Monday, March 20, 2017

High fantasy cliche

From The Toast: How to tell if you are in a High Fantasy novel.

  • The Elders would like a word with you.
  • The Ritual is about to begin.
  • Something that has not happened in a thousand years is happening.
  • You are going to the City.  There is only one City.  It is only said with a capital C. No one needs to bother saying the name of the City.  It is the City.
  • Certain members of the Council are displeased with your family's recent actions.
  • A bard is providing occasional comic relief; no one hired or invited him and his method of earning a living is unclear.
  • The high Priest is not to be trusted.
  • Someone is eating an apple mockingly.
  • There is one body of water. It is called the Sea. The Great Sea, if you are feeling fancy.
  • You live in a region with no major exports, no centralized government, no banking system, a mysteriously maintained network of roads, and little to no job training for anyone who is not a farmer.
  • You have red hair.  You wear it in a braid. Your father was a simple man, and you don't remember much about him—he died when you were so young—but you remember his strong hands, as he fished or carpentered or whatever it was that he used to do with them.
  • You're going to have to hurry, or you're going to miss the Fair—and you never miss the Fair.
  • There is trouble at the Citadel.
  • Your full name has at least one apostrophe in it.
  • It is the first page, and you are already late for something. Your mother affectionately chides as you gulp down a few spoonfuls of porridge; she will be dead by page forty-two.
  • There are two religions in your entire universe. One is a thinly veiled version if Islam. It is only practiced by villains. The other is "being a Viking." You are a Viking.
  • There are new ways in the land that threaten the Old Way. Your grandmother secretly practices the Old Way as do all of the people of the hills.
  • The real trouble began the day you arrived at court. Every last nobleman hides a viper in his smile.  How you long for the purity of life in your village, which is currently on fire or something.
With two exceptions, these are laughably fatal cliches.  I've seen very little thinly veiled villainous analogs for Islam—it's usually Christianity that high fantasy authors want to bash in surrogate.  This para-Christianity also is often the "new ways" that conflict with the virtuous grandmotherly "Old Ways."  And, the comment about central government, banking, etc. is pretty historically ignorant.  It's not unusual that that could be true—it is, however, also likely that banking and a federal bureaucracy, even if they do exist, are hardly essential to the plot and play no role in the high fantasy novel.

And the last one I don't really mind so much.  Rural living really is pretty cool compared to urban "sophistication."  

Anyway, if your novel—or your RPG adventure—features any of these very tired tropes, you might want to rethink them.

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