Well, boys and girls, I have been writing, and reading, watching some movies, and thinking about the fantasy genre and its tropes, and I think it’s now time to call for a moratorium on this genre, same as I did for horror. Without further ado:
1/ The Prophecy
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: it has been written that in the coming darkness, a hero will arise; a chosen one who will rise to champion the light and defeat the darkness with the magical powers/sword/stiff upper lip that only he may wield. I don’t even need to tell you any more, you already know the punchline… and it’s boooring.
Prophecies effectively take free will away from the characters. It’s like watching a chess game where you already know the outcome. Unless, of course, the chosen one loses the fight, which happens… well, never, in anything I’ve ever read. In STAR WARS Darth Vader is the chosen one (yes, Star Wars counts as fantasy) and even though he turns evil, he’s most definitely a winner: by his agency the Republic is destroyed and the Empire is given rise. In WILLOW, the evil queen’s paranoia about a prophecy sees her destroyed before the chosen one is out of nappies, which I sort of admire, even though I’m not convinced that this was a deliberate choice. Feels a bit like the writers just sort of forgot about the prophecy halfway through.
In any case, a prophecy usually consists of a series of plot devices occur give the hero a good deal of power and influence for no real effort, and it means that in the end the badguy will just fall over despite having every advantage in terms of tactics, strategy, power and IQ.
2/ The Talisman–In Five Parts!
The heroes must collect all the pieces of some mystical macguffin, which sends them chasing all over the map at the front of the book instead of addressing the actual problem at hand (defeating the evil army, freeing the princess from the dragon’s tower, or what have you). Instead of getting down to business, we are subjected to hundreds of pages of the writer showing off their worldbuilding skillz.
I don’t care what the macguffin is–pages of a spellbook, pieces of the villain’s soul, segments of the Holy Wand of Self Righteous Onanism… and I don’t care. It’s tired and lazy and I ain’t no longer care to read about it.
3/ The Power of Love
Whoa, this one showed up in the horror moratorium as well. You know how it goes: the magical macguffin the characters have spent so long collecting doesn’t work, or gets broken in a banaskin-pratfall, or it dribbles down the hero’s leg, or the badguy takes it away and swallows it like an aperitif… but, aha! The hero cannot be disarmed of the greatest weapon of all: his love for the princess (it’s always a frickin’ princess). Kapow! The Wand of Onanism saves the day in a more literal way than expected. Boooring.
4/ A Wizard, a Knight, and an Elf walk into a Dwarf Bar…
A multi-racial party of adventurers (all of them, oddly enough, white-skinned), possessed of a conveniently all-inclusive skillset that will make each of them useful and vulnerable in different way are joined by bonds of friendship and honour as they team up to fight evil. In other words, a bunch of amateurs go blundering around the countryside picking fights and causing a ruckus and somehow they manage to find the badguy and stop his evil plans.
Why is it always a timeless evil? Osama was an embittered old fuck on a kidney dialysis machine. Hitler was a runty corporal with weird hair who killed millions of people because nobody took his pictures of the Teutonic countryside seriously. These demented idiots had goals and beliefs and, although Lars von Trier was recently excoriated for saying it, you can at least believe them as human beings. (Before you go there–I’m Jewish, so don’t tell me I’m a Nazi or a terrorist sympathizer). Some undead wizard who wants to take over the world because… well, because that’s what evil undead wizards do? Neither believable nor interesting. If I was an undead demon lichlord (and I have been called worse), you think I’d be wasting my time raising an army of treacherous shitheads so I could lord it over a bunch of miserable peasants? No, Ma’am, I would be sitting on a beach in the South Pacific, drinking island virgins and writing the Great Australian Grimoire.
As for the feudal paradise the heroes are trying to protect, well… why is that political order protecting? So a bunch of nobles can live on inherited riches while the peasant population suffers? Oh, I get it–because the hero is actually the rightful king. Folks, I hate to break it to you, but… there is no such thing as a rightful king.
6/ The Hero Must Face His Worst Nightmare In Order to Triumph Over Darkness
So our noble knight/humble farmboy made good/chosen whatever finally gets to confront the outrageously-powerful undead bad motherfucker, and in order to win he has to face up to some childhood trauma: his father beat him; his mother sold him to slavers for three links of sausage; the girl he loved kissed the bully who took his bowl of gruel; the Grand Vizier made a nasty face at him. He must conquer his greatest fear in order to triumph. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be metaphorical, but, really? That’s really petty in the grand scheme of things: what kind of an idiot is still sad because the other boys made fun of his wanger in the locker room when he’s spent the pas three thousand page volumes tramping all over the countryside kicking ass, and now he’s ready to face Zogfucker, the King of Darkness? In that guy’s shoes, my greatest fear would be that Zogfucker is going to use me for a toothpick. In that guy’s shoes I’d be paying attention to what the fuck was going on right in front of me.
A much more recent trope. the kick-ass princess doesn’t really need to be rescued, because she knows kung fu! Except, uh, she usually does still need to be rescued. Sorry folks, that’s really feeble. At best it’s adding another fetish and calling it a character trait. (Admit it: the second I said “Kick Ass Princess” you pictured the character in high heel boots and a bikini–not because you’re a pervert, but because that’s how it usually works). Hey, how about we start concentrating on writing women as actual characters and not fetish objects?