What are the Worst Fantasy Cliches?

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Answered by: Eric, An Expert in the Fiction Category
Fantasy is a genre that is almost defined by its cliches. One can't really blame the poor thing, it's one of the oldest forms of literature that we as a species have created. Since the first myth has been spoken, we have been codifying and weaving fantasy into it's current form, thousands of years later. Most people think of Fantasy and they think of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The former is a mighty hegemon, and one responsible for some of the more lamentable cliches that infect the genre.Lord of the Rings established many of the conventions that the genre now adheres to. The Heroic Party, for instance, or the Mentor Death. Quickly, think about recent genre novels and films... you can probably pick out both of those cliches very easily. However, these cliches are rather minor and in no way the worst fantasy cliche around.

By and large, the worst fantasy cliches abound in the realms of character. I'd rather not think of all the times I've opened a book or popped in a film and been met with either the Wounded Warrior or the Hot Lady with a Blade. Many fantasy works make the mistake of assuming that they can shortcut a believable character with the Wounded Warrior. They think giving this gruff, irascible character with a voice like a metric ton of crunched up cigarettes and gravel, a disturbed past will slingshot him into a relatable and sympathetic protagonist.It doesn't.

Instead, what we're left with is some shadowy reflection of everyone's favorite X-Man, Wolverine. This does not a sympathetic character make. It just makes a juvenile cardboard cutout. There's no real substance to it, no depth or pull to relate. The Hot Lady with a Blade is much the same type of fantasy cliche. Dressing up a very attractive woman with some martial skill and the ability to throw down with men many times her size. People might argue that this character is a reflection of the liberation movement. They will point out this ability to throw trolls like bath towels as if it were some sort of deep character trait. But it falls quite short of the liberated and empowered woman in my view. Those characters for the most part, serve as a fetishized icon rather than a truly strong female character.

This failure stems from the same place as the Wounded Warrior. Both are defined utterly by this fetishized strength, this ability to overcome with hair immaculate and artful slashes in the appropriately sexy places. There are characters that would normally fall under these cliches. Buffy, for instance, is a wonderful subversion of the Hot Lady with a Blade because she has equal moments of strength and vulnerability. That and the fact that she gets the stuffing beat out of her on more than one occasion showcases her frailty and her determination.

For the Wounded Warrior, another Whedon example presents itself from Mal Reynolds. He has seen defeat, in fact, he seems mired in it and trapped by it. But he pushes forward, carving out the hardest bit of life he can so that he may still live within his principles as well.

These two cliches, though terrible, are in some way understandable as well. Writers may see characters such as Whedon's and think to emulate them, to make them their own. But they lose the path at some point, wandering off into melodrama and emotional angst. They lose themselves in fetishizing the warrior and battle when the truly relatable characters spring from the vulnerability of such moments, from the hard-boiled determination that drives those characters to stand up again after being beaten by it over and over again.

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