Tough Travelling: Wyrd and Wonder
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
All this month, we have been joining in the various shenanigans hosted by Wyrd and Wonder (Imyril, Lisa, and Jorie).
Every Tuesday of the month, for their photo challenge, they have looked at a different trope in fantasy.
So to celebrate, we thought we’d make an extra special Tough Travels and look at our favourite examples for all four tropes!
A big thank you to Nils, Beth, Peter, Jonathan, and Theo for their recommendations…
I never knew my father
Orphans, foundlings and other secret heirs to the throne / a grand inheritance / the magic in their blood
Beth: Captain Carrot of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch – a foundling orphan raised by dwarves who may or may not strongly resemble the last king the city had…
Jonathan: an interesting version of this trope occurs in Tim Powers’ excellent Last Call. Scott Crane thinks he knows his father and what happened to him. What he doesn’t know is the full extent of his father’s monstrous powers, or the nature of the fate he bought himself in a game of cards which will determine what he is the true heir to…
Nils: I’m going to go with Lin and Bayan from The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart because I feel these two fit this prompt in various ways. I’m going to try to be vague here but beware aware this could be a potential spoiler ———— they, in a sense never knew their father because they never knew just quite what he was capable of and what he had been doing to them all this time, and there is definitely some magic in their blood too but not in the way you think!
Theo: Sa-at, the human child raised by Crowflies the demon in Peter Newman’s The Deathless trilogy. The curious thing is not so much now knowing his father, as not knowing the Lord Rochant for whom Sa-at is not so much heir, as “honoured vessel” who will be expected to gift his body and sacrifice his own soul, so that Rochant can be reincarnated into the body the child has grown up in. It’s kind of difficult to work out who the real demons are in Newman’s trilogy (a theme in his writing) which makes for a fun read.
Beth: I quite like a reluctant hero; one I immediately think of is Tor from Jen Williams’ The Ninth Rain. He just wants to be left alone to drink himself into oblivion, but to be able to afford the wine to drink himself into oblivion, he’s employed by Vintage, who insists on getting them into trouble all the time…
Also Corey from Demi Harper’s God Of Gnomes; he begins by helping the gnomes in order to improve his own situation and attempt to return to the life he has flashbacks of. So it’s great fun to read him begrudgingly begin to like his gnome worshippers and actually want to help them.
Also also, although we’ve already had this book mentioned, Jovis from The Bone Shard Daughter. His conscience keeps getting the better of him, bless him.
Nils: I can think of so many reluctant heroes!
Firstly there’s Frodo from The Fellowship of the Ring. He initially only goes on the journey because of Gandalf, I mean who says no to grumpy Old Greybeard! There’s also Rand from the Wheel of Time series, who again is continually pushed into battling Shai’tan (the Dark One), mostly by the Aes Sedai (essentially witches), at every turn.
There’s many more modern fantasy examples I can think of too, for instance, Chel from The Black Hawks by David Wragg, Felgor and Jolan from Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund, Aaslo from The Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade, and Nik from Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire. All of these books share protagonists who provide a lot of humorous entertainment with their reluctance to be the ‘ultimate’ hero.
Peter: I have to admit I can think of so many reluctant heroes/heroines. There are two that I have really enjoyed reading recently are Carillion Thay from The Gutter Prayer. She is out for herself (and her friends) to begin with and only really comes to realise what she is and why as the book progresses, she is a great character to journey along with!
Mareth from The Wildfire Cycle by D.P. Woolliscroft is also a reluctant hero, another great character to journey along with as well. He realises his worth and potential after many an episode and far too many drinks and goes on an (so far) awesome journey. He also provides some humorous entertainment, some awesome bard skills and makes fast friends!
Jonathan: in M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City, the first of his Viriconium novels, tegeus-Cromis likes to think of himself as a better poet than a swordsman. Unfortunately for him, he’s a terrible poet and Vicironium and her Queen has need of a handy swordsman….
J. Cherryh’s Serpent’s Reach tells the story of Raen a Sul hant Meth-maren, whose normal life is taken away from her when her entire family is slaughtered. She is only saved thanks to the help of the ant-like majat and their Blue Queen, who nurses Raen back to health so she can take her revenge on those who wronged her…
Theo: Anna in Sammy H.K. Smith’s searing if brutal debut is a different kind of heroine. It’s a tough but compelling read as Anna tries to flee an awful situation but in the end must make a difficult decision about if, when or even how to turn and fight. It is a very personal conflict that she never invited but had to endure. (Trigger warning – features rape and abuse, though it is handled well and entirely from the victim’s perspective.)
With friends like these
Enemy to ally or otherwise unreliable / uncertain allies, backstabbing best friends
Beth: T. L. Greylock and Bryce O’Connor’s Shadows of Ivory features shift allies and enemies becoming unlikely friends! Not naming names for spoiler reasons obvs.
Nils: Ailsa from The War for the Rose Throne series by Peter McLean. I’m reading an ARC of Priest of Gallows (out May 27th) at the moment and I’m never quite sure if she’s on Tomas’ or The Queen’s Men’s side or not. She seems to switch according to whatever suits her own personal goals. This is a gangster fantasy though, so you know, that’s the kind of times they live in.
Jonathan: Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is full of shifting alliances, betrayals and misunderstandings, with characters frequently misunderstanding themselves as badly as each other, which leads to many changing relationships.
Theo: Well how about Marith Altrersyr from Anna Smith-Spark’s Empires of Dust trilogy. I mean, I know he is the protagonist, but he is also the most unreliable of allies to anyone who tries to serve with him or for him. He is the personality cult that could devours anyone from the cult. Also, how about Prince Yarvi from Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King who early on is betrayed by his mother and his uncle. I mean come on – when even your mum isn’t on your side!
Double-edged prophecies, irresistible destiny, a plot stick you just can’t dodge – let’s end on a classic
Beth: I’m struggling a little with this one, as my back-library of classic fantasy is sadly lacking. The example that always springs to mind is David and Leigh Eddings’ Garion from their Belgariad and Mallorean series. Garion is a descendant of Riva, a Prince who could hold the Orb of Aldur unharmed; Garion is tasked with protecting the Orb from the forces of evil…
Nils: Corban from The Faithful and The Fallen quartet by John Gwynne. This whole series takes the chosen one trope and turns it completely on its head, which makes for one absolutely brilliant twist as the series develops. I don’t think I’ll ever stop gushing about these books!
Sorry I know I’m choosing Rand from Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan again, but he fits perfectly here too. It was so fascinating having a chosen one who was deemed to go completely insane and either break the world or save it. It keeps you on your toes always wondering which way the story will go because you see Rand descent into madness, but you also see him try to fight it because he doesn’t want to destroy the world.
Jonathan: my favourite subversion of this trope is in Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet. Jerry Cornelius spends the bulk of his four books convinced that he is the protagonist, hero, and incarnation of the Eternal Champion, despite the fact that the much more interesting Una Pearson is the one who inevitably saves the day. It is only in the final volume, The Condition Of Muzak, where both the reader and Jerry himself realise the truth….
Peter: An interesting take on the chosen one trope is in Melissa A Joy’s Keys of the Origin. Zehn and Larkh are two very different characters, coaxed and pushed into a position. It slowly becomes apparent that they are more than what they seem, pursuing different paths to fulfil a destiny that they are unsure about. Slowly they realise, and the reader, how important they are and the part they will play.
Theo: I’m going to mention Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, Grey Sister and Holy Sister. Because there are in there three candidates for the chosen one, and in the end it sort of doesn’t really matter which/if any of them are the chosen one.
Also a quick shout out to Neville in Harry Potter, the not-chosen-but-could-have-been one!
Next month, we’ll be back to regular scheduling and looking at our favourite FAIRIES.
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