Fantasy has a problem.
It’s worse than a hoarding dragon. For all the gloriousness fantasy provides, it protects its precious clichés as fervently as Smaug watched over his stash of gold.
For all the creative license and freedom to explore endless possibilities, fantasy seems too content to dwell in the land of the tried-and-true.
And fantasy should be anything but boring. In fact, it should be bubbling with the new, the bold, the daring, the exciting.
With that in mind…
5 Fantasy Clichés in Desperate Need of Replacement
The Mentor Figure
Yes, Gandalf is awesome. No, that doesn’t mean he should have 5,067 mini-me’s running around in the pages of other books.
Each decked out with the requisite pipe, wizardly outfit, long hair, bushy eyebrows, and depths of knowledge. The little scalawags.
How about (gasp and horror) no mentor?
Alternatively, how about a mentor who’s younger than the hero?
Or an antihero mentor who can manipulate trees and has a fondness for exotic fruits?
Or a mentor who’s not human or ancient? Or even…
A female mentor (mentress?). What in the sparkling blue tarnation? Is that even possible?
Well duh. Anything is, and that’s the beauty.
The Chosen One
You know how the tale goes:
I am young. I am insignificant. I live in the middle of nowhere important.
And yet, I am destined for greatness that outshines the stars and is more majestic than a range of snow-capped mountain peaks.
Puh-leez. Haven’t we had enough of the Chosen One already? The guy (why is it a dude 97.863% of the time?!) who really wants nothing to do with said destiny but has no choice.
So. Many. Options. Close your eyes, spin the wheel, and pick one.
How about a pen-wielding scholar who’s literally never set foot outside the city where he lives?
Or the middle-age spinster whose magical power involves…YARN!
There’s no limit to the cool ideas possible to infuse stories with vigor.
Because every fantasy story wouldn’t be the same without an epic journey of some sort to some distant land to defeat some evil lord. Undertaken by a certain chosen one who’s guided by an unmistakably mentor-ish mentor (see above).
What’s not to love?
Um…nothing all of it.
Not a quest. Seems pretty obvious. The ways to accomplish this are as multitudinous (how’s that for a big word? 😮 ) as elvish egos. The entire story could take place in a city, or town, or at sea. It would be super cool to see a fantasy novel that took place in a single building—talk about unique.
Save the World Plot
Oh the agony. Sure, stories that chronicle the saving of the world are heaps of fun. I mean, the plot needs high stakes, right? And what could be more significant than saving the. Entire. World?
Eventually, however, the reading minions get restless. Give us variety, because no matter how amazing the chocolate of world-saving happens to be, we can always use some juice-dripping steak or fish and taters, preciousss.
Let’s narrow the focus. Maybe the plot is as simple as becoming the town mayor, through the crucible of betrayal, assassins, and a back-stabbing beauty who happens to be the competition and the romantic interest all in one.
It could delve into complicated family issues (all the drama).
Or why not a story that recounts the efforts of the hero to escape slavery?
Saving the world is well and good, but literally thousands of other choices exist. So I say BRING ‘EM!
Dragons and Elves and Dwarves, Oh My!
Before your eyeballs drop out, don’t get me wrong. Dragons are cool. Mostly. But how about some variations on the stereotype?
As for elves and dwarves…maybe try something new? For once? Pretty please?
Sure, Tolkien doesn’t have a monopoly on bearded battle-masters who are vertically challenged, nor on the fair folk who really should just go into modeling because they’d earn millions.
But why stop there? Why not branch out, either eschewing those races altogether or at least giving them some neat makeovers so it’s not like reading Middle-earth stories all over again?
Maybe have the dwarves be smart and in charge of everything and make the elves wrinkly and unable to walk and ridiculously skilled in creating buildings via group chanting.
And with dragons, give them some freedom to play. Create personalities for them, give them weaknesses (like turning into toads when kissed), change up their motivations.
Have good dragons and cruel dragons and greedy dragons and kind dragons.
In other words, do ALL THE THINGS except for what’s already been done so much it looks like a bedraggled cat that endured a horrific bath time and now hates the world.
Some clichés are fine and/or unavoidable, but for Pete and his Friendly Dragon’s sake, let’s have some things we’ve never seen. Fantasy needs to go where no one has gone before.
That’s what makes it magical.
⇒ Which fantasy clichés annoy you the most?
⇒ What are some of your favorite fantasy stories that avoid clichés?