Right, I get it. Fantasy is a genre comprised of clichés that have transcended myth and legend just to end up being serialized in books or regurgitated on the big screen for our collective entertainment. Still, there’s a difference between an archetype and…
7. The Loyal Follower Eager to Sell his Life Dearly for a Person he/she Has Just Met
Novelists and filmmakers alike make the mistake of forgetting that the centaur or elfish thing or whatever expendable ugly is on the chopping block this time has just made the protagonist’s acquaintance in Act III. Writers often get away with this because the audience has been privy to the hero’s trials and tribulations from the start of the novel or film and thus take for granted that Loyal Sycophant Number 7, who is about to go all Mohammed Jihad on the bad guys, has never even had a conversation with said hero. (The excuse, of course, is always some vague prophecy we must assume this expendable creature fervently believes in.) The effect is something like this:
Hey, I just met you!
And this is crazy!
But I’m your savior—
So die for me, maybe?
Loyal Sycophant Number 7
Before you came into my life…
I missed you so bad.
Now other than in American politics (and pop music), where would we see such blind devotion to a largely unknown and doubtlessly misunderstood cause?
6. The All Powerful Technique/Magical Item/Elixir of Great Bullshit
This persistent literary ultimatum that stretches out plots and invites snores from fans and haters alike is really just a thinly veiled reiteration of the Grail quest. Only in Fantasy is it impossible to heal the land and put the villain in his grave without first obtaining Ye Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
This works both ways, of course—the evil sorcerer cannot raise the Lord of Nothingness from his bier without a cookbook’s recipe worth of made up shit. He must then scour the land in an attempt to obtain the ingredients whilst cleverly evading the story’s hero at every turn, only to finally complete said ritual and have the hero defeat him anyway using the same bullshit iterated above.
Lord of Nothingness
But how can this be!
I am the Lord… of Nothingness!
What the hell does that even mean?
(throws matter at him—in the form of a spoon)
Lord of Nothingness
Bah! My only weakness!
Well, shit. Next time, I’ll try the
Lord of Magical Realism…
(This last bit was inspired by Joe Erickson of http://scifiandsushi.com/, who has been hating on nothingness since the 10th grade.)
I mean, if you think about it, even Excalibur is really just the metaphorical equivalent of a steel erection, and most All Powerful Weapons of Great Bullshit are allegories for Excalibur.
Maybe your hero shouldn’t need Viagra just to get the job done?
And I digress, but do you know what was really great about Kung Fu Panda? Po obtains a Magical Item of Great Bullshit in the form of the Dragon Scroll, and it doesn’t do a blessed thing but help him understand that there is no secret ingredient to badassery. (Badassery. Is that a word? Well, it is now.)
5. Evil Wizards with Portmanteau Names
A portmanteau—unless we’re talking suitcases—is a (sometimes nonsense) word created by blending other, familiar words together. The idea is that the reader will carry the connotations of the original words into the new, smashed up version. Portmanteaus can be as simple and universally understood as “smog” or as complex and nonsensical as those that comprise the majority of Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”.
So where do we see this in Fantasy? Frickin’ everywhere. They range in quality from Darth Vader (Dark Invader) to Darth Sidious (Dark Insidious) to Darken Rahl (cringe).
(Note to Trolls: According to George Lucas in the book he wrote about creating Anakin Skywalker and the many drafts the original Star Wars went through, it is “Dark Invader”, not “Dark Father”. Lucas didn’t even know that Darth Vader would turn out to be Luke’s father when A New Hope was released in 1977. Do your research, trolls.)
Here’s a spot of logic—if your villains exist in a galaxy far, far away or an alternate universe, they don’t speak our language, and their names certainly wouldn’t be silly portmanteaus of our contemporary tongue. Their names, like ours, would probably stem from the dead languages of their ancient civilizations. (As long as you’re not feeding us long, unpronounceable names with meaningless apostrophes.) Only in YA Fantasy stories like the Harry Potter series can a writer get away with portmanteaus like Voldemort.
Don’t just write a name that you think sounds evil. Write a character that makes his or her name evil though action. Most Fantasy readers are quite intelligent and may be insulted when they figure out your process. The rift can grow even wider if it takes them a few years.
I mean, it’s almost as insulting as having a G.I. Joe villain named Cesspool.
I slept with that action figure under my pillow. I’m laughing now at 30, Hasbro. You guys are dicks.
4. Orlando Bloom
Who decided this guy looked like a hero?
Other than those eyebrows (apparently Tolkien’s elves have bad dye jobs that don’t include ye olde forehead caterpillars), I could grow more hair on my knuckles than this pansy will ever legitimately grow on his face. Russell Crowe could pick his teeth with this guy. Gerard Butler could Sparta kick him down the pit from Mortal Kombat wherein some intense acupuncture action would ensue, and that embarrassingly stupid skateboard stunt he pulled with a shield in Two Towers wouldn’t save him. And Arnold, well, even in his current deteriorated ex-governator state, Arnold could sail over him with the flabby windsocks of his arms all flying squirrel style and then take him out with a mere one liner.
Krom is not amused, bitch!
You know what would have made Kingdom of Heaven (historical fiction, but close enough) the best movie in the known universe? Swapping out Orlando Bloom, who brought nothing to that role or that cast, for Heath Ledger.
We miss you, Heath. The world needs more protectors of Italian virginity.
3. Heroes That Are Only Heroes Because Daddy Was a Hero
And A Knight’s Tale, another historical fiction flick starring the late great Heath Ledger, really brings me to my next point.
I’ve seen a rise in Fantasy stories wherein the reasoning behind the hero’s badassery or legitimacy is directly linked to his or her lineage. Essentially, one cannot be a hero unless his/her bloodline dictates this is so, and usually with a prophecy thrown in for good measure. It’s ironic that primogeniture, which is argued against in many of the works of the middle ages that serve as the superstructure on which the current Fantasy genre is built, seems to have resurfaced in the modern writing of “democratic” nations that claim to have abolished the idea of an aristocracy.
As Chaucer tells us, just because your ancestors possessed virtues that caused the people of their time to call them “noble” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better than a guttersnipe in Cheapside.
“But will himself do naught of noble deeds/ Nor follow him to his name he succeeds/ He is not gentle, be he Duke or Earl/ For acting churlish makes a man a churl/ Gentility is not just the renown/ Of ancestors who have some greatness shown/ Of which you have no portion of your own” (Chaucer, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, 299-304).
I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that much like my parents. There’s the genetics argument of course, but here we are discussing Fantasy, and you just threw in the s-word–science.
Some writers have caught onto this, but rather than creating characters that fight tooth and nail for what they get in life, they have instead spawned an entire generation of whiny protagonists with daddy issues. Or worse, they cheat the whole process by giving you a character who “appears to be of humble origins” but you find out was really a king or prince the damn whole time (e.g. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, Taran from the Lloyd Alexander books, etc.).
I like my heroes with a little dirt in their teeth, a little grit. Most of us do. Unless your prince-with-daddy-issue’s name is Zuko, and he’s got scars signifying he’s been through some serious shit, I’m probably going to root for the commoner selling turnips on the street corner to pay for his broadsword lessons with the local guards.
Where’s your stigma, Prince Charming? Reason number one this movie flopped.
2. Helpful Dragons
I think we all know who is to blame for inspiring the recent influx of rotten stories regarding dragons that want to be ridden into battle by heroes too weak to settle their own scores with our aforementioned portmanteau villains. Do a little research. A real dragon, as supported by thousands of years of lore, would rip your face off just as soon as look at you. Then he’d loot your corpse, make off with your virgins, and take a flaming shit on your kingdom.
Read a little further, and you might notice dragons murdering gods (say Thor, for instance) and gnawing upon the Tree of Life itself. The Great Wyrm doesn’t aid men in their petty squabbles. He ends them, and everything else.
I once had a bumper sticker that depicted dragons far better than many bestselling novels and blockbuster films. It read: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and go good with ketchup.”
1. Cute Things That Overpower Fell Creatures by Virtue of Being Cute
This lunacy takes many forms. It’s gotten to the point where it isn’t even ironic or funny anymore—it’s insulting to the fans that take a moment to think about it. If trained soldiers or armed bandits happen upon the young princess in the woods, she beats the snot out of them in what used to be this whole women’s lib/gender role reversal thing, but now, after so many times through the wash cycle, has faded to a form of reverse sexism.
Then there are cute short things that raze the homes of unsuspecting goblins and trolls, who were doing nothing more nefarious than lurking there in the dark when the vanilla folk broke into their vermin infested, underground biers, where they probably live because they are misunderstood.
Then there are the wiggly, jiggly, squiggly things of the nine realms that defy comprehension. They beat up an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops in Return of the Jedi. They slay proud knights in the final round of Super Smash Bros. tournaments at co-ed baby showers through sheer button mashing. They embolden this evil cat who for the last fifteen minutes has fearlessly been trying to eat my biscuits without regard for the fact that I am 200 pounds of hurting machine (and 30 or so more of wiggly, jiggly, squiggly…)
For my part, I hope Star Wars 2015 contains a fifteen-minute scene in which a storm trooper mercilessly beats the Muppet out of a captive Ewok with a wiffle ball bat until he is ultimately forced to reveal the location of the Rebel base. Once we get there, of course, Leia will doubtless beat the Fett out of said storm trooper with a frying pan, anyway.
And women and children wonder why hubby/daddy would rather play video games than spend $40 to take them to the movies. This is why. Female editors wonder why male writers don’t read as much new material as their shapelier counterparts. This is why. The only legendary man allowed to kick ass anymore is… Santa Claus?
Here’s a preview of topics I plan on handling in the future:
6. The soldier that avoided being a douchehammer by way of heroic death (No really, it’s not just Borromir!)
5. Too much detail (Come on, do we really need 50 pages about a feast just to get that it represents communion/a rite of passage? And there’s no sex in your book, but here’s your main character shitting in the woods!)
4. The heroic friend left for dead that returns to save the day at the very last second (usually accompanied by a horribly cheesy line).
3. Horse in a can (Wow, look at all these horses on the battlefield! Where were these when I was WALKING ACROSS THE WORLD?!)
2. Forced metaphors for your religion that keep your mediocre book selling.
Please leave a comment with the cliché that’s driving you crazy. I know I have merely scratched the surface here…