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Many works of fantasy operate with these tropes, while others use them in a revisionist manner, making the tropes over for various reasons including; for comic effect, to create something fresh (a method that often generates new clichés), and objections to the effects of old tropes.
Good vs. evil
The conflict of good against evil is a theme in the most popular forms of fantasy, such as high fantasy; normally, evil characters erupt from their lands to invade and disrupt the good characters' lands. J. R. R. Tolkien delved into the nature of good and evil in The Lord of the Rings, but many of his imitators use the conflict as a plot device and often do not distinguish the sides by their actual behavior. In some works, mostly notably in sword and sorcery, evil is not opposed by the unambiguously good but by the morally unreliable.
Heroic characters are a mainstay of fantasy, particularly high fantasy and sword and sorcery. Such characters are capable of more than ordinary behavior, physically or morally, or both. While they may at first be less than the role required, they grow into it. This may take the form of maturation.
Many protagonists are, unknown even to themselves, of royal blood. Even in so fanciful a tale as Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is made a queen in the end; this can serve as a symbolic recognition of the inner worth of the hero. Commonly, these tales revolve around the maltreated hero coming into his or her own. This can reflect a wish-fulfillment dream or symbolically embody a profound transformation.
The forces of evil are often personified in a "Dark Lord". He is often depicted as a diabolical force, and may be more a force than a personality. The effects of his rule often assert malign effects on the land as well as his subjects. Besides his usual magical abilities, he often controls great armies and can be portrayed as possessing devil-like qualities. A Dark Lord is usually depicted as the ultimate personification of evil, often committing atrocities that make common people afraid to speak their very names, as with: Sauron of The Lord of the Rings; the Lord of the Locusts in the Bone graphic novel series; Conan the Barbarian's archenemy Thulsa Doom; and the Dark One (Shai'tan) of The Wheel of Time and Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter.
Other notable Dark Lords include: the Sith Lords from Star Wars, which include Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine; Lord Dracula of the Castlevania series; Skeletor from Masters of the Universe; Brona the Warlock Lord from The Sword of Shannara; Morgoth from The Silmarillion; Arawn Death-Lord from The Chronicles of Prydain; Torak from The Belgariad; Nightmare from Soulcalibur; the Lich King from the Warcraft franchise; Ganon from The Legend of Zelda; Exdeath from Final Fantasy V and Galbatorix from The Inheritance Cycle. The villain of the Demon Sword video game is also literally called 'Dark Lord'. In the Lone Wolf gamebooks, the Darklords are an entire race of powerful evil beings. The protagonists of the Overlord video game franchise are classic Dark Lords in the vein of Sauron.
Quests, an immemorial trope in literature, are a common trope in fantasy. They can run from a quest to locate the plot coupons necessary to save the world, to an internal quest of self-realization.
In a fantasy, magic is often overwhelming in presence — although its precise nature is delineated in the book in which it appears. It can appear in a fantasy world, or in a fantasy land that is part of reality but insulated from the mundane lands, or as a hidden element in real life.
A common trope is that the ability to work magic is innate and rare. As a consequence the person who uses it, usually called a magician, wizard, sorcerer, warlock, mage, magus, or various other titles, is a common figure in fantasy. Another feature is the magic item, which can endow characters with magical abilities that are not innate, or enhance the abilities of the innately powerful. Among the most common are magic swords and magic rings.
Self-fulfilling Prophecies are amongst the most common forms of magic because they are an often used plot device. Often the very effort undertaken to avert them brings them about, thus driving the story. It is very rare for a prophecy in a fantasy to be simply false, although usually their significance is clear only with hindsight. Quibbles can undermine the clearest appearing prophecies.
In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J. R. R. Tolkien minimized use of the word magic; beings who use such abilities tend to be confused when they are described this way by others. In the Star Wars franchise, the Jedi employ the use of the Force, an essentially magical power that grants mystical abilities and heightened senses and skills to whomsoever wields it.
Many creatures seen in fantasy fiction are drawn from the folklore of Europe and the romances of medieval Europe. Dragons and unicorns are among the most popular creatures. Other monsters, such as griffins, giants, and goblins also appear. Races of intelligent beings such as elves and dwarves often draw their history from medieval roots. Characteristics of the hero and heroine also frequently draw on these sources as well.
Perhaps even more important is setting. Writers from the beginnings of the fantasy genre, such as William Morris in The Well at the World's End and Lord Dunsany in The King of Elfland's Daughter, set their tales in fantasy worlds clearly derived from medieval sources; though often filtered through later views. J. R. R. Tolkien set the type even more clearly for high fantasy which is normally based in such a "pseudo-medieval" setting. Other fantasy writers have emulated him, and role-playing and computer games have also taken up this tradition.
The full width and breadth of the medieval era is seldom drawn upon. Governments, for instance, tend to be feudalistic evil empires or oligarchies, and are usually corrupt, despite the greater variety of the actual Middle Ages. Settings also tend to be medieval in economy, with many fantasy worlds disproportionately pastoral.
These settings are typical of epic fantasy and, to a lesser extent, of sword and sorcery — which contains more urban settings — than of fantasy in general; the preponderance of epic fantasy in the genre has made them fantasy commonplaces. They are less typical of contemporary fantasy, especially urban fantasy.
The Ancient World
A less common inspiration is the ancient world. A famous example is the Hyborian Age (the fictional world of Conan the Barbarian), which features analogues of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Roman Empire, among others.
Many fantasy stories and worlds refer to their main sapient humanoid species as "races" rather than species. In most such worlds these races are related, and capable of producing viable offspring together, typically having derived from one root species – most often either elves or humans - by magical or divine influence, or by intelligent design. The usage of the term in this context was popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien and was further adapted and spread by the use of races in Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games. Many fantasy settings use the terms "race" and "species" interchangeably.
In role-playing games, "race" typically refers to any species that can be used as a player character. In older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the primary non-human player races (dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, and half-elf) were called "demi-humans". Later games such as Shadowrun use the term "metahuman", and define these humanoid races as subdivisions of Homo sapiens.
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Revisionist Fantasy", p 810 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Good and Evil", p 422 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Evil", p 323 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Heroes and Heroines", p 464 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Brave Little Tailor", p 136 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Ugly Duckling", p 972 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ Stephen Prickett, Victorian Fantasy p 145-6 ISBN 0-253-17461-9
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Hidden Monarch", p 466 ISBhttp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fantasy_tropes_and_conventions&action=editN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Dark Lord", p 250 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ "The Darklords of Helgedad". The World of Magnamund Webring. http://web.ncf.ca/as300/darklords.html. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Quest", p 796 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Magic ", p 615-6 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Magic", p 616 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Prophecy", p 789 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
- ^ Alec Austin, "Quality in Epic Fantasy"
- ^ Jane Yolen, "Introduction" p viii After the King: Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed, Martin H. Greenberg, ISBN 0-312-85175-8
- ^ Livingstone, Ian (1982). Dicing with Dragons. Routledge. p. 74. ISBN 0710094663.
- Taboos and Tropes in Fantasy Literature by Rae Bryant
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