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Favorite or Least Favorite Fantasy Tropes

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message 1: by Mason (last edited Mar 01, 2012 12:53PM) (new)

Mason | 20 comments So, in following the "Mysterious Tower Trope" discussion from Locke Lamorra [crap!] Lamora, I started to wonder about other tropes in fantasy. Adrian posted a link to a site that collects all sorts of tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php....), but I didn't see anything specific to fantasy. I'm curious what you folks think of various tropes in this genre. Are there ones that are anathema to you? Are there ones that will pull you in no matter how many times you see them? Maybe trope isn't even the right word; perhaps what I'm asking about are literary devices. In any case, any thoughts?


message 2: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Mason wrote: "Mason | 3 comments So, in following the "Mysterious Tower Trope" discussion from Locke Lamorra, I started to wonder about other tropes in fantasy. Adrian posted a link to a site that collects all sorts of tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Ma...), but I didn't see anything specific to fantasy."

All the fantasy tropes can be found through this page.

The absolute worst trope is, "You thought you were just an ordinary kid from a podunk town, but you're actually the most important person in the universe!!!!1!1!!!11!!eleventy!!one!!!" Great for kids' stories, but I don't understand why adults gobble that tripe up. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony.


message 3: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments Yes, my least favorite is also the farmhand-is-really-hidden-prince/chosen/destined, etc. Related to this is also the "coming of age" portion of such stories, the whole process is usually a slog for me, waiting for the "real" action to begin.


message 4: by Micah (new)

Micah (onemorebaker) | 1071 comments Sean wrote: "Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony. ."

I knew he was a king because he didn't have shit all over him!


message 5: by Warren (new)

Warren | 1556 comments Vance wrote: "Yes, my least favorite is also the farmhand-is-really-hidden-prince/chosen/destined, etc. Related to this is also the "coming of age" portion of such stories, the whole process is usually a slog f..."

Or- I'm a unpopular mouse haired girl
but once people find out that I have magical power
they'll all love me.

"Burn her. She's a witch!"


message 6: by Mason (new)

Mason | 20 comments Vance wrote: "Yes, my least favorite is also the farmhand-is-really-hidden-prince/chosen/destined, etc. Related to this is also the "coming of age" portion of such stories, the whole process is usually a slog f..."

This actually touches upon two of my biggest literary peeves: prophecy and aggrandized bildungsroman. These have been over-relied upon for much of fantastic literature and have been done so often to less than stellar effect, so it's like having a paper cut on the hand you keep using to get more salty chips--you keep going back and keep getting stung. It's nice to see a writer who can either take one of these devices and turn it on its head or rise above the cliche. Patrick Rothfuss does a pretty good job of telling a coming-of-age story that rises above the trope while still flirting with many of its oft-used paths. I can't think of the last time I read a story of prophecy, though, that didn't make me want to eat a bard.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Mason wrote: "This actually touches upon two of my biggest literary peeves: prophecy and aggrandized bildungsroman."

You said it more eloquently than I would have. I would append, the Chosen One farmhand kid getting his world-saving magic powers just for being the Chosen One, without years of training or study. I prefer heroes who have to use a bit of smarts or skill to succeed, not just whine for half the epic, then unleash some deus ex machina power at the climax.

On the prophecy note, I really appreciated Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar books for that: (view spoiler)


message 8: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments Joe, I agree entirely, but almost as bad is a tedious process by which he DOES have to learn this or that over a long period, with (as you say) all the whining and angst that does along with it! :0)


message 9: by aldenoneil (new)

aldenoneil | 1000 comments Montage.


message 10: by Micah (new)

Micah (onemorebaker) | 1071 comments Alex wrote: "I don't like the fantasy "checklist". As in, collecting a series of items before you can face the evil lord. Magic sword? Check. Scantily-clad female sidekick? Check. Worn river stone? Check. Check. Dark lord ready to be annihilated."

Seconded. The checklistyness (yes I did just make that adjective up) of a lot of video games gets to me too.


message 11: by Kate (new)

Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments It's hard to pick out a trope I don't like, because almost any trope, no matter how cliched and lame, can be done well. For instance, I hate Bond Creatures, partly because it never seems believable, and partly because I have no interest in animals, and a lot of it seems predicated on the notion that it would be really awesome to be able to talk to your dog.

But that said, Robin Hobb's Six Duchies books are one of my favourite series, she managed to do companion animals in a way that didn't irritate me (view spoiler). Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette have a series that basically rips animal bonding fantasy to shreds, which I also love.


message 12: by Mason (new)

Mason | 20 comments What about other tropes?

* Polytheistic pantheons
* The mysterious benefactor
* The traitor (either one who succumbs to darkness, a la Boromir or Raistlin, or one who was always treacherous, e.g Gollum)

I realize in trying to list these that I'm thinking along the lines of tired cliches. Are there any good fantasy devices, or are the devices more neutral, lending their goodness or badness to the skill of the writer?


message 13: by Warren (new)

Warren | 1556 comments Good list. There are probably writing who are taking notes.
;-)
Don't forget the traitor who isn't really a traitor but really a secret agent of......


message 14: by Kate (last edited Mar 02, 2012 08:10AM) (new)

Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments Mason wrote:
* The traitor (either one who succumbs to darkness, a la Boromir or Raistlin, or one who was always treacherous, e.g G..."


I love turncoats.

*edit* In fact I love all sorts of betrayal tropes http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php...


message 15: by Ian (new)

Ian Roberts | 143 comments How about the ridiculous coincidence/confluence of heroes/baddies/gods all in the same place at the same time (often via convoluted plot contrivances) - much as I love his series, Steven Erikson - guilty as charged!


message 16: by Skaw (new)

Skaw | 116 comments Nothing is really new, so its hard to escape a plot device that's been used before. For me, its whether I enjoy the book or not. If I enjoy it, then it doesn't matter to me that the trope is a common one. It's only when I'm not really enjoying the book that such things bother me.


message 17: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) Skaw wrote: "Nothing is really new, so its hard to escape a plot device that's been used before. For me, its whether I enjoy the book or not. If I enjoy it, then it doesn't matter to me that the trope is a comm..."

Well said, I have to agree with you. As long as it has been done well and I'm enjoying the read, I really don't care how many times a particular trope or plot device has been used in the past.


message 18: by running_target (last edited Mar 02, 2012 10:26AM) (new)

running_target (running_t4rg3t) | 52 comments Micah wrote: "Alex wrote: "I don't like the fantasy "checklist". As in, collecting a series of items before you can face the evil lord. Magic sword? Check. Scantily-clad female sidekick? Check. Worn river stone?..."

Come on, you need to get the Fus and the Rah before you get that dough. You know what I'm sayin'?

I'm comfortably sitting around the fire in the "Adolescent-of-Destiny-hating" camp. Whatshisname from The Eye of the World? Blech. Vin (Vinh? Listened to audiobook) from Mistborn: The Final Empire? Ugh. Harry Potter. . . I like Harry, leave him alone.


message 19: by terpkristin (new)

terpkristin | 4144 comments I'm a big fan of the "past civilization was highly advanced but that is lost to history" trope seen in both fantasy and science fiction. I love the discovery aspect...


message 20: by kvon (last edited Mar 02, 2012 06:19PM) (new)

kvon | 562 comments I'll go with people who's power levels increase each book/episode, and they have to fight bigger and bigger monsters each time. See Anita Blake. Subverted in Buffy's 6th season, when she faced the three nerds.

For the best fantasy tropes list, see The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. You'll never see stew the same way again.


message 21: by Keith (new)

Keith Kelly (nedkelly) | 79 comments terpkristin wrote: "I'm a big fan of the "past civilization was highly advanced but that is lost to history" trope seen in both fantasy and science fiction. I love the discovery aspect..."

Agreed!

Really enjoyed that trope in the Mass Effect games too.


message 22: by Adrian (last edited Mar 03, 2012 02:26AM) (new)

Adrian (aashdown) Not so keen on the trope of:

Hypocrytical priesthood trying to take over the realm for own selfish purposes with utter disregard to the welfare of the populace, while at the same time being instrumental in the extreme oppression of the lower-classes. Branding any who hold differing views as heretics, and raining tyranical vengence down upon the unbelievers.


... err. sorry i may have missed the point there ... was the question actually about books? :-)


message 23: by Esther (new)

Esther (eshchory) Rite of passage have to be my least favourite. Chosen one comes a close second.


message 24: by Ewan (new)

Ewan (ewanreads) | 94 comments I agree with the sentiment of this thread but have to say that when they're done well all of these tropes have value (even the farm boy become emperor *cough* rand al'thor *cough*) Its all in the execution.


message 25: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Joe wrote: "Mason wrote: "This actually touches upon two of my biggest literary peeves: prophecy and aggrandized bildungsroman."

You said it more eloquently than I would have. I would append, the Chosen One f..."


It would be eloquent if I understood what it meant. Aggrandised what?..........


message 26: by Bree (new)

Bree (breeatlast) | 52 comments Funny, I was just thinking of how I hate the use of 'a past life that is suddenly remembered' or some sort of magical heritage that 'awakens in the blood' as a way of spontaneously developing the main character into a proper hero or heroine capable of facing whatever task lies before them. No fighting skills? No magical powers? No clue what the hell you're doing? NO PROBLEM! We will mainline someone straight into your brain who doesn't suck quite so badly! Jeez, what happened to hard work and practice? ;)


message 27: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Adrian wrote: "Not so keen on the trope of:

Hypocrytical priesthood trying to take over the realm for own selfish purposes with utter disregard to the welfare of the populace, while at the same time being instr..."


You missed out the widespread child abuse and covering up of same.


message 28: by Mason (new)

Mason | 20 comments Noel wrote: It would be eloquent if I understood what it meant. Aggrandised what?.........

Sorry, I think I let my lit side get carried away there. Bildungsroman is the official fancy-pants way of saying a coming-of-age story. It does seem as though it's the kind of trope that is easy to rely upon. Maybe it's because it appears so often in the seminal stories that kick us off in fantasy (King Arthur, Frodo, etc.) that writers have to tell their versions of that story.

The dislike of the forgotten-heir-who-magically-gets-his-powers-by-an-accident-of-fate trope reminds me of an article I read a while ago comparing superheroes, many of whom get their powers from accidents, and supervillains, many of whom gain their abilities through hard work and ingenuity. The comparison was interesting, though hardly comprehensive. I wish I could remember where I read it.


message 29: by Rob (new)

Rob Osterman (robosterman) It is an interesting twist that some heroes seem to get their powers strictly from luck while villains often work to get them. The trope there seems to be that if you work at it, you will become bitter of those who are handed it. Take Megamind. Metroman is born with great powers and is flying around as a baby. Megamind has to build a flying machine just to catch up and the added work makes him snarky and cynical. Ditto in the Incredibles. It's not so much that someone had to work that makes them the villian as much as we seem drawn to stories and villains who become Bitter at working for what others are handed.

And I think that jives with reality. There ~Is~ something frustrating about spending a year to learn and master a skill that someone else can just pick up ~and~ do better than you. I spend a year learning the guitar, and in 3 days you're riffing Clapton? Really?

Tangently, Nathan Fillian also quipped that his favorite super hero was Green Lantern because anyone could become a Lantern. No special powers, no freak accidents. Just some alien willing to take a chance on you and give you a power ring. There is something attractive in that.

Last thought, I don't think all Tropes are bad. I think Cliches are bad, but I feel like we often use Trope a perjorative.


message 30: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Rob wrote: "It is an interesting twist that some heroes seem to get their powers strictly from luck while villains often work to get them. The trope there seems to be that if you work at it, you will become b..."

That is a very interesting observation Rob. Do you think that is a metaphor for what Marx may have considered the great class struggle?
The bourgeoisie, those that have inherited their wealth and land being the good guys, fighting the common proletariat who are ugly and unwashed who have to fight hard for any advancement. This model insidiously supports the powers that be against the downtrodden masses.


message 31: by Rob (new)

Rob Osterman (robosterman) I'm not sure. I think it could be for some writers, as we are all, in a way, affected by the times we live in. For example a lot of modern film has industrialists as the bad guys and "the little guy" rising up against the odds.

But now that you mention it, look at Spiderman and two quotes that are often easily swapped:
With great power comes great responsibility.
To whom much is given, much is expected.

Being sympathetic of the times that many Superhero stories began, things like "An accident" or "Alien birth" were easy ways to catapult Joe or Jane average into the role of someone charged to save the universe. Then we factor in the implausability of having ~too~ many foes that have similar origin stories. Sure Superman can take on Zod, but we can't populate the entire universe with Zods.

It then lets us tap the villain we can understand if not sympathize with: The jealous technomancer. He (or she) sees how the hero takes their awesome power and uses it selflessly rather than for personal gain. So they become inspired to work at becoming equal in power, though expressly for that personal glory.

I think we don't see a perfect Marxian metaphor in that the villain isn't so much the unwashed masses but that the masses can easily be swayed to follow "evil" with the right incentives.

You have thus three players:
Hero - Gifted by fate with Power and a drive to do good.
Villain - Who worked hard to earn power but does evil.
Minions of Evil - Poor sods with kids to feed who fall in with the villain because, well, it's a steady job with decent dental.


message 32: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments terpkristin wrote: "I'm a big fan of the "past civilization was highly advanced but that is lost to history" trope seen in both fantasy and science fiction. I love the discovery aspect..."

Exactly, if they DO get around to discovering it! As a huge archaeology nut, this appeals to me. It is more annoying when it is just used for "depth" in the world, like wallpaper.


message 33: by Keith (new)

Keith (keithatc) I don't mind tropes and formula when it is well done. As others have said, so many stories have been told that things are bound to pop up over and over. That said, I almost always hate "he is the Chosen One foretold by The Prophecy."

Also on my crap list, two pieces of dialogue:

1. "You will know when the time is right."
We are fighting the ultimate evil who will plunge the world into darkness. Stop screwing around, you wizardy jackass, and just tell me when I should plunge the sword into the sacred stone or whatever. My favorite subversion of this is the movie Dragonslayer, when the wizard tells Peter MacNicol he will know when the time is right, then when the time is right, Peter knows because the wizard is screaming, "NOW! The time is right now!"

2. And this one has been bugging me a lot because it happens constantly in the Harry Dresden books I'm working my way through (urban fantasy, I know, but close enough. It's an exchange that goes a little like this:

"Umm, hero..."
"Not now!"
"But I really think you should see this..."
"I SAID NOT NOW!"

Who speaks like this? If a giant demon/dragon/biker is sneaking up behind you, and your friend/all powerful spirit guide sees him, wouldn't he just yell "There's a demon behind you!" instead of being all coy and allowing himself to be cut off???


message 34: by Mike (new)

Mike | 41 comments One of my least favorite tropes would have to be the characters whose moral compass is always pointing towards righteousness, right from the begining of the book. The ones who always have the right answer, who never make mistakes and will never be tempted to stray from the path of GOOD. I'm not saying I want books with no good guys or bad guys, and I'm a huge sucker for a happy ending, but I like my heroes to make mistakes and take some falls and learn something along the way. Anyone else agree?


message 35: by Vance (new)

Vance | 362 comments Keith, yes on both of those! It rarely happens that all of the secrecy, cryptic language, slow parceling out of information from "wise one" to "hero" ends up being justified. In almost every case, all would have been a LOT easier if the "wise one" had just said "boy, let me sit you down and tell you everything I can about this situation . . ."


message 36: by Micah (new)

Micah (onemorebaker) | 1071 comments Rob wrote: "Minions of Evil - Poor sods with kids to feed who fall in with the villain because, well, it's a steady job with decent dental. "

You've pegged me! At least I don't have to wear a red shirt.


message 37: by Derek (new)

Derek Knox (snokat) | 274 comments I enjoy stories where the villain finds himself in a position to save the world and must choose if he will. And also stories where it turns out the hero is doing more harm than good because of his strick moral code.


message 38: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Snokat wrote: "And also stories where it turns out the hero is doing more harm than good because of his strick moral code."

Like how in the first Harry Potter book, if Harry hadn't snuck out of the dorms, Voldemort would've been stuck at the Mirror of Erised until Dumbledore returned from London? Or in Raiders, if Indie had gone back to the US after saving Marion, the Nazi's would've been stuck digging in the wrong place, and even if they did find the Ark, God would've fried them anyway?


message 39: by Derek (new)

Derek Knox (snokat) | 274 comments No. I mean more along the lines of like the catholic church butchering millions in the name of god. And then being named saints. A hero who refuses to see the gray in the world and ends up losing a chance to end a problem quickly, so many more are hurt before he solves the problem his way. I especially enjoy it if he gets taken out by his companions because his adherence to his code makes the problem worse.

And by villain who must decide if he will do good, I don't mean a rogue with a heart of good. I mean the bloody and ruthless kind who's busy carving out a criminal empire, and must decide whether to work with invaders, criminal organization moving into his area, etc, or to turn his bloody tactics against them to help his city, country, etc. While grabbing as much as he can of course.

I guess i'm an anti-hero at heart, at best. Or perhaps a villain wait his moment to strike, at worst. 8-D


message 40: by Joe Informatico (new)

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Mason wrote: "What about other tropes?

* Polytheistic pantheons


I don't dislike polytheistic pantheons, but I don't like how most are handled in fantasy fiction. I get the sense many model themselves after early Dungeons & Dragons, where most settings had polytheistic pantheons, but each deity had an independent church hierarchy loosely based on militant religious orders of the medieval Catholic Church.

Real-world polytheistic societies weren't so stratified and didn't really have the concept of "holy war" that monotheistic societies did. I'm not saying all fantasy fiction should pattern itself on real-world practices, but a little variety would be nice instead of the standard imposition of an Abrahamic/Manichean/Zoroastrian world-view on polytheist pantheons. Thankfully, Lies of Locke Lamora doesn't seem to be an offender.


message 41: by Derek (new)

Derek Knox (snokat) | 274 comments Joe wrote: "Mason wrote: "What about other tropes?

* Polytheistic pantheons

I don't dislike polytheistic pantheons, but I don't like how most are handled in fantasy fiction. I get the sense many model themse..."



I like the way Lois McMaster Bujold handles religion in The Curse of Chalion. It's well thought out, and makes sense.


message 42: by Keith (new)

Keith (keithatc) Personally, I'm also prone to hate any story where a character from modern times is catapulted into Fantasy Land. This is the fantasy trope double down, because more times than not, they are then also heralded as The Chosen One.

The only exception to my dislike: Army of Darkness.


message 43: by Alterjess (new)

Alterjess | 319 comments Keith wrote: "Personally, I'm also prone to hate any story where a character from modern times is catapulted into Fantasy Land. This is the fantasy trope double down, because more times than not, they are then a..."

Even Narnia?


message 44: by Derek (new)

Derek Knox (snokat) | 274 comments Seems to be mostly in superhero fantasy. Can't remember some, but a few come to mind.

the mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Where it's the criminals leading the fight against the dark overlord.

Confessions of a d-list supervillian. Where an invasion of mind-control aliens has nearly conquered the world and it's up to a 3rd rate villain to save the planet.

Ex-heroes. The zombie apocalypse has come. The superheroes who once patrolled all of LA are reduced to protecting a few walled enclaves where the last of the uninfected humans in the area live. We find out later in the book that one of the superheroes accidentally created the zombie virus, but because someone he cared about was the 1st victim, so he didn't do what was necessary and she escaped setting off the apocalypse.

There are a few to get you going, if I can remember any more i'll post them. But, as you can imagine it's not a very big sub-catagory.


message 45: by Keith (new)

Keith (keithatc) Jess wrote: "Even Narnia? ."

It's been so, so long since I read any of those books (middle school, maybe?). But yeah, they may be exceptions, though I don't remember there being a whole lot of "we can tech you things from our modern world, fantasylander."


message 46: by Michele (new)

Michele | 1154 comments Luke, I am your father (I'm looking at you Terry Goodkind).

Why is it always a group of companions vs the villan and his henchmen? Maybe once in a while the hero should go it alone against a cadre of villans that actually get along and don't constantly try to backstab each other/rise in the ranks of the dark side over each others dead bodies?

Also there's our small group of adventurers constantly outfighting large numbers of faceless baddies.

The hero gets a sword (magic) and no matter if he's a farmboy or not instantly becomes deadly good with it.

Stew! And always sleeping wrapped up in one measly blanket on the ground. And making a big deal about taking a bath, or never mentioning taking a bath, or baths but no changes of clothes. They should all stink constantly. And socks, they're always pulling on their boots but no one has socks.

Yes, side characters who don't just say things like "Hey a monster" but instead tug on a shirtsleeve and are ignored or told to wait.

I love the Guide to Fantasyland, I read it every once in a while and laugh about how many times I've come across all the stuff.


message 47: by Thane (new)

Thane | 476 comments Vance wrote: "Yes, my least favorite is also the farmhand-is-really-hidden-prince/chosen/destined, etc. Related to this is also the "coming of age" portion of such stories, the whole process is usually a slog f..."

So tired of this trope.


message 48: by Ivi_kiwi (new)

Ivi_kiwi | 87 comments people not telling the hero any vital information, because "the time is not right".


message 49: by Nils (new)

Nils Krebber | 183 comments My "favourite" BS version of this is "We don't have time to talk now" - cue long ride/travel montage where the whole BOOK could have been narrated, yet there was still no time to explain the problem.

Also, I am getting quite annoyed by copy/paste cultures. All the easterners are Arabs, all the westerners are middle age Brits/Germanic Knights. Even the ALIENS are based on some caste system or whatever.

Endless slogging through the desert montages. Come on guys, it's a fantasy novel - we KNOW nobody important will die of something as boring as dehydration.


message 50: by Rik (new)

Rik | 777 comments Its all about the execution of the trope. Every book will have some and it just depends on whether the author makes it interesting or not.

One of the most often used is the "chosen one" trope and there are countless examples of it being used well despite its frequent use.


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