One of my favorite genres, fantasy offers a unique take on countless situations and stories. However, sometimes the set pieces start to repeat themselves. There is only so many times that I can read a story about dragon riders or the chosen one before I start to roll my eyes and put down the book. What follows is some of the worst offenders when it comes to overused fantasy tropes and themes.
1. The Chosen One
Example: Matrix Series, Harry Potter Series, Sword of Truth Series, and many more.
Am I the only one that is sick and tired of reading about “the chosen one”? Often tied up in prophesies and myths, the chosen one is the only one who can possibility save the world. While it is good to have the hero be special in some way, making him the world's only hope in such a manner often leaves me feeling as if the other characters just aren't as important. The story then devolves into the chosen one and his band of merry men.
2. Destruction of a Town/City/Country Rallies the Hero
Examples: The Wheel of Time Series and The Beastmaster
One of the trickiest things to provide in a story is the motivation for both the hero and the reader to see the villain stuffed. One of the most commonly used methods to provide this motivation is the destruction of a population center which holds a special meaning to the hero. Sometimes done on purpose by the villain, other times simply a happenstance, this unwarranted destruction will motivate the hero and should make the reader want to see the hero triumph. However, how many times can this same scene be played out and still hold the suspense that it requires for the reader? The killing of innocent people rarely goes off well for a villain, and to the point feels like a cheap way to nudge the reader into supporting the hero.
3. Magic Words
Worst Offender: Harry Potter Series
Something that always got me is how random magical words can be. In some cases, they are Latin, in others they are just a certain phrase. While I personally have a love/hate relationship with the general idea of a magical word or phrase to trigger a magical effect, I understand that there has to be some sort of trigger for the reader to latch onto. However, the words and phrases should follow a set outline and not be somewhat random. While this is far worse in the movies than it is in the books, the random choice of what is and isn't magic can be quite glaring at times. Does magic words have to be somewhat Latin sounding, or can any phrase work as long as you're waving around a bit of stick? This is one of the things that prevented me from falling as in love with the Harry Potter series as other readers. I know, it is a strange thing to catch. Yet, once you notice just how random some of the magical words can be, it maybe a sticking point for you as well.
Examples: Eargon, Dragonslayer, Dragonheart, and so on.
For some, a story isn't in the realm of fantasy unless a dragon somewhere graces the pages or screen. A staple in the fantasy realm, these great beasts are one of the hallmarks of the genre. Because of this, there are only a few million stories told about dragons and various ideas with them. To the point, where the central plot revolving around a dragon has been played out. There just isn't anything new to be done with them. Because of this, a book or story which focuses on dragons has to be exceptional for me to even consider consuming it.
5. Clear Cut Good vs. Evil
Examples: Charmed and Harry Potter Series
The final trope which I wish to highlight is the struggle between good and evil in stories. More to the point, how often one side is without a doubt the “good guys”, while the other side are the “bad guys”. While this isn't a problem in just fantasy, it seems to have its roots deep into the heart of the fantasy genre.
How often is there one side in a conflict which is as pure and righteous fighting pure evil in the pages of fantasy? If you start looking for it, you will find that a great deal of all the struggles in the pages of fantasy are these clear cut black and white situations without one speck of gray to be seen.
The reason this is a bad thing, is that no person can be wholly good or evil. It becomes a glaring of a flaw as a character who knows everything and does nothing poorly. At the end of the day, it becomes boring and predictable. I am not asking for major gray areas, but small areas of gray would make the characters far more believable. An evil overload that causes a minor positive effect for those he favors. A hero who is willing to lie and steal in order to see a greater justice done. Nothing is ever as clearly defined good or evil as some authors would have you believe.