My 4 Favourite Fantasy Tropes

Last year, I had a blast blogging about my favourite science fiction tropes. It occurred to me recently that I’ve never given the fantasy genre the same treatment, so that’ what I’ll be talking about today.

Reluctant Heroes

Photo credit: Jackie lck.

Example: Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”

If someone were to knock on my front door and tell me that I needed to go with them on a quest to save the world, I would not be particularly excited about that experience.

Yes, we’d probably see some incredible things along the way, but I really enjoy sleeping in my warm, soft bed at night and not being eaten by giant spiders named Shelob.

The fact that Bilbo was so hesitant to go on this quest made me like him even more. I totally understand the desire to stay home and avoid danger.

Magical Forests, Swamps, and Other Places

Example: The creepy Fire Swamp in William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride”

Nothing gets my heart racing faster than realizing that the hero of a tale is about to wander into a forest, swamp, or other wild place not usually inhabited by humans that everyone knows  is filled with dangerous creatures, unpredictable magic, or both.

I love seeing how characters react to the creatures and potential traps they find in these places, especially once they’ve wandered far enough into them that finding their way home again is going to be tricky at best.

Since I’d be perfectly happy to stay home and not wander around in these unpredictable spots, it’s nice to know that there are folks out there who are willing to see who or what might be lurking in them.


Quests That Go Terribly Wrong

Aslan, the creator and protector of all things Narnian.

Example: C.S. Lewis’ “The Silver Chair”

In the beginning of The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace, the main characters, were given a specific list of four signs by Aslan to keep an eye out for in order to help them find Prince Caspian and return him to his rightful place as the future king of Narnia.

The world they were visiting could be a tricky one, and there were many characters who would stop at nothing to prevent these kids from fulfilling their mission.

Why Aslan didn’t simply do this stuff himself is a question for another blog post, but I was intrigued as soon as I realized that Jill and Eustace had quite the journey ahead of them.

These were the signs they were to look for:

  • “As soon as the boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend. He must greet that friend at once. If he does, you will both have good help.
  • “You must journey out of Narnia to the north until you come to the city of the ancient giants.
  • You shall find the writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you.
  • You will know the lost prince, if you find him, by this: that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan.”

If you haven’ read this book yet, I’ll leave it up to you to find out which of these signs these characters actually listened to. All I can say is that I loved seeing how these kids interpreted the signs and what happened when things didn’t go exactly as planned. It felt quite realistic to me that Eustace and Jill wouldn’t necessarily do everything they were meant to do when they were supposed to do it.

Magical Schools

Examples: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians,” or, obviously, Hogwarts

The Great Hall at Hogwarts

What could possibly be cooler than going to school to learn how to be a magician, witch, or wizard? It’s even more interesting when one or more of the characters weren’t aware they had any magical powers at all until that fateful letter or invitation arrived one day.

I could read a thousand books with this sort of setting and still want more examples of it.

The only thing I’d change about this trope is adding more examples of magical schools for adults. I think that even the strongest magician would eventually need to take a course or two to freshen up their skills or learn some new spells as such things were invented.

What are your favourite fantasy tropes?



Filed under Science Fiction and Fantasy

9 Responses to My 4 Favourite Fantasy Tropes

  1. 3/4 this time with WIP2 😉 No magical schools are involved.

    I like my fantasy with female leads whose only purpose isn’t to wait at home (possibly preparing concotions and potions in their spare time) or be captured so that the male lead has a Goal he must Achieve Me Tarzan… oh, sorry, not sure where this last bit came from…

    Despite the fact that it fails the Bechdel test completely, I enjoyed the Kane series by Karl Edward Wagner, because there’s psychological depth to them. Kane is not Conan.

    • Ooh, cool! Keep me updated on it’s release date. I’m just about to start reading your first book.

      I’ll have to check out the Kane series. Totally agree with you on female leads who actually do something in the plot.

  2. I think my favorite is the anti-hero trope, but reluctant heroes are always good too. Fun post!

  3. I’ve had some bad experiences with reluctant heroes (*cough* Mockingjay *cough*) that have rather turned me off of that trope for the most part, but I agree with your other three. I love when characters have to do certain things specifically and fail and you and the character are desperately trying to figure out if there is another way they can fulfill their objective.
    Also, there is just something awesome about fantasy schools – so much power and craziness in one place is irresistible.

  4. It’s interesting to see people’s take on trope vs characteristic. I do enjoy a reluctant hero now and again 🙂

  5. Yes, the Bilbo is fascinating as other characters start to see his point of view, helped along by Tolkien, who knew all about horror (his experiences on the front line of WW1 inspired the Dead Marshes) and I believe we could alllearn from the hobbits.

    ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.’

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