About two months back, I did a post entitled 4 Overused Dystopian Tropes. Since it was definitely a blast to compile those tropes and share my unnervingly nerdy knowledge of dystopian literature with you folks, I decided to another one, this time with fantasy tropes.
However, after I started making a list, I realized the sheer quantity of these tropes warranted two separate trope lists. Today’s list will be for character tropes, and next week’s will be for plot tropes. Brace yourself, friends—here lies magic beyond reason and overdone, stupidly convenient coincidences.
“Boy, I was clueless to this world before!”
What is it? I mean, I can totally see the appeal of having your main character live their childhood oblivious to the fact that there are secret sparkly demon fairies or magical wand-waving selkies or ginormous talking slugs who want to annihilate the human race until one day when a fuzzy elephant appears in their dreams to guide them to a…glamorous pink castle, but, um, how has no one figured anything out? (Probably a memory wipe or a magical glamour, whatever.) I feel like books doubt human intelligence and our ability to comprehend exotic situations, because let’s be real, if a giant slug started shooting laser beams out of its eyeballs, I would not think the death of millions of humans were caused by a pipe explosion.
Why do we do it? Because a girl (or boy, I do not discriminate) can dream! No, seriously, by establishing to fact that at any given time we might discover a whole new world, you create a sense of wonderment and curiosity that spans entire galaxies. You might not always be confined to your boring, everyday life counting dust particles! You could go on a mission to save Earth! You could be swept away and discover that you’re not just a regular human being, but actually the king of the Evil Slug Realm and you have an entire army of obedient slugs at your beck and call! Or you could get a mysterious letter and finally crawl out of your cupboard under the stairs and attend a Super Cool Magic School while trying to Defeat Evil.
Magical Species < Homo Sapiens
What is it? The Oppressed Mages trope is where you have a super-cool group of people with magical or superhuman abilities and a group of your average humans (like you), and the mages are in hiding from or believed to be not as strong as the humans…even though the mages have overpowered abilities that could destroy the world and dammit guys, those mages could probably run you over like a squirrel versus a tractor unit. A fire mage would burn you to a crip and the mage with the laser eyes would vaporize you and the levitation mage would hurl glass shards at you at 75 miles an hour before you ever get the chance to flee. I mean, obviously the guy with a gun would win in a fight with the guy who can turn invisible and the can kill anyone with one word. Unless the mage guy makes themself invisible and says the magic word. I don’t know, you tell me.
Why do we do it? My guess is as good as yours, though perhaps the main reason is to give a reason as to why the main protagonist and really every normal, no-powered person ever has not yet heard of these mages (see trope 1). You know, because they’re in hiding from the humans and the protagonist is a human and they’re all scared of humans even though they could probably slaughter us? Oh, and maybe because history suggests that we’re pretty big jerks who burn women alive because they turned our milk sour. So I suppose the mages do have a reason to fear our wrath. But that still doesn’t explain why they don’t just zap us from existence?
The Lost Royal is the Main Character
What is it? Oh my gosh! I’m the exact age of the Lost Prince/Princess in the kingdom of Whatchamacallitia with the exact same hair color, exact same eye color, exact same personality…who could I be? No, certainly not the Lost Prince/Princess. Seriously guys, I’m a peasant! A wheat farmer! I grow crops for horses to tread on and people to eat, for goodness sakes! (Uh, no offense to wheat farmers out there, I’m sure you guys are very pleasant bunch. Most of the time.) Yeah, no, Main Character, you’re a nice person but sometimes you can be oblivious to the point where it makes me want to pull my hair out. Though I have absolutely no idea how you went from being goddamn nobility to a…wheat farmer, do you realize, that everyone figured out a bajillion pages ago who you really are?
Why do we do it? There are tons of reasons, but the most likely one is for shock value. I may have insulted this trope (and all wheat farmers; I SWEAR I’M SORRY) in the previous paragraph, but I can’t deny that if done correctly, with just the right amount of foreshadowing and build-up before the big reveal, it’s a genuinely ingenious plot twist. However, it’s just been done so many times that the audience will most likely be anticipating it, much like that whodunnit trope where the victim is not actually dead/committed suicide. And if the book just keeps playing the twist even when the reader has already caught the gist of the game it’s going to look silly, especially if most of the readers are veteran fantasy bibliophiles.
They’re Also Likely Set to Save the World
What is it? For once, I’d like see a book where the hero is just your average guy you encounter on your weekend excursions to the grocery store with no dark, hidden past or prophecy made about them and absolutely no reason why they should be the one to save the world that’s even vaguely related to fate. Like, c’mon, does destiny have to smile (or whatever that little bastard does) upon every hero? I mean, overpowered abilities like super speed and Herculean strength are cool and all, but so are hidden, mundane talents like having the ability to always sharpen pencils perfectly and being able to fall asleep five minutes after lying down on the bed, both of which are abilities I would gladly trade every power in the world for. Bottom line? You don’t need to be super speshul and have a Hero’s Starter Pack to save the galaxy.
Why do we do it? It’s very recently come to my attention that the more powerful the protagonist, the less the author has to actually think to get the protagonist out of a rut. Is the protagonist facing a evil magical wizard? Well, the protagonist can very conveniently turn invisible and flee from the wizard. Is the protagonist in a duel with a world-renowned sharpshooter? Well, the protagonist never misses their shots and the sharpshooter’s aim is only mostly true, so away you go, sharpshooter! Just think of the old Hercules myths – the only ones we truly love (the Hydra, the apples, the stable-cleaning-thing) are the ones where Hercules had to struggle to complete his tasks and use a skill beyond his strength and charisma. (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, shame on you and all your red cows.)
And that’s the end of today’s list! Be on the lookout for a list of overused fantasy plot tropes next week and keep reading! Until then, I hope you eat tacos for breakfast next morning ❤ 🌮