Most overused Fantasy trope?

Silvion Night

Sir Readalot
Staff member
#1
According to your opinion, what is the most overused Fantasy trope? For me it's the "farmboy-with-a-sword-that-becomes-king" trope.

Benjamin Duffy hit the nail on the head in his GoodReads review when he described it as follows:

Dear [kid with weird name], I know you are only a [farmer / orphan / urchin / child of a minor noble], and this will be hard for you to accept, but you [have Great Powers / are the Chosen One / insert name of funky power here]. You are the only one who can [save the world / save the universe / defeat the Empire / restore order to the Force / kill the Big Boss]. Luckily, even though you just learned your destiny fifteen minutes ago, you will make up for lost time by quickly becoming better than anyone in the history of ever at [Quidditch / dragon riding / sandworm riding / Allomancy]. Any questions?

You see this trope in: The Farseer books, everything by Terry Goodkind, everything by Terry Brooks, WoT, Dune, Mistborn (I'm currently only 1 book in, but it is already very apparent), Harry Potter, Eragon, Crown of Stars, everything by Feist and probably many more that I cannot directly recall. Because of this many Fantasy books are very predictable. The ones that don't use this trope, or use it only as a minute part of the overall storyline, stand out because of this (for example: Malazan Book of the Fallen and ASOIAF come to mind).

What do you think? Do you agree with my point? If not, why not? Also, what is the most overused Fantasy trope in your opinion? And is this necessarily a bad thing?
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#2
I agree with you. A boy with a sword or a variation on it, ie 'the chosen one'. In general I do not like those fantasy books. Too simple for my taste.
I don't think they are bad thing per say, but they are not for me. I can see why kids for example would identify with those characters and I think that's great. But once you've read any trope a number of times it's time to switch it up a bit. One of the main reasons why I stopped watching anime for example is because after 300+ shows I've seen, I kinda knew every single trope there is, and it wasn't fun for me anymore.

I did like Farseer's first book for example, but the second one has let me down big time. Aside from Potter, I don't plan to read any of the books you've mentioned. I suppose Im fine with them when those books are meant for kids and are clearly middle grade or kid's books, but grown up fantasy in my opinion should be more layered.
 

M. D. Ireman

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#3
That's the one: The orphaned hero destined to save the world, and 98% of the time it is a tedious read since you know almost exactly how it will end from the moment you meet the young, reluctant hero.

The shining exception (in my opinion) is The Kingkiller Chronicle. Rothfuss falls into my category of authors so talented that it doesn't even matter - it's still an incredible read with enough nuance to distract from the overarching trope, and deserves the #2 spot it currently holds on this site's master list.
 

TomTB

Super Moderator
Staff member
#4
That's the one: The orphaned hero destined to save the world, and 98% of the time it is a tedious read since you know almost exactly how it will end from the moment you meet the young, reluctant hero.

The shining exception (in my opinion) is The Kingkiller Chronicle. Rothfuss falls into my category of authors so talented that it doesn't even matter - it's still an incredible read with enough nuance to distract from the overarching trope, and deserves the #2 spot it currently holds on this site's master list.
Sometimes I get a yearning though, to read some trope filled fantasy! I'm reading Memory Sorrow Thorn at the moment, and it's full of 'em, and I love it! I wouldn't want to read book after book after book of this kind of thing, but I do enjoy it from time to time.

As for other tropes, Urban Fantasy that I've read always seems to have horny protagonists.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#5
The shining exception (in my opinion) is The Kingkiller Chronicle.
So what follows is NOT A SPOILER because you find out like in the first few pages. The whole series is basically flashbacks (but in a way that works for me).

Anyway, what I like about Kingkiller is that the older Kvothe is an innkeeper. So whatever his exploits as the special boy were, somehow he had to end up doing something unremarkable as an adult. I think the good thing there will be finding out how he ended up where he did. I'm looking forward to that. As long as it does not involve more scenes with Felurian...
 

atheling

A Poet of the Khaiem
#7
I don't think every hero story should be called "farmboy with a sword". I'd hardly call Paul Atreides a "farmboy", for example. That book had a rather different feel to it, I think. Having said that, it was still a hero story.

But, I mean, any story that's ultimately about a single character is going to have that feel, however large the supporting cast. Ensemble types (say, Malazan--I'm not really sure what to call such stories) are going to be harder to write and harder to follow, so there are fewer of them and not every attempt pulls it off. As a borderline case, Babylon 5 wound up being more of a hero story, only just avoiding it I think mainly because the "secondary" characters got more screen time and story focus than they typically would (but, OTOH, the hero aspects of the story were certainly deliberate and probably intended from the start).
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#8
I don't think every hero story should be called "farmboy with a sword". I'd hardly call Paul Atreides a "farmboy", for example. That book had a rather different feel to it, I think. Having said that, it was still a hero story.
Agree. Duke Leto isn't even exactly a 'minor noble'. In fact, he's one of the most popular nobles in the Landsraad, and getting powerful enough to challenge the emperor.
Plus, Paul doesn't have any special powers because he's 'ordained' by some higher force - instead, he's the (near) culmination of many hundreds of generations (over thousands of years) of a Bene Gesserit breeding programme to bring about a human male with a specially developed brain that can tap into a higher kind of awareness/precognition (and even that was thwarted by Paul's mother, hence 'near', but that's near enough) - and he wasn't even the first such, he's just the first that's a successful result of the programme.

Not only that, it's not like he's put into the thick of it like some bumpkin; he's been training all his life - military combat, strategy and tactics, politics, and most potent of all, skills via his Bene Gesserit witch of a mother which include: voice manipulation, high bodily control and deep meditative states (yoga techniques via prana-bindu exercises), carefully enhanced instincts, ability to distinguish minute changes in body language (not only for combat purposes, but also to distinguish between truth and falsity, and the range of human emotions). And he's aware of the possibility of losing everything from the very beginning of the book even though he's fairly confident (justifiably) that his house is adequately fortified against the trials to come. The fact is that he's mentally and physically prepared for trouble, enough to take control of himself when his world does go crumbling down around him. He's also very careful and systematic about his subsequent actions to achieve his aims using all the resources available to him, so not really someone floundering in the deep end.

There's a reason why they're called Atreides - Herbert decided to trace their genealogy all the way back to Agamemnon and Menelaus, the sons of Atreus. So, probably the most distinguished and 'noble' of all families that's really possible in western literature.
@atheling is right to say that it's a heroic tale, like most others in the genre. And this 'trope' is part of an ancient and universal meme (through hundreds of iterations) across all cultures of accepting the Hero's Journey: pushing past comfort zones and mastering yourself (or failing and losing everything) - the crunch time that takes the measure of you by exposing you to your greatest fears and uncertainties.
 
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kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#9
The morally ambiguous tough guy anti-hero is becoming a trope.
There you go, Rose. I agree with this more than the farmboy with a sword. Plus I like all the innocent youngster who grows into greatness books. But the grey area nature of the heroes is definitely becoming well used.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#10
"Bleach" syndrome. Which I'm naming after the manga is a common thing now, often leading on from farm boy with a sword. It's the hero's incremental rise in power and ability...

This is the greatest evil in the work... Hey I defeated it with the limit of my power.

Oh no.. this evil that has just appeared is EVEN more indestructible... Hey I just developed a new ultra limit of my already maxxed out power and defeated it.

Wish.. Who is this new dude whose power folds the very fabric of creation into an origami rabbit's cock leaving absolutely no chance for me to defeat him.... Oh wait...

You get the idea.
 

ReguIa

Journeyed there and back again
#12
Dresden Files handles it pretty well though IMO. It's not like he pulls out new evils out of thin air that doesn't fit with the already existing story just to milk the series. It's all woven together and well connected.

Terry Goodkind has a case of this syndrome though!
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#13

Anti_Quated

Journeyed there and back again
#14
I'd chalk mine up to:
a) Grizzled old warrior mentors the 'next generation' and learns a few new tricks despite their grumbling and obdurate reticence toward the new school. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but the respect of grizzled veterans should be more hard won than a few quick poker tricks and flashy technological know-how (films drive me insane for this same trope).

b) People afraid to ever let the good guys win. I'm all for hardship, turmoil, and deaths of important/major characters in a piece, but sometimes it's just nice to see that hard work and earnest application to a worthwhile task can actually result in a good turn of events. Not asking for a happily ever after, but GoT as an example is just so fucking miserly and depressing, it's refreshing for me to come across a marginal victory that doesn't leave you feeling worn down and cynical. Dark and downtrodden pathos is good for the soul, but so too is the proverbial beacon of hope and relishing the reprieve from toil and spirit-crushing strife. Balance, in all things :pompus:

c) Continuing from b) - a MASSIVE and EXTRANEOUSLY LENGTHY lists of ephemeral no-bodies and seemingly sadistic tomes of errata about the lineage and dynastic succession for third tier Sir-Who-Gives-A-Fuck and his family that is either dead two pages later, or never gets heard of again. Ever. Epic is brilliant - but please, selective restraint is just as useful a tool in the hands of an author as is the ability to craft multi-layered worlds populated with billions of 'passing acquaintance' characters. I can't fathom why so many authors seem happy to chase rabbits down holes all the time and forget all about Alice in the first place. Focus!
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#15
I'd chalk mine up to:
a) Grizzled old warrior mentors the 'next generation' and learns a few new tricks despite their grumbling and obdurate reticence toward the new school. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but the respect of grizzled veterans should be more hard won than a few quick poker tricks and flashy technological know-how (films drive me insane for this same trope).

b) People afraid to ever let the good guys win. I'm all for hardship, turmoil, and deaths of important/major characters in a piece, but sometimes it's just nice to see that hard work and earnest application to a worthwhile task can actually result in a good turn of events. Not asking for a happily ever after, but GoT as an example is just so fucking miserly and depressing, it's refreshing for me to come across a marginal victory that doesn't leave you feeling worn down and cynical. Dark and downtrodden pathos is good for the soul, but so too is the proverbial beacon of hope and relishing the reprieve from toil and spirit-crushing strife. Balance, in all things :pompus:

c) Continuing from b) - a MASSIVE and EXTRANEOUSLY LENGTHY lists of ephemeral no-bodies and seemingly sadistic tomes of errata about the lineage and dynastic succession for third tier Sir-Who-Gives-A-Fuck and his family that is either dead two pages later, or never gets heard of again. Ever. Epic is brilliant - but please, selective restraint is just as useful a tool in the hands of an author as is the ability to craft multi-layered worlds populated with billions of 'passing acquaintance' characters. I can't fathom why so many authors seem happy to chase rabbits down holes all the time and forget all about Alice in the first place. Focus!
Epic rant, Anti. I especially appreciate your (b) example, and would broaden it to say even when they do have the rare win, they feel bad about it, like Fitz always does.
 

Silvion Night

Sir Readalot
Staff member
#16
I'd chalk mine up to:
a) Grizzled old warrior mentors the 'next generation' and learns a few new tricks despite their grumbling and obdurate reticence toward the new school. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but the respect of grizzled veterans should be more hard won than a few quick poker tricks and flashy technological know-how (films drive me insane for this same trope).

b) People afraid to ever let the good guys win. I'm all for hardship, turmoil, and deaths of important/major characters in a piece, but sometimes it's just nice to see that hard work and earnest application to a worthwhile task can actually result in a good turn of events. Not asking for a happily ever after, but GoT as an example is just so fucking miserly and depressing, it's refreshing for me to come across a marginal victory that doesn't leave you feeling worn down and cynical. Dark and downtrodden pathos is good for the soul, but so too is the proverbial beacon of hope and relishing the reprieve from toil and spirit-crushing strife. Balance, in all things :pompus:

c) Continuing from b) - a MASSIVE and EXTRANEOUSLY LENGTHY lists of ephemeral no-bodies and seemingly sadistic tomes of errata about the lineage and dynastic succession for third tier Sir-Who-Gives-A-Fuck and his family that is either dead two pages later, or never gets heard of again. Ever. Epic is brilliant - but please, selective restraint is just as useful a tool in the hands of an author as is the ability to craft multi-layered worlds populated with billions of 'passing acquaintance' characters. I can't fathom why so many authors seem happy to chase rabbits down holes all the time and forget all about Alice in the first place. Focus!

This is a great list. I especially agree with b and c.

Has anyone here read the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert Howard? About 10 years ago I bought this huge tome in which all the Conan short stories were bundled. It was an amazing read. Sure, it is considered pulp fiction, but it has so many redeeming qualities. Conan as a hero (or one of the first anti-heroes?) is just amazing. Primal, uncivilized, following a simple, brutal philosophy. I am quite sure Karsa Orlong (MBOTF) is based on Conan.

When Conan vanquishes his enemies, he has no moments of whiny introspection. He scoffs at the notion that he might be in the wrong. He's a destroyer. A conqueror.

Of course I wouldn't want all my fantasy books to be like this. However, I love to read Conan every once in a while to "freshen the palate". Nice, simple fantasy/adventure stories, without too many side characters.
 
#17
b) People afraid to ever let the good guys win. I'm all for hardship, turmoil, and deaths of important/major characters in a piece, but sometimes it's just nice to see that hard work and earnest application to a worthwhile task can actually result in a good turn of events. Not asking for a happily ever after, but GoT as an example is just so fucking miserly and depressing, it's refreshing for me to come across a marginal victory that doesn't leave you feeling worn down and cynical. Dark and downtrodden pathos is good for the soul, but so too is the proverbial beacon of hope and relishing the reprieve from toil and spirit-crushing strife. Balance, in all things :pompus:
Good point. This is something that I find doesn't often openly attract my attention, and consciously when I see it, I even go along with it. But even with that, I do notice the level of fatigue it builds up in me, and eventually it becomes almost a bit of resentment. Like, "for the love of all that is good and pure, just let somebody have a good day for once!"
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#18
Like, "for the love of all that is good and pure, just let somebody have a good day for once!"
The other day someone laughed in the Abercrombie book I'm reading.
I thought... "oh, no. you fool. that's your day screwed"
Sure enough - next paragraph... parents butchered and swinging from a tree.
 

M. D. Ireman

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#19
The other day someone laughed in the Abercrombie book I'm reading.
I thought... "oh, no. you fool. that's your day screwed"
Sure enough - next paragraph... parents butchered and swinging from a tree.
I'm curious, was this in his new YA series, or back when he wrote for adults?

I'm a huge fan of gritty fantasy, but I agree that it is tiresome when nothing can ever go right for anyone. That stated, I don't get that feeling so much from ASOIAF. There are enough triumphant moments that the series has none of that ever-present darkness feeling that I got when reading Prince of Thorns. The latter was still a good book, but it didn't make me want to race to continue the series.
 

atheling

A Poet of the Khaiem
#20
b) People afraid to ever let the good guys win. I'm all for hardship, turmoil, and deaths of important/major characters in a piece, but sometimes it's just nice to see that hard work and earnest application to a worthwhile task can actually result in a good turn of events. Not asking for a happily ever after, but GoT as an example is just so fucking miserly and depressing, it's refreshing for me to come across a marginal victory that doesn't leave you feeling worn down and cynical. Dark and downtrodden pathos is good for the soul, but so too is the proverbial beacon of hope and relishing the reprieve from toil and spirit-crushing strife. Balance, in all things :pompus:
Yeah, this bothers me a lot. "Dark" can go too far. Now and then the good guys don't get crushed like insects, they scurry away in time.

Another thing, sorta related to this, is that I find my own perspective has changed as I've gotten older, especially for violent scenes: I keep wondering about the collateral damage, about who else got hurt--about, say, whether the poor owner of the tavern that just got half destroyed by that huge brawl is already struggling under crushing debt and if this isn't going to make it worse. You don't really think about things like that when you're young, but I think about them now.

OTOH, too much concern about this sort of thing can lead to problem C ...