Friday, May 30, 2014

Fun Friday 19 ~ What Is Wrong With Fantasy Tropes?

Mulluane | Friday, May 30, 2014 | 8 Comments so far
First I'd like to start out with an apology. I did not do one of these last week because my muse went on strike. I could not for the life of me come up with a question, fun or serious and I had run through the list I made when I first started. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better...

So here is a short weekly recap before we move on to the fun stuff.

Elf Smelling Flower

Now on to the good stuff! 

I see it everywhere. Amazon reviews, goodreads reviews, reviews on blogs. This book, that book, the other book all have too many tropes!

I mean seriously. Evidentually the problem is so bad that bloggers have come up with whole lists of tropes to avoid. (Links are just examples. Actually compliments since their articles made google search's first page!) And look! Even Wikipedia is involved! Which leads me to a question.

What the heck is wrong with tropes!

Prophecies? Love them! Quests? Even better! Dwarves, Trolls, Ogres? I miss my old friends. Damsel in Distress? Heck Yeah! And it is a good thing that dragons are so universally loved my friends or trust me, they would be gone too. 

Now in some ways, breaking outside of the "box" is a good thing and it has definitely lead to some unique and interesting magic systems and secondary worlds. But... It has also led to the new "Grimdark" works and their cousins "Less Dark but still depressing."

I can get depressed watching the news. I don't need any help.

Rare are those "feel good" books of my youth. The type you close with a renewed hope for mankind and a smile on your face. Somebody has even managed to convince authors that writing in as much profanity as possible gives the world a more "realistic" feel.

Realistic Fantasy? Seriously? Who came up with this trainwreck of an idea? If I want realistic I damn sure wouldn't be reading Fantasy which is by definition... fantastic, unreal, imaginary, fun! What ever happened to "suspension of belief?" I want OUT of the real world when I read. Please don't make fantasy more "real."

So how about you? Are you on the "all tropes must be eliminated" side, the "bring back atleast some our beloved tropes" side or somewhere in the middle?

Inquiring minds want to know...

Don't like this question? Look here "Fun Fridays" and see if there is one you do like! Comments are always welcome, even on older posts.

Mulluane is a 55-year-old proud grandmother of 4, who is passionate about her pets, blogging, traditional fantasy, and tinkering with webdesign. She is obssesively photo shy but she uses an avatar that accurately represents her dreams. ♥ You can also find her on:

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Dragons, Heroes and Wizards


  1. Well, your Muse came back from the strike with a GREAT idea!

    As for the much-maligned tropes: someone said that there are only a limited number of story-threads (or tropes, if you want) to go around, and what matters is not that you find new ones, if they even exist, but what you do with the old ones. Good writing, interesting characters - that's what carries a book: if the story keeps me glued to the pages, burning the proverbial midnight oil, that means the writer is doing something good - and tropes be damned! *wink*

    Going over the list of tropes on your first link, I could think offhand of a few great (and successful) exceptions: the prophecy? GRR Martin did great with them, using them as teasers for things to come, not as the inevitable path the characters must tread; the orphan and the wise one? there is something like that in the first book of the Locke Lamora series (I was reminded of it because of your weekly quote), and it twists the trope in an unexpected and funny way; men front and center? maybe the people who have compiled the list have not been keeping up with their reading, recently. I could go on at length...

    As for "realistic fantasy" (yes, it's something of an oxymoron....) there are a few examples - and not grimdark ones, to boot - that can carry a story without need for magic or supernatural beings, and still be entertaining and engrossing. The Locke Lamora books, or Abraham's Long Price Quartet, just to name some of my more recent finds. IMHO, as long as my mind can wander in strange, exotic, or simply *different* places, I'm happy. And when people - like the trope-haters - are trying to fit speculative fiction into a pre-ordained mold, they are totally missing out on the fun of it - still IMHO of course! :-)

    1. Of course it is your honest opinion! That is what I asked for!

      I agree with most everything you said too. Even tropes can be used in strange and wonderful ways.

      Digging deeper into the disaster area that is my brain, I think what I miss most is the "feel good" stories. Eddings, Lackey, McCaffrey, Hobb and many others have all done it. Ended a fantasy on a positive note. An "and they all lived happily ever after" type vibe. Those are my "comfort" reads and the books I reread more often than any other.

      The genre bending books are great in their own way, but they don't have that draw. That "I'm depressed what should I read next" allure. Instead they are more like "I'm depressed and I need to know that all worlds, and not just this one, suck."

      I don't want to know that. I want to believe, for a short time, that with alot of work, a few trials and tribulations, combined with loyalty, friendship, love and trust, it is possible to live happily ever after.

      The old tropey fantasy gave me that.

    2. And yet (and here I'm donning my "snake in the grass" hat - LOL) even Tolkien did not give us a complete happily-ever-after ending... Yes, I hear and understand your reasons for not wanting to wallow in darkness, and there are times when I share them, but I don't think that reading darker fantasy works as a sort of comfort about "other worlds sucking like this one". I believe instead that seeing those characters overcome terrible difficulties, and growing stronger through them, is what gives us the strength to go on.
      If I'm making any sense here....

    3. I'm happy with a semi ending but I personally feel that fantasy has gotten darker and more fatalistic than the fantasy I first fell in love with. Only Disney produces that type of story these days.

      But I do see your point too. Any message that imparts a sense of success against impossible odds is a good message. Harsh worlds demand hard work plus huge and often painful sacrifices. And sometimes even fatal ones.

      (Have I told you lately how much I love these discussions?. Oops... sidetracked a second, moving along.)

      And, to be honest I am in awe of the intricate worldbuilding that these worlds require. But I still miss my tropes. Oh and humor. I really miss humor that offers a break from the mayhem ever so often; like in Anne Bishop's undeniably dark Black Jewels Trilogy. :>P

  2. I do love these discussions as well - and it's not sidetracking IMHO
    Let's call it... "branching out in unexpected directions". How does it sound? **wink**

    About the lack of humor, I agree: even in the darkest of backgrounds we DO need some light - if nothing else, humor - even gallows humor, lacking anything better - offers some much needed counterbalance. The best authors like Martin, Abercrombie, Morgan (just to name some of those I've read) have understood that, and do scatter some between... blood splashes LOL

    Anne Bishop? (((goes to check))) (((comes back)))
    Mmmmm.... Interesting! And the list grows longer... :-)

    1. OMG! You haven't read Anne Bishop? Woman! Where have you been! (lol, like it is possible for everybody to have read that same books I have.)

      That series has some of the best balanced books I've ever read. Pedifiles and tender romance. Sex slaves and laugh out loud moments. A unique magic system, sentient animals (one of my favs in any book), poetic justice, love in every form imaginable and the best part? The denizens of Hell are the "good" guys!

      Basically when it is bad, it is really horrible. When it is good, it is truly wonderful. The balance is beyond price (which is good because I'm on my third copies having worn out the first two.)

      I believe she has jumped on the Urban/Contemporary Fantasy band wagon now, as many of my favorite authors have. Breaks my heart but ya gotta go where the money is. Fortunately the old stuff is still in print.

  3. I know that new ideas are shiny, and new, and exciting, but truly new don't exactly come along every decade. I'd like to have new books to read a little more often than that. {Amused Smile}

    As far as I've seen, most of the "exciting new ideas" are intriguing twists on old ideas. That's not getting away from the old ideas, the tropes. That's just freshening them up a little. In any case, I only see at most a handful a year. I'd like more to read than that, too. {Smile}

    Besides, finding the new ideas won't get away from the od ideas. Yes, Harry Potter introduced wizards with their own popular culture for the first time I'd ever seen. It also included quests, a Dark Lord, A Wise Old Mentor, the intelligent friend and the impulsive friend who help the hero, and I'm sure there's more. {Smile}

    Urban fantasy is not an alternative to tropes; it just borrowed the tropes Mystery and Romance have had for a century or so. If they seem original to fantasy readers, they should read a little more broadly. Especially since the tropes weren't new when Mystery and Romance got them. I've seen a play written by Ovid a couple of centuries ago that featured Young Lovers, an Old Coot, A Hooker With a Heart of Gold, and a Young Buck who thought he was God's Gift to Women getting the Set-Down He Deserved from the hooker and the coot. In his play, those ideas were firmly enough established, I think he must have borrowed them from earlier literature, himself. {SMILE, wink}


    1. You make an interesting point about Urban Fantasy that I hadn't considered before. I never got past vampires as sexy boyfriends and fantasy in modern settings -- "ew, yuk, ick, shudders."

      Never considered that they were actively trying to untrope fantasy.

      But you are also talking about a woman who adores David and Leigh Eddings; who have been repeatedly trashed by the literary community for writing "formula" fantasy. I loved it, I still love it. Tropes became tropes for a reason, they worked.


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