Fantasy Tropes

Monday, November 24, 2014

Back in 2012, one of my polls (here and here) involved Fantasy tropes (and it was one of my most popular poll). My question was about the most common Fantasy tropes found in our beloved genre and from a list of my own, you chose which of them you were tired the most of. Here's the list:

Righteous thieves/assassins 
Elder races
Elves/dwarves (or other races)
Evil dark lords
Farm boy saving the world
Middle-east references
Unevolved old worlds
Artifact/sword McGuffin
Apostrophes/names with G's and K's
Black-cowled assassins covers
All of them

The answer that stood out from the crowd was the farm boy saving the world. Recently, in three separate posts, io9 (andToybox) revived the topic. The discussion is not centered solely around Fantasy literature but in my case, my comments will be. They tackled the following subjects related to tropes:

10 Tropes Involving Fantasy Weapons That Should Die In A Fire
What Common Medieval Fantasy Tropes Have No Basis In Actual History?
7 Worldbuilding Tropes Science Fiction and Fantasy needs to Stop using

Just for sharing and the sake of discussion (wouldn't it be nice with a cold dark beer in hand, in pint format evidently!), here's my thoughts on the first list.  Feel free to comment!

1. The Reforged Weapon
Indeed, and it's a trope dating back to Tolkien with Anduril/Narsil. Even if this one could grow tiresome, I'm not aware of much recent Fantasy books resolving around the reforging of an ancient weapon? What about you?

2. The Secret Legend in Your Back Pocket
This one I agree completely.  This is kind of absurd but as with each trope, it still can be twisted for the benefit of the story.

3. Mystical Materials
I'm not tired of this one.  I think that mystical materials are an inherent part of Fantasy. When you created a world with magic or supernatural elements... that's kind of a necessity....

4. The Absurdly Sharp Blade
Can't deny, that's true, but even more so when you put the "absurdly" adjective in the name of the trope...

5. The Rusted and Dented Swords of Evil
This is found more often in movies/series/comics/visual supports.  I don't remember a book where the swords of "evil" were more rusted and dented...

6. Weapons Tied to Specific Races
This trope tends to die of its own in the recent Fantasy literature.  Still, in everything related to the Dungeon and Dragons universe... I admit that in videogames, I kind of like my dwarf to wield an axe and my elf a bow!

7. The Weapon Too Big to Be Useful
Here again, not sure if that applies much to recent Fantasy literature. I remember some swords that could have been in this category, like Karsa's sword in MBotF but the way Karsa is built, it looks like it's still useful.

8. Unusually Plot-Specific Ability
My god how I hate this one and I always mentions it in my reviews when it is used.  The most common case usually involves magic that the weilder doesn't really understand. Way too easy for authors to use this trick to get a character out of a impossible situation. Get rid of it!

9. The Evil Weapon That Hungers For Blood and Corrupts the Soul
It's not the most common trope but I admit that it could be an easy one to fall into. Still, Jeff Salyards' redeemed this trope with the Bloodsounder Arc.

10. Weapons With Minds of Their Own using
The last time I read about one was Patrick Weekes' The Palace Job and it was kind of funny. That's also the point of Ms. Trendacosta who wrote the io9 post. Not a bad one that we need to throw into the fire as far as my taste go.


The second post is about the common medieval tropes that have no basis in actual medieval history. io9 links to the quite interesting sub-reddit r/AskHistorians.  As far as Fantasy goes, the authors who choose to write accurate accounts of medieval life in their stories are kind of few. Still, when they do, or when they do like George R.R. Martin and add a nice layer of Fantasy to a world base on actual medieval history (setting), they are probably using many tropes that are only believed to be true. The sub-reddit is right there for us to prove them wrong ;)


Finally but not the least, the 7 worldbuilding tropes that need to disappear.

7. The Evil Empire of Evil Evilness
100% in accordance with this one. Hopefully, contemporary Fantasy literature has washed out most of them (or maybe it's just me who avoids them...).

6. Faux-Medieval Europe
No, no, no. That one is great and I can't tire of it!

5. Insert Apostrophe Here For Exoticness
That one was part of my original poll (Apostrophes/names with G's and K's). I think it's kind of inevitable... and I prefer that to real life names.

4. The Single-Use World
That applies mostly to Sci-fi. No?

3. Common Nouns out the Wazoo
I agree with the author of the post (James Whitbrook) but I didn't find examples in my recent memory of Fantasy books...

2. The Homogeneous Race (That's never Humanity)
I'm biased on this one. The same as the weapons tied to specific races (Erikson's MBotF is a nice example). In my books, I prefer original races but in videogames... I like my elves and dwarves!

1. The Precursor Civilisation
Alright, this is a worldbuilding trope of old. However, it creates so many opportunities... still it ought not to become an obligation. Is there really many Fantasy books that don't use this? Is it a problem? I don't think so but I agree with James: "Not everything has to have happened before." This is more of a problem. Still, you can be quite original with a precursor civilisation.


There you go. What do you think? These tropes need to disappear?


Ghost said...

One trope that really need to disappear is the, "Humans will always find a way to win" trope. In many novels (sci-fi or fantasy), the human race will beat the "other" race 9 out of 10 times. Even when the "other" race has better magic or technology, the human race will, at the end, find a way to win. It really need to go.

Bibliotropic said...

One of the ones that I hate is the idea that the hero can do no wrong. The hero of the tale can kill people in cold blood, but it's okay because they were evil all along. Or they can make mistakes, but those mistakes lead them to vital info or down some path of prophecy or something. They can do damn well whatever they please in the name of goodness and never suffer for it. At best it gets addressed as a necessary evil, but there's rarely any actual punishment for hero-committed crimes because the hero is so damn good. (Harry Potter, I'm looking in your direction here!)

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