Oh, and also storyline and a list of characters which includes:
The noble but reluctant hero- check
The reluctant hero occupying a low position on the social scale rescuing the damsel in distress ( who just happens to be a princess) and thus becoming the de facto ruler of a castle- check
A telepathic cabal with jedi mind tricks who can interpret dreams- check, check
A noble band of thieves whose leader is depicted as a cocktail sophisticant- check
Magical sword- check, check, check
A plot dripping with archtypal causation-check
I'm not going to go through a page by page textual analysis, but I assure you there are lots more.
I'm not saying that the story doesn't have some interesting ideas, but your idea that it isn't formatted, I find, is off the mark.
Just because a story doesn't have dwarves and elves doesn't mean that its not cliched. There are all types of cliches in fantasy, and many of them have little to do with TLotR.
But let me reiterate, I don't mind cliches or archtypes, as long as they don't represent an end in-and-of themselves.
Take for example Abercrombie. I think he's full of archtypes, stereotypical characters, and cliches. But I love him because I think his writing is great and his characters are tactfully interwoven into the plot, and the stereotypes fit nicely and succincly within the story. He is also unpredictable, and writes with a gritty realism, which I also adore.
Gemmel, not so much. He uses the same stereotypes and manages to take a somewhat interesting premise and depict characters that respond too inefectually to circumstances, battle scenes that are not worth the name, and an overall lack in depth of characterization.
I think we're operating from two seperate premises. You think nothing is cliched, while I think most things are cliched. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Its how you execute and utilize the cliches within the overall umbrella, instead of using them to prop up something that isn't all that interesting in the first place.
I think you're right though, people do often talk about the cliches when disussing a book they don't like (I'm also guilty of this). I think this is mainly because, when faced with a bad book with bad writing, the things that stand out most are the cliches. It becomes hard to discuss anything when there is nothing left to identify with but the stereotypes.
And what's wrong with a bit of elitism? If anything there is too much 'lets all hold hands and sing cumbaya' on this forum. If you ask me, there isn't enough people calling out writers and readers on abominations that have caused me to scream out in desperation as I've felt brain cells leaking out of my ear and evaporating when reading dreck.
The idea is to raise the bar of fantasy, not sing its praise and to attempt to describe Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms as original (although I love these). Pa-lease.
I'm going to agree with what seems to be the majority opinion and say that I don't mind traditional plots/cliches, so long as the story is told in an interesting, fresh way. Euripides and Chaucer aren't praised for their original plotting, but for taking stories that were well known and doing things with them that hadn't been done before (for example, in the Medea, Euripides took the well known story of the barbarian princess Medea and turned it into a commentary on Greek marital problems, and in the process, presented Jason in a new and far more douchey light). So, if you want to write a story about a farmboy setting out to conquer the dark lord and becoming superpowerful, thats fine (though its not exactly my favourite plot): Just try to do something interesting and original with it, is all.
I never said I think nothing is cliched, merely that some people are too quick to cry "cliche" and dismiss a book entirely. I've stated all along that cliches do exist, but aren't necessarily the bad thing a lot of people make them out to be. Though I suppose another debate could be on what exactly is classified as a cliche. Does a plot element become cliche because its been done before, or does it need to be done to death before it is considered a cliche?
PS. Not wanting to be argumentative, but are dream-interpreting telepathic cabals really that common?
Zedar, I think the reason why some people dislike Gemmell is that he usually doesn't have much in the way of plot. For example, the quest for the Armor in Waylander was really just a thin excuse to explore Waylander's character and see him kick some major butt. Legend wasn't much more than a bunch of heroes gathering in a big box and killing thousands of bad guys. Gemmell also doesn't spend a lot of time on build-up, but rather just dives right into the story. Waylander's flight from the Dark Brotherhood began before page one, and Gemmell never slows down. The story unfolds much like real life would. It's desperate; it sweeps a hunted man off his feet and he can't stop running lest the Dark Brotherhood catch up and put a knife in his back. Gemmell's refusal to slow down and have that standard nothing-happens-in-the-first-100-pages makes him a little weird. The relative shortness of his books also adds to the tension. Where Tolkien or Bakker might spend 200 pages on the quest for the Armor, Gemmell and his treasured assassin zip over quick as lightning . . . and you don't miss a thing! (Don't get me wrong here, Gemmell is one of my favorite authors.)
It can be a strange experience, going from Bakker's brooding books to Gemmell's ruthlessly fast-pace -- but certainly not unintelligent! -- books.
Portentous Dreams have shown up in the last several fantasy books I've read. In WoT, you have Tel'aran'rhiod. In The Dragonbone Chair, Simon has had several portentous dreams, his troll buddy's master died after getting jumped in the dream world, and there appears to be a circle of scholars who travel the Dream Road. Bran's dreams in ASOIAF are clearly magical, and there are references to prophetic "green dreams" as well.
All of those are extremely well-executed series (insert standard disclaimer about later books of WoT, bla bla) and I like the way each of them treats the concept of magical dreams (insert further standard disclaimer about do we really need to know about all the neckline-and-embroidery costume changes, RJ?), but yes, I think it's safe to say that telepathic or magical dreams are a pretty standard fantasy element.
Nope. Not similar at all.
Sorry to seem like I'm picking on you Zedar. I actually agree with your premise. I've seen it again and again: books are airily dismissed as being full of tropes and cliches. I think that what that really means is that those particular tropes/cliches are no longer fashionable for that particular person. Or, the use of those tropes is somewhat boring and predictable (I hate banging on authors but Gail Martin sticks out with this one). I find it amusing how 'cutting edge' authors are lauded for originality. Their plots aren't original, and neither are their themes; but they do take tropes and twist them to suit their own ends. Thus, they get credit for being original. Sometimes, maybe a lot of times, we get so caught up on this phantasm of originality that an excellent novel that more subtley uses common themes, rather than warps them in a "Gee, ain't that shiny" kinda way, may not get the critical acclaim it deserves. Or gets dismissed as predictable and unoriginal. I can't think of one off the top of my head that would fit that mold because good quest novels ala LotR, that are also good, just don't seem to get published like they once did. Like I said earlier, maybe in 10 years, new readers will lament the boring predictable nature of works that are derivative of what's popular now and a traditional quest with a farmboy will come out and be declared to be a needed breath of fresh air.
Radone, well said. I tend to read the books I enjoy, not because they are 'original', but because I enjoy the story and the writing style. I like those "farmboy/farmgirl into hero" plots.
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who got tired of the bashing of "traditional" fantasy. I posted a rant on this 2 months ago on the blog, and have seen similar comments made on various forums and blogs. Lots of very good points made on both side of the fence in this thread as well.
I know I am in the minority, but i read purely for fun, not to be challenged. I dont care about the cliches, or whether an author is using the cliches and doing something different with them. Give me the standard cliches in the normal manner. Its fine with me as long as you give me good writing, characters I care about, and a story that i want to read. Pretty simple, really (at least for my requirements).
Most Fantasy novels now have one basic plot line it seems
Let me say this again Using the same motifs/themes as someone else is not Lazy. Using them in the same way someone else has without adding enough differences is. As you pointed out Zelazny and Tolkien both deal with the idea of good vs evil in Lotr and the amber novels. For the most part though the similarities end there, there are some I'm sure but nowhere to the degree of say Sword of Shannara, or other plot by numbers kill the dark lord ripoffs.
Cliches are Lazy. To use your exmaple Kellhus is not lazy because he is not a cliche. I have nothing against authors using sowrdsman/fighters or any tried and true trope. It is when they can't effectively wield thier characters and bring them to life that it irks me. Also Kellhus is not really intersting because he was a wondering swordsmen, and I suspect if that was all there was to him that series would be a lot less readable. Kellhus was interesting because the way Bakker wrote him and his quasi magical/philosophical Dunyain Logic. (I forget what this force is called in the book.)
There is nothing cliche about Kellhus or any of the Bakker series that I've read so far. (Mayve Cnauir or whatever his name was.)
You talk as if the fantasy genre is alone in having a set number or tropes/ideas to express. Literary/mainstream fiction also makes use of repeated ideas/tropes and while there are many many many generic and trash novels year after year authors manage to come to table with the same ideas and say something fresh, relevant and new.
If all you tell me about your wandering swordsman is that he is a powerful fighter who like to grunt and hang out in bars when hes not questing
If all you tell me about your magic artifact is that it is a device a great power which can only be used by the noble farmboy....
Not bad ideas in themself but when you do things like this you are literally shouting at your readers that: I HAVE NOTHING NEW TO ADD TO THIS DISCUSSION OR GENRE. This of course may not be true but as someone else said there's a correlation
I love the Belgariad and I like the Elenium. But don't both stories feature a band of stout warriors; a mother-like sorceress; and a quest for a blue stone
that only one special guy can touch. Said stone also gives its possessor near infinite power. Special person is also tasked with killing an evil God (who
bizarrely surrounds himself with incompetent boobs). Later, we learn that pretty blue rock has an enemy - a not-so-pretty red rock that also gives its
wielder infinite power. Two sets of prophecies move throughout history, using human pawns to decide the fate of the Universe. Such fate is ultimately to be decided by the wielders of the blue and red rocks.
Nope. Not similar at all.
Sorry to seem like I'm picking on you Zedar. I actually agree with your premise. I've seen it again and again: books are airily dismissed as being full
of tropes and cliches. I think that what that really means is that those particular tropes/cliches are no longer fashionable for that particular person.
Or, the use of those tropes is somewhat boring and predictable (I hate banging on authors but Gail Martin sticks out with this one). I find it amusing
how 'cutting edge' authors are lauded for originality. Their plots aren't original, and neither are their themes; but they do take tropes and twist them to suit their own ends. Thus, they get credit for being original. Sometimes, maybe a lot of times, we get so caught up on this phantasm of originality that an excellent novel that more subtley uses common themes, rather than warps them in a "Gee, ain't that shiny" kinda way, may not get the critical acclaim it deserves. Or gets dismissed as predictable and unoriginal. I can't think of one off the top of my head that would fit that mold because good quest novels ala LotR, that are also good, just don't seem to get published like they once did. Like I said earlier, maybe in 10 years, new readers will lament the boring predictable nature of works that are derivative of what's popular now and a traditional quest with a farmboy will come out and be declared to be a needed breath of fresh air.
I salute you, sir. And I agree with a lot of what has been said: what I want is a good story, engagingly told, with intriguing characters, and good prose. If that comes along with an orphaned farm-boy with a magic sword, and-or some pretty blue rocks, [or rings, or ancient grimoires, or Arcane Umbrellas of Kazaad-Damalgjadosht depending on author taste], then so be it. In fact, as I have stated vocally elsewhere, I quite enjoy a lot of "cliched" story premises, and pine for a good quest.
Aside: To be entirely fair, Klael wasn't exactly a red rock. He was a big, hill-sized monster with the requisite Batlike Wings of Evil, and then a red energy being ... thing. I certainly get your point, though, and the similarity between Klael and the Sardion seems pretty obvious now that you point it out. Still love both stories, though. They are one of the reasons why I shall always defend traditional fantasy. Feist's Magician is another.
The reason that I say that I enjoy the old plot lines is that I agree with many others here that deep down in the bones of a story the things we call cliches are really just compelling story elements. The new, "edgier" authors who are popular, [for good reason], at the moment are simply twisting these tropes to their own purposes, as Radone said. Icarium is the wanderer, as is Karsa Orlong to a certain degree. Bayaz in Abercrombie is still the grand old man style of protector wizard, just with a rather nasty twist that asks interesting questions about the trust we often unconsciously place in the archetype. Want me to argue Bran Stark as a "stereotypical" hobbit-style 'lil guy? Poor kid: near-helpless physically, often overwhelmed by the forces around him, yet with a power within, heading off into the unknown on a seemingly fruitless quest. He is. I can. It's not that hard. I suppose I can agree with reservation that a lot of authors who write what we might call bog-standard, formulaic fair, [defined as such, to use the excellent metaphor Lian developed, as a poorly cooked vanilla cake], do so because they lack the imagination to expound upon the formulas in intriguing ways, -- their vanilla cakes are vanilla cakes because they cannot cook anything else. Yet I think that, even here, we should be careful in dismissing the material out of hand. Because some of these authors truly are liked: People like Z Martin; people like Brooks, [I know because I am at least periodically one of them]; people, may the gods help us, like Bilsborough's The Wanderer's Tale. And so long as these authors are liked, they are liked for a reason, and thus should not be left completely out in the cold come discussion time, even if we personally don't dig them. I'll go along with Samurai that cliches should not be an end in and of themselves, but that's as far as I'm going. "What's wrong with a bit of elitism"? A very great deal, I think. Richard Morgan recently wrote an article/rant, [which I shall now call a ranticle], on how we shouldn't piledrive different breeds of genre literature into the ground. I think that this is honestly a problem in epic fantasy's current ubergrit-heavy climate. Mage- shall now argue my point for me, more succinctly than I could myself.
I would argue that fantasy is an extremely hard genre to write in its own right. You have to deal with legions of Martin, Erikson, and Bakker fans who will gnash their teeth and chew their gums in anticipation of tearing apart your work because it involves a magic artifact and a talented swordsman or two.
Okay, so I have maligned thousands of decent, intelligent people, but damn if you don't know what I mean.
If you write fantasy -- or any sort of fiction for that matter, but particularly fantasy -- you will know that cliches are not lazy. The wandering swordsman
is cliche, and yet he is at once intriguing and thrilling to read about . . . at least in my opinion. Fantastically talented swordsmen are cliche, but
if we didn't have them, our Kellhus might not make it through his confrontation with the Sranc and the Nonman in the opening pages of The Darkness That Comes Before.
Again I salute you, sir. The well-cooked vanilla cakes, the archetypes, the bones of the tales we read, are important. Without them Pug could not have grown up an orphaned kitchen boy yet learned great magic, Tomas could not have loved an elf queen, Simon might never have become Sir Snowlock. Icarium would sit in one place being broody instead of wandering around giving Malazan fans hours of entertainment, Druss would not have been the right man to lead the defense, the Al'Thor boy would have said "do it yourself, I'm going home" a long time ago and then Randland would be in the lurch, and Fitz Chivalry and Arya Stark would both be dead so many times over it's not even funny. And, yes, Kellhus might not have survived his first battle. Because what comes before determines what comes after, you know. And wouldn't that be too bad for a whole lot of people...
Plus they often make good stories. That's what I'm here for.
Bmw M Coupe
Last edited by mjolnir; April 29th, 2011 at 02:18 AM.
I think a lot of it depends on the degree to whcih you mean 'cliche'. I've already identified myself as an 'older reader', having started scifi/fantasy in about 1957. I have read literally thousands of scif/fantasy books over that period of time. I have yet to recently read a book by any of the authors who present truly 'novel' ideas, where those ideas are not a rehash/cliche of something written many years ago, especially if we allow broad classifications of those ideas. Some are very novel and show new ways of presenting something written years ago. That, in of itself, is no cliche, but if we exclude anything as cliche if it uses a plot, characterization, setting, or literary tool used before - then I have to admit, I haven't read anything "truly novel" in many years.
Granted there are always going to be books and authors I have not read. But, if not me, I would bet that someone on this forum could remember a book with similar features, and could then call the new book a 'cliche' on something previous.
Maybe that is why I don't judge a book on whether it presents something new or not, but on the quality of writing, how well the writer captures my imagination and time, and whether I 'enjoy' it. I suspect that while readers like me, who read for enjoyment, may be in a minority - we are probably a very large minority.
I know Kellhus isn't interesting because of his swordplay; I spun his character around for argument's sake.
You missed my point. I went out of my way to mention all fiction, not just fantasy, but I think fantasy is the one that gets spotlighted for cliches because (a) it is dorky, (b) it has LEGIONS of fans, and (c) it takes a lot of crap from pompous literary fiction freaks.
That's exactly my point. A cliche is bad on its own, but when you take a wandering swordsman and twist him up -- Kellhusize him -- then you still have a cliche, but you've turned it into something interesting and original, if not 100% innovative.If all you tell me about your wandering swordsman is that he is a powerful fighter who like to grunt and hang out in bars when hes not questing
If all you tell me about your magic artifact is that it is a device a great power which can only be used by the noble farmboy....
Ok I can agree with what you just said, any old trope or cliche can be pimped. I still think that the use of non descriptive, non clarified, non pimped plot devices and tropes is lazy. Like someone said before I'm not saying I'm against cliches as theres nothing really wrong with them, what I'm against is when the other throws them into the story without proviing explanation or thier own personal touch.