagination and fantasy of the kids.

     The CID classes on Propp's cards are based on the Russian folk tales, on the fairy tales written by  Andersen,  the Grimm brothers, Pushkin and others.   This is an amazing world full of mysteries and unexpected discoveries. The children will feel free, relaxed  and they will be able to create there.

     Something in this story reminds of a fairy tale.
     It looks possible that, standing near this very hut, Ivan, the son of a farmer, said: "Hut, turn your front to me  and your backside to the forest!"
     We have already realized that a fairy tale as any system consists of parts.  V. J. Propp, a great expert and a true lover of the fairy tales compared the fairy tales of different nations.  He found out that all of them, though very different and with peculiar national traits, have much in common.  Each of them has the obligatory parts that make up the plot of a fairy tale.  If one writes out the titles of the fairy tales' parts on the separate cards, there will  be the cards that can be used to create new fairy tales.  Today we'll see those cards and learn to create fairy tales with their help.

     Remember the popular fairy tales, find examples for each card.  The examples you will find in the end of this book (see Appendix 3) might be of help.  Now make a picture of how you see the plot of each card.

1.  Absence of a family member 


2.  Interdiction imposed on the character


3.  Violation of the interdiction


4.  Act of sabbotage (or a shortage)


5.  Obtaining a magic article (a grantor)


6.  Beginning resistence


7.  Problem is being eliminated


8.  Return of the character


9.  The character is offered a difficult assignment 


10.  Victory, gift, happiness


     J. Rodari in his book "Grammar of  Fantasy" wrote about Propp's cards, about the structure of the fairy tales and about the ways to use all of them to develop the children's imagination.  The abstracts from this book are given in the commentaries to this topic.

      What the fairy tales tell us and what they conceal really happened long time ago.  The structure of a fairy tale repeats the structure of an ancient ritual.  On this assumption N. J. Propp (and not he alone) built a theory according to which a fairy tale appeared after a particular ancient ritual had died and left only a memory in a form of a tale.  The story tellers in the course of thousands of years were concerned about the demands of a tale itself and the tale coming from mouth to mouth was enriched by new versions, accompanied  the nations in their wandering, and absorbed the results of historic and economic transformations.

     In short, the birth of a fairy tale by all accounts is a result of a deminishing of the world of beliefs, in the same way the ancient rituals and objects of worship were transformed into the toys and put into the children's stuff.  For example, a doll or a wolf.  And what about the theater – that passed through the processes of the worship to the secular world view?

     The  theory, put forward by V. J. Propp, is very attractive because it establishes a deep (some people would say " on the level of communal subconciousness") link between a prehistoric boy, who is maturing in accordance with the ancient ritual, and a boy of a historically reviewed epochs, who with the help of a fairy tale can enter the world of adults.  In accordance with Propp's theory the simmilarity existing between a child who hears the tale about  The Little Finger from his mother and Little Finger himself from a fairy tale has not only psychological basis but also another, deeper physiological basis.

     Having analysed the structure of a folk tale, V. J. Propp articulated the following three points:

1.  "The functions of the characters of the fairy tale, no matter who they are and what they do, are the constant, stable elements."
2.  "The number of the functions known to a fairy tale is limited."
3.  "The succession of the functions is always the same."
     Naturally, not all the fairy tales have all functions; the succession of the functions can be broken; the skips, additions, synthesis are possible; however this doesn't contradict the major plot.  A fairy tale may begin with the first function, with the seventh one or with the twelfth, but , of course, a fairy tale is rather old and it unlikely will come backwards, restore the missing parts.

     The function, named "absence" and put by Propp in the first place, can be connected with any character, who for some reason has to leave his home: it may be a prince going to a war, a father on the brink of death, a merchant going overseas on a business trip, one of the parents leaving for work (warning their children - this is an "interdiction"- not to open the door to anybody or not to touch a certain object) and so on.  Each function can contain its own antonym: say, instead of "an interdiction" - "a command" of a positive kind.

     At this point we finish our analysis of "Propp's functions".   We'll advise everybody who has a desire to practice by comparing the mentioned list of functions with the plot of any adventure movie.   It is amazing how many coincidences are to be found and the same order of events is to be preserved.  This is what the fairy tale's tradidion is about, how stable it is, how it lives for ever in our culture.  The same line is observed in many adventure novels.

     We are interested in these functions because on their basis we can make up an unlimited number of the stories, just as you can compose as many melodies as you wish, disposing of twelve notes (not to count one quarter of tones, i.e. remaining in the framework of an accepted in the West strictly limited sound system of the pre-electronic music era).

     …I saw that with the help of these "cards" the children could easily compose a fairy tale, because every word of it (defining a function or a fairy tale topic) is full of fairy stuff and is easily can be changed.  I remember how unusually the "intradiction" was understood: leaving home the father ordered the kids not to throw the flower pots from the balcony on the heads of the passersby…  When we were talking about "difficult tests", somebody suggested the main character going to the cemetery at midnight: until a certain age a child thinks it to be the utmost courage - nothing seems to be less frightening.

     But the children like to shift cards and make up their own rules: for example, to compose a story based on three cards drawn out at random or to begin to make up a tale from the end or to devide a pack into two parts and work in two groups, competing, whose story will be more interesting.  It happens sometimes that a single card can start a fairy tale.  Thus, the card, depicting "fairy gifts" turned to be enough for a fourth grade student to make up a story about a pen that can do a homework.

     …Why  am I insisting on Propp's cards?  It seems that it is possible to use other elements of the game, full of intersting ideas.  You may take at random a few pictures or take out some words from a dictionary.  In my opinion, the advantages of the "Propp's cards" are obvious: each of them is a whole section of the fairy world.  For the kids, accustomed to any extent to the fairy tales, its vocabulary and fairy tales' topics, every such card has a polyphonic choir of the magic voices.

     Besides every Propp's "function" has links with the child's inner world.  Having read the word "interdiction", he immediately associates it with his own experience – with all kinds of interdictions typical to his family ("don't touch", "don't play with the water", "leave alone a hammer ").  Not realizing it, the child experiences again his first contact with the thing, when his mom's "yes" or "no" helped him to distinguish between allowed and not allowed.  "Interdiction" for a child is also his acquaintance with authority and school authority.  But an interdiction has its positive side ("interdiction" and "instruction" are functionally equal).  For example, introducing the rules of the game : "this is allowed and this is not" - beginning of how a child realizes the borders of his independence, marked by life and society; this is one of the ways to make him a community member.

     According to Propp, the fairy tale structure copies not only a ritual of initiation, but somehow has something in common with the structure of the child's experience, inevitably including the accomplishment of a task, and single combats, and difficult tests and disappointments.  A child has an experience of receiving the "magic gifts": in Italy, for example, from Befana and from the new born Christ.  Mother and father for a long time have remained for their child the "magic grantors" and superior creatures.  The child inhabits his world with mighty alies and fierce enemies for a long time.

     Thus, to my mind, "the functions" to a certain extent help a child to look into himself.  They are always near at hand, tested lots of times, and therefore easily applied; to neglect them seems too much wasteful.

     J.Rodari, Grammar of a fantasy, M. "Progress", 1990, pp.73-78.

6.  Activities on developing speaking skills or designing a creative product

     Try to make up a fairy tale about your class, using Propp's cards.
     Make a picture of a fairy tale about your class.

Lesson 2

1.  Warming-up

     "Yes-No" from the fairy tale.
     "To match incompatible".
     "Card index for the first grade, part 2".

2.  Home work

     Pictures and fairy tales about our class.

3.  Introduction to the lesson

     We know already what will happen if we "spoil" a fairy tale.  And what will happen if we mix up and "spoil" the constructor for the fairy tales?

4.  Main topic

     To work with Propp's cards is a very interesting and useful game.  You may make up with the children your own rules of this game.  Prepare writing paper, special paper, color pencils, markers.  You will need all these to write down and to make pictures of your new tales.  Composing the fairy tales with the help of Propp's cards gives the children an opportunity to "talk about", "experience" their fears, different "complexes".  It's common knowledge that things you can laugh at stop to be scary.  And while making up a fairy tale, the children get an opportunity to laugh at everything that frightens them or gets in their way.  So, create the fairy tales, draw pictures and be happy together with the children!

     Move Propp's cards.
     Choose a character for your new fairy tale.
     Try to make up a fairy tale, using "a mixed up" constructor.
     Draw a picture to your fairy tale.
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