Today, I want to talk about fantasy tropes.
A trope is a commonly occurring motif or cliche, by the way. In Romance, for instance, you have a Happily Ever After. In a Detective Story, you get the big “reveal” explanation at the end. While I talk, you can think about your favorite fantasies and what tropes they have.
(I’ve capitalized the tropes on purpose, for easy recognition.)
Almost all fantasy stories have a Hero, who is sometimes a Farm Boy or Poor Orphan but sometimes a Secret Prince (and sometimes both). Sometimes he’s a Chosen One, with or without a Prophecy. Sometimes he’s marked with a Special Sign that tells people he’s the Hero, and sometimes he’s so ordinary that nobody, including himself, believes that he’s the One. Sometimes the story starts with the Hero ready to Combat Evil, but sometimes the story starts earlier and the Hero has to Come of Age before he can really face his adversary.
Our Hero isn’t the only one in the story, of course. The Hero usually has Allies to help him Conquer His Enemies. There might be a Mentor of some kind. Sometimes his Allies include a couple of Best Friends, and sometimes, unfortunately, a Traitor. There’s sometimes a Damsel (or Dude) in Distress. On the other side, there’s almost always some sort of Dark Lord, though he might be called something else, and he has his Minions of Darkness, of course.
Most fantasy stories are about Good vs Evil, so all these characters will eventually face each other. They frequently go on some sort of Quest first, to gather a Weapon or learn how to use the Magic, or to collect their Allies. Sometimes they have a more ordinary Magic and depend more on personality characteristics to rally the troops and win, and sometimes their Magic is so spectacular that we can hardly believe it. There are usually some intermediate battles to fight before the Last Battle. The Protagonists (or Good Guys) will appear outmatched, but in the end, after several apparent defeats, they will Conquer their Enemies.
My favorite story has a lot of these fantasy tropes. The Hero is a Poor Boy (a carpenter instead of a farm boy, and living with his mother and step-father instead of being an orphan), but he’s also a Secret Prince whose real father is a king. He’s a Chosen One, Prophecy and all, but the Special Signs were all temporary, so he grows up with almost everyone believing he is totally ordinary. There are a few hints that he’s Special, but they are easily overlooked. The story starts with him as a baby, so he definitely needs a Coming of Age before he can Fight Evil.
As usual, he’s not the only one in the story. After he Comes of Age, he travels on a Quest, though is less physical than it is philosophical. He gets to know his real father, the King, and is given Power from him to save his Kingdom from the Dark Lord. Most people don’t believe him when he says who he is, but he is recognized by a Mentor and still Gathers Allies. He has *twelve* Best Friends. He combines the Rescue of Damsels/Dudes with the Quest to Learn to Use Magic, saving many as he goes. He even uses his Magic to bring one of his Allies back to life, which makes his Enemies very nervous.
This is the ultimate Good vs Evil story, and as the Hero’s Allies and Magic increase, the Minions of Darkness fight back. The Minions, of course, have a bigger army and more weapons and hold the current power in the Kingdom. Even though the Dark Lord commands his Armies from a distance through his chief Minions, his influence is strong, and his armies outnumber the Good Guys. They have no intention of letting the Hero gain power in the the Kingdom.
Despite the Good Guys being outmatched, they continue to gain Allies, partly because of his Magic, but mostly because of his personality. Then a Traitor among the Hero’s Best Friends swings the Battle to the side of the Enemies, right at a pivotal time. Our Hero is captured, illegally tried, tortured, and killed. Yes, really. It’s not a trick of the Author. And yes, it’s terrible.
It looks like the Chosen One and the Good Guys have lost. For three days, the Dark Lord’s Minions celebrate. Evil has won. The Hero is dead, and his Allies are hiding in fright. The story seems to be over.
Then our Hero pulls out his next bit of Magic. As it turns out, his capture and death were all part of The Plan. He uses his Power to come back from Death, and his Allies rejoice. The Enemies start the chase all over again, but they can’t catch our Hero anymore. Now he’s the Not-so-Secret Prince, and he rules the Kingdom. He doesn’t wipe out his Enemies yet, but only because he’s waiting for everyone to pick sides before the Final Battle.
Pretty cool story, huh? The best part is that it isn’t a Fantasy Story at all. It’s not even fiction. It has certainly inspired a lot of imaginary fantasies, in blatant or subtle ways, but it’s real, and we’re all part of the Epilogue.
So, in this Christmas season, I encourage you to read The Story with your family and think about the Hero of us all. (If you haven’t figured it out and need to know where to find The Story, let me know. I suspect you have The Book somewhere in your house.)
I wish for His Peace to be a Power in your life.
M. C. Lee