I’m surprised that I haven’t done this one before. There are quite a lot of fantasy tropes/cliches, so this list is particularly difficult to put together to my satisfaction. Which ones deserve to be on a top 10 list? Which ones don’t? Well, here’s what I came up with. If you have suggestions, let me know in the comments!
10. Alternate Worlds/Dimensions (like Narnia)
Mostly an issue in the YA world, but let’s be honest, how many more of these alternate worlds can we take before it becomes irritating? They’re piling up on one another and it’s getting hard to keep track of all the pieces. Aslan is being eaten by a talking toothpick! Good lord! (Yes, that is a Leven Thumps reference.)
9. Schools (of any description)
Harry Potter ruined it. Blame Rowling. Now any time you see a wizard school, you think of HP. And don’t forget all the blasted schools that teach eleven-year-old boys how to be great knights. How many knights do we need, anyway? I think we’re good with three. Bill, Ted, and King Arthur. That’s good enough.
8. Enchanted Weapons, etc.
The sad thing about this entry is that I still like enchanted weapons, but they have become an overused trope. All these magical flutes and swords and crystal balls, it’s just too much. Are there any normal things left in fantasy, or is everything magical? Even food is enchanted! Elven bread! It would suck if you were allergic to magic, wouldn’t it? Wait…that’s a story idea. Ha!
I’m sick of elves. Honestly, I was sick of elves when Tolkien used them for Lord of the Rings. They’re all the same. Calm, collected, and slightly mental. They’ve invaded science fiction too. Someone needs to come up with something less, err, cliche. What about a weird mutant hybrid between an elf and a gerbil?
6. Bearded Wizards
Dumbledore is lovely and likable, and yet one of a long list of cliched figures crammed into the fantasy genre. Bearded wise old men are probably annoying for most people, but they’ve made a glorious comeback in YA fiction. My question is: why are they always old and bearded? Where are all the young, attractive know-it-alls who hang out in libraries reading dusty manuscripts?
Technically part of the urban fantasy vein, vampires have pretty much flooded the market with their pointed teeth and thirst for blood. And I do mean flooded. The problem is that now all the vampires seem the same to me. Come on people, you can come up with something else. Where are my urban fantasy tales about talking capybaras? Or vampiric capybaras…ooooooh.
Fantasy has this thing with heroes. It’s like an intentional, seventy-year mating ritual between two siblings…or something like that. There aren’t nearly enough stories about villains, and certainly not enough about folks who have no desire to be heroes. It’s just about heroes. Black and white. Which brings us to…
3. Good vs. Evil
There’s not nearly enough gray in the fantasy genre. Everyone is purely evil or purely good. Thankfully we’re seeing a few more novels that highlight the unexpected heroes of the world (thieves, assassins, etc.). But, such novels are overwhelmed by all the cookie-cutter black and white, good vs. evil battles. I get it. It’s a human thing. We want easily defined good guys and bad guys, but sometimes reality is more interesting.
2. The Chosen One
It seems weird that there is always a Chosen One. I guess it makes sense when you think about the prevalence of “chosen ones” in the real world, but I still find them grossly overused. Too many fantasy novels with chosen ones and prophecies and all that garbage. I think we need more books where the Chosen One dies and everyone is screwed. That would be interesting.
Whatever it is about dragons, fantasy writers love to use them. They love them so much that the genre is ridiculously saturated with them. There’s Eragon, Naomi Novik’s stuff, Funke, Genesse, etc. Everyone is using dragons. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are wonderful stories, but it’s gotten to the point where if I see a dragon on the cover, I won’t pick it up–with rare exception. It’s sort of like the vampire thing: there are simply too many novels out there with dragons as a centerpiece, and after seeing it repeated over and over, it gets old and pointless. We need novels about centaurs and ninja unicorns and pirate lawn gnomes…
And there you have it. What overused tropes bug you?