The worst tropes in fantasy

February 20, 2019

I love tropes. There is a lot to love but some people get them wrong over and over that some tropes need to be nixed. Here is a list of tropes I think should be retired.

 

Only one girl in the whole entire world

Brandon Sanderson mentioned on Writing Excuses that he is guilty of this and it is one of the tropes I wish would go out to pasture. Let me paint you a picture. You have a large group of heroes. And one single girl. She can be awesome, a whiz with knives or a healer that can heal death wounds. My problem is that she is alone. The only woman in the crew who is female. As an epic fantasy goes along the group of hero gets bigger but guess what? No women join, just the lone awesome woman.

Some examples: Lord of the rings, Mistborn and Elenium

 

Evil Empire

I'm not sure if people are aware of this but it's racist. The literary tradition for this come from a time when the western world wanted to paint countries like China, Russia and even Germany as evil empires. The problem with this trope is that it makes everyone in the empire just as bad as the government. This is where nationalism and xenophobia comes from. I'm not a fan and I hate it when it influences how we treat people in the real world.

Some examples: Lord of the rings, Mistborn - I swear I'm not picking on them but these two really do have a lot of fantasy tropes but just look at Lord of the rings, they have whole races who are evil. There is also Narnia though he does mix it up later.

 

Wayward Apostrophe

I come from a country where Xhosa is a spoken language rather than some strange exotic sounding language they can use for distant climes in TV shows so I know there is a place for apostrophes but some fantasy stories really go way too far. It makes it hard to pronounce and for me it also makes it hard to read.

Some examples: Dragonflight - F'lar (technically science fiction but it has dragons so I'm counting it as fantasy)

 

One race

Again I grew up in a country where I was a minority with my pasty white skin. But why are all fantasy worlds populated with so many white people. I mean seriously you can make the people whatever you like you don't have to make them white. On that note another trope that is related to this one is the brown skinned Bedouin characters. They are nomads so they must automatically be brown. Let's use our imagination people and come up with a more diverse world that is populated with more than just a lot of white dudes and the occasional brown nomad.

Some examples: Alanna: first adventure, Steven Erikson's books.

 

MacGuffins

I really hate it when they are all off to get some jewel that will rescue the world. Done, done, done. Come up with something I really care about. I hate this one the most because this doesn't work in real life. There is no magic pill to solve all our problems. I like a story that has an element of truth. I know it is fantasy but even this is a hard pill to swallow.

Some examples: King Arthur - the sword and the holy grail, The hobbit - The Arkenstone, Percy the lightning thief - Zeus' lightning bolt. 

 

Kids saving the day

I teach teenagers and I can tell you 90% of them couldn't find their own bums without you showing them where it is. I don't blame them, I think we've trained our kids to be like that. So when I read about some ten year old or slightly older saving the world I'm like that is a little too far for suspending my disbelief. I also don't like the idea that our world is screwed unless teenagers and kids save the world. Because trust me, if that is the case we are screwed. Also, it is a little too scary to contemplate if that is accurate.

Some examples: Percy Jackson, Harry Potter - though I'll forgive Harry because he does enlist adults at the end.

 

Magic fixes everything at the end

Jenna Moreci talks about this one on her Youtube channel. The magic fix at the end that could have been done at the start. Think giant birds and dropping jewelry into a volcano. Okay now I am picking on LOTR. But what I hate is when the problem is solved too easily and we feel stupid because of it. Like when Dorothy found out she had the key to get home all along.

Some examples: Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz, Narnia - Aslan solves all problems but we know why he used that trope.

 

Ancient world is better than now

I know it seems like we are sliding into a world that will be worse tomorrow than it is today but that isn't how society works. As long as we keep records we are unlikely to become a lesser version of ourselves. Most of these worlds have a war to blame for the decline. Hate to break it to you but most of our breakthroughs in technology can find their roots in war time technology. So again this is a bit of a stretch.

Some examples: Lord of the Rings, Shannara, Eragon

 

The woman is a healer

Giving the woman the more feminine occupation bothers me. I think it would be different if healers were a bit more like doctors in fantasy but they aren't. As a teacher I understand just how much stereotyping of careers actually effects who goes into a career. But it is more than that. These kinds of characters are no better than a cardboard cut out. No effort has been made to make the female characters anything more than a stereotype. I think this is part of what people are seeing in characters like Rey. They are given strength and power and we are supposed to forget that they are nothing more than their powers.

Some examples: Alanna: The first adventure though I'll forgive that one as she is more than just a healer, Lord of the Rings

 

So I should say I really loved these books when I read them and some of them redeem themselves by taking other tropes and doing them really well. I just think it is past time we actually thought about the tropes we use in our stories and how they will effect others.

 

 

 

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