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Penguinball

Fantasy Loves and Pet Peeves - Defense Edition

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There's been topics about things that bug us in the fantasy genre before, but I wanted to do a slightly different take on it. Instead of just listing things we don't like, and why, I also want you to list a fantasy trend (trope, plot device, etc etc) that a lot of people dislike that you LOVE, and defend it. I want to hear why you think love triangles are awesome, or that the chosen one farm boy isn't overdone.

For example, I haaaaate it when authors play with sibling relationships, love stories where there's fake outs about whether two characters are related or not, or they were raised as siblings, or adopted, and fall in love anyway. Just feels incesty even when it isn't (looking at you Mortal Instruments). Maybe that's a tough one to defend, but I'm all ears!

One trope I do love that gets a lot of hate is enemies to lovers. When done poorly, or when there is a power imbalance involved it can feel like an abusive relationship, but when its two equals who start out disliking each other, but grow to understand and care...oh man, I love that trope. I love it because it increases tension, the 'will they/won't they' question. It also usually has a nice bit of chemistry, so it feels compelling.

So to recap:
1. Tell us about a trope you dislike, and why
2. Tell us about a disliked trope you love, and why its not that bad
3. If someone above hates a trope you love, defend it! Explain why it deserves a second look (while remaining polite, defend without being defensive)

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And this is the topic I thought would get attention. Come on people, I know there's some tropes out there that bug you! What are your opinions on the most contentious ones?

  • The Chosen One
  • Convenient Prophecies
  • Medieval European setting
  • Horses are motorcycles
  • Black and white morality (evil overlord vs pure farmboy)
  • Cliche fantasy races (elves and dwarves ripped straight from Lord of the Rings)
  • The Common Tongue (everyone speaks the same language everywhere, how convenient)
  • There's only one girl in the group, and 'she's not like other girls'

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Honestly, most of the tropes I really hate are the ones that are generally on their way out.

And I don't know enough of what tropes are "commonly" hated enough to pick one I like to defend.

As much as I like tropes, I didn't have much to say to this particular frame work.  I'm sorry.

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I guess some people dislike prophecies, but I like them. I rarely use them, but I like to read them as long as they are handled in a clever way. The prophecy in Harry Potter was kind of meh (in the movies at least...didn't read the books).

 

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On 6/14/2019 at 9:19 PM, Penguinball said:

There's been topics about things that bug us in the fantasy genre before, but I wanted to do a slightly different take on it. Instead of just listing things we don't like, and why, I also want you to list a fantasy trend (trope, plot device, etc etc) that a lot of people dislike that you LOVE, and defend it. I want to hear why you think love triangles are awesome, or that the chosen one farm boy isn't overdone.

For example, I haaaaate it when authors play with sibling relationships, love stories where there's fake outs about whether two characters are related or not, or they were raised as siblings, or adopted, and fall in love anyway. Just feels incesty even when it isn't (looking at you Mortal Instruments). Maybe that's a tough one to defend, but I'm all ears!

One trope I do love that gets a lot of hate is enemies to lovers. When done poorly, or when there is a power imbalance involved it can feel like an abusive relationship, but when its two equals who start out disliking each other, but grow to understand and care...oh man, I love that trope. I love it because it increases tension, the 'will they/won't they' question. It also usually has a nice bit of chemistry, so it feels compelling.

So to recap:
1. Tell us about a trope you dislike, and why
2. Tell us about a disliked trope you love, and why its not that bad
3. If someone above hates a trope you love, defend it! Explain why it deserves a second look (while remaining polite, defend without being defensive)

1) I don't tend to seek out love triangles and so on as plot points. I don't mind them as character backdrops but for it to be a key thing ... too romance-y. Excessive "Only Royals Matter" type narratives are a little tired also. I am interested in the average person in the street making their way through fantasy dragon land, not an identikit parade of disposable princesses. Excessively low fantasy - basically a normal drama with some minor fantastical element - is also not my thing, but then again I have known it to work for me. Depends on the quality of the underlying drama.

2) I actually like most standard fantasy tropes. Left-justified fantasy map, prophecy, chosen one - you name them, I genuinely quite like them, which is why I like fantasy. I don't also really know which tropes are disliked, so it's kind of hard to answer. The sheer amount of tropes in general make it hard to really pin myself down to a few - I guess there's only room in my mind for about 3 tropes in one go 🙂 I'm reading the Inheritance Cycle currently (me and my daughter are both geeking out about it) and it's Trope City - chosen one, Nordic world, dragon telepathy, sexy elf, geographically impossible rivers/when in doubt draw a mountain range, subterrean alcoholic dwarves, mystery lands to the east, the whole bit. It is highly derivative, but very enjoyable nonetheless. I admit it; I like most tropes!

2) The only trope that's been disliked is more of a romance one, and I share that feeling. Well - not so much dislike, but more like ... not a huge amount of interest.

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OK so this isn't entirely fantasy based, but most tropes mentioned here aren't and I just watched a show with it in so I'm pissed. 

Miscommunication! As a plot device! It sucks! The classic "do this or I kill your loved one! And tell no one else!" springs to mind. Usually the villain has no way to tell if the character tells anyone, and yet the character plays long even if they know that!

Situations where just taking two second to think but people can't because ~~plot~~ are just so terrible. And so common. The excuse that the characters are scared and desperate only goes so far and then it's just frustrating when you find yourself shouting at the characters for every decision they make.

Onto tropes I don't mind, the one that spring to mind is the main character being an orphan. While it can be lazy, I get why so many writers do it. It's easier to say the parents are dead and that's why the character can do whatever they want rather than having to try to deal with things like responsibility outside the plot. It can be lazy but it's not always bad. The plot trope of the characters being sent on a quest to defeat the evil/find the macguffin/get groceries I think is very fun even though I've seen people complaining about it. It's simple, but there are ways to make it fun and it's classic for a reason. 

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1 hour ago, SecretRock said:

Onto tropes I don't mind, the one that spring to mind is the main character being an orphan. While it can be lazy, I get why so many writers do it. It's easier to say the parents are dead and that's why the character can do whatever they want rather than having to try to deal with things like responsibility outside the plot. It can be lazy but it's not always bad. 

There's a certain practical sense to using orphans.  Not just the freedom, but they're generally far less content, so they're more likely to want to run away, end up in trouble, change the status quo, etc.  People with good family home lives that aren't disrupted are less likely to end up in an adventure worth talking about.  At least, that's my interpretation of things.

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22 hours ago, Mynoris said:

There's a certain practical sense to using orphans.  Not just the freedom, but they're generally far less content, so they're more likely to want to run away, end up in trouble, change the status quo, etc.  People with good family home lives that aren't disrupted are less likely to end up in an adventure worth talking about.  At least, that's my interpretation of things.

I'm neutral on orphans. On one hand it can be convenient, they have no ties to a particular place. On the other hand, it can place an over-importance on blood relationships, and ignore the importance of found families and the relationships we forge on our own. So I don't dislike it on principle, it depends on the execution.

 

That does remind me of another trope I dislike - The one where everyone is related to everyone else. You can't be a hero of your own merit, the evil overlord has to secretly be your father, or that princess is your sister, and you have a secret birthrite you have to reclaim. I understand the appeal, its a wish fulfillment trope, but its been done SO often that it feels almost like a parody of story telling, it has trouble standing on its own. It also makes the universe feel so small, like really, there are only a handful of important people in the world? And they are all related by blood?

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6 hours ago, Penguinball said:

That does remind me of another trope I dislike - The one where everyone is related to everyone else. You can't be a hero of your own merit, the evil overlord has to secretly be your father, or that princess is your sister, and you have a secret birthrite you have to reclaim. I understand the appeal, its a wish fulfillment trope, but its been done SO often that it feels almost like a parody of story telling, it has trouble standing on its own. It also makes the universe feel so small, like really, there are only a handful of important people in the world? And they are all related by blood?

I don't love this one, but I will defend it. 😛
 

It doesn't work in all cases, but if something is based on a particular power that only follows a limited number of bloodlines, and two people have that power, there are higher odds that they will be related.  Also, it depends on the scope of a story.  If there's a large area that folks travel between, and multiple countries, or even cities, are involved, it's kinda ridiculous, I agree.  But if a story takes place in a small town, a lot of people will be related, by blood or marriage, to some degree.

 

As you said about the earlier trope, it's about execution.  However, this one has to be used with care, I agree.

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9 hours ago, Penguinball said:

That does remind me of another trope I dislike - The one where everyone is related to everyone else. You can't be a hero of your own merit, the evil overlord has to secretly be your father, or that princess is your sister, and you have a secret birthrite you have to reclaim. I understand the appeal, its a wish fulfillment trope, but its been done SO often that it feels almost like a parody of story telling, it has trouble standing on its own. It also makes the universe feel so small, like really, there are only a handful of important people in the world? And they are all related by blood?

Maybe he's born with it... maybe it's the ~divine right of kings~

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I think everyone's already mentioned most of the tropes I hate, but I especially hate that it's always like... that One Guy. 

"But my liege.... he is but one man!" 

It inevitably comes down to One Guy fighting some other guy. Probably on a rooftop or drawbridge, with fire. Okay maybe that's a little unfair and maybe this is mostly Hollywood I'm complaining about and there are plenty of good books out there that use this narrative structure for a reason, Harry Potter does it really well... But it has its issues. This one dude in the whole of existence has the super special magic sword or tattoo or clown wig, and nobody else. (The power of friendship? Teamwork? Y/N?) If I was going to wax philosophical I'd probably rant about the American Dream and the myth of exceptionalism yaddda yadda... but honestly, it just boils down to repetition. Eventually books and movies start to feel like videogames.

It's always two guys punching each other. Give it a rest.

The other one is samey fantasy races. ALL ORCS ARE EVIL, all elves are really really ridiculously good looking, etc. SF suffers from it, too. This is the evil twin of "thinly veiled Christianity" and "all religions/political groups/organisations are the same without any nuance or debate." Like, are you kidding me? Nobody IRL agrees on anything. 

Like, I don't wanna encourage people to put giant walls of boring monologue, but also, this is a way of adding a tiny bit of realism and flavour to the worldbuilding.

/rant

Horses are motorcycles - I actually don't mind this one because I know absolutely nothing about horses and I suspect so do a lot of other people. So it's not something I ever really notice too badly, plus I think sometimes you do have to gloss over "realistic" details to make the story run smoother. Travel time on horses is one of these things.

Another fantasy trope I don't mind is the squishy wizard (where wizards are generally frail or bookish or lack fighting skills.) I think it makes sense and is a sort of 'balancing of power' so they're not, like, ridiculously OP with flaming swords and whatnot.

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10 hours ago, Mynoris said:

It doesn't work in all cases, but if something is based on a particular power that only follows a limited number of bloodlines, and two people have that power, there are higher odds that they will be related.  Also, it depends on the scope of a story.  If there's a large area that folks travel between, and multiple countries, or even cities, are involved, it's kinda ridiculous, I agree.  But if a story takes place in a small town, a lot of people will be related, by blood or marriage, to some degree.

I agree, its a limited area or a rare power, I can understand it being feasible. Its the ones where the scope is the entire world, and there AREN'T perfect reasons for them to be related other than 'Rule of Cool' that bug me.

 

7 hours ago, roadmagician said:

It inevitably comes down to One Guy fighting some other guy. Probably on a rooftop or drawbridge, with fire.

I know what you mean about this one. It gets real corny when the bad guys have a whole army just standing there, watching two guys duel. And then when the good guy leaves, some deus ex machina makes sure the rest of the army is defeated too.

That reminds me of another trope I dislike, when characters are good and moral to the point of stupidity. So against killing that they just lock up the super dangerous bad guy rather than sully their hands. Often it is the hero who refuses to land the finishing blow, to show how goooood they are and I'm like....really? Sometimes you HAVE to take the quote unquote 'evil' action for the greater good! Its not falling to darkness, its being pragmatic. That guy still has loyal followers, and if he gets out (spoilers, he is totally getting out), then you just condemned a whole lot of people to death. Their blood is on your hands because you were too worried about your own purity.

/rant

7 hours ago, roadmagician said:

The other one is samey fantasy races. ALL ORCS ARE EVIL, all elves are really really ridiculously good looking, etc. SF suffers from it, too. This is the evil twin of "thinly veiled Christianity" and "all religions/political groups/organisations are the same without any nuance or debate." Like, are you kidding me? Nobody IRL agrees on anything. 

This one is becoming less prevalent I think, with the rise of social consciousness and the employing of sensitivity readers. Its one of those tropes that I think gets made fun of enough that writers are avoiding it more, their are aware of how cliche it is. I'm happy to see it go, its just lazy writing. The writer can be assed with developing more nuance in their work.

 

7 hours ago, roadmagician said:

Horses are motorcycles - I actually don't mind this one because I know absolutely nothing about horses and I suspect so do a lot of other people. So it's not something I ever really notice too badly, plus I think sometimes you do have to gloss over "realistic" details to make the story run smoother. Travel time on horses is one of these things.

I think this one gets a pass from a lot of readers, a majority of us I think have no familiarity with horses, so we don't notice the mistakes. I'm self conscious of it myself, I hate getting things wrong, so I've just avoided using them so far. Brandon Sanderson talks about this too, he just rarely uses horses in his books so he doesn't have to risk getting them wrong lol .

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58 minutes ago, Penguinball said:

I know what you mean about this one. It gets real corny when the bad guys have a whole army just standing there, watching two guys duel. And then when the good guy leaves, some deus ex machina makes sure the rest of the army is defeated too.

That reminds me of another trope I dislike, when characters are good and moral to the point of stupidity. So against killing that they just lock up the super dangerous bad guy rather than sully their hands. Often it is the hero who refuses to land the finishing blow, to show how goooood they are and I'm like....really? Sometimes you HAVE to take the quote unquote 'evil' action for the greater good! Its not falling to darkness, its being pragmatic. That guy still has loyal followers, and if he gets out (spoilers, he is totally getting out), then you just condemned a whole lot of people to death. Their blood is on your hands because you were too worried about your own purity.

/rant

I have to say, I kind of like of these. Only when they're done well, I have to add, but when they're done well, they both make sense to me.

For the first one, the situation that comes to mind is the second Narnia film. Rather than having two armies fight and kill countless people, they decide to settle it in single combat between the leaders of the armies. A similar thing happens in the second(?) Ranger's Apprentice book. I get that it's incredibly dumb when the battle is supposed to be raging around them and somehow killing the leader is supposed to instantly defeat the enemy, I'm not arguing against that, but the idea of a 1v1 to decide the outcome of the battle isn't entirely farfetched.

The second one, again, depends on circumstance. If it's a character trying to apprehend the Big Bad and refusing to compromise their morals for their own sake (A:TLA), being part of society and refusing to become judge, jury and executioner (Batman), or just for their own mental health or the fear that doing it once for the greater good might lead to a slippery slope (a Good interpretation of Batman). All these arguments fall apart when the character has already killed smaller characters though.  If it's a character trying to show that they still have morals by leaving Mr Big Bad alive after killing their way through dozens of foot soldiers, no way. (I'm looking at you, Uncharted 2).

Edit: I forgot to add, in A:TLA, even when Aang doesn't kill Ozai, he does find a way to make sure he can't do what he did again. The stupidest "good" characters are the one who don't kill the bad guy, and then don't even take any preventative action. I've seen several stories where after defeating the big bad, the main character was just going to leave? Not kill them, not lock them up, just assume that one defeat would put an end to everything they were doing? Those bad guys would have just continued what they were doing if not for, in most case, a last ditch attempt to kill the protagonist that gets them killed through No Fault of Our Hero.

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I think generally the only tropes I actively dislike are ones that present as major structural problems, and I'd guess any of them could get one over on me if they didn't mess with the structure. So I really tend not to like stories where, for example, nobody tells each other anything important. That's really frustrating. I also dislike Time Travel Bandaids, especially where time travel isn't introduced early on.

But there is one that really gets on my nerves, and it's so petty, but I can very rarely get over it once I notice it: Fantasy Characters Do Not Ever Use Contractions. Really, any situation where characters in a fantasy setting are speaking like they're in a low budget Shakespeare production put on by a drunk director.

 

Other than that, I'll defend most tropes, under specific circumstances. A couple mentioned here:

 

One Guy: This is kind of the essential fantasy element of escapism that pervades most spec genres, but it's the Heroic Monomyth in action. It's the belief that an individual can make all the difference, and the belief that there are those who would save us when we cannot save ourselves. It's the essence of the superhero, and of religious faith. It can definitely wear on when paired with more troublesome follies, like the 'white savior' and the 'one good noble' and 'chosen ones' can get a bit tiring, but when it's someone who rises up from the underclass it's still amazingly satisfying. It does bother me though, when the 'one guy' is on the other side: a load-bearing boss. See: Arya kills the Night King. White Walkers all die.

All Orcs Are Evil: When played completely straight, this is annoying, although kind of par for the course for traditional fantasy. However, it doesn't take much of a bent for it to be extremely relevant social commentary, and that bent is perception. When your soldier characters fighting the war on Orcs only ever see evil orcs bent on destroying them, they extrapolate from what they perceive. It becomes part of their world-view, and it gets transmitted to others back home, who never having encountered a single orc believe what they're told. If you've ever thought to yourself 'Canadians are nice', 'Southerners are kind of racist', 'French people are stuck up' or 'Australians are literally venomous', you've indulged in the trope in real life.

Everybody is Related: Most people live in a pretty small world, and I think this trope can really drive that point home when applied well. All the drama takes place between people with already close bonds, or established connections. You can really see how a perceived dynasty or the concerns of a single clan can swallow up objectivity, blacking out concerns of the larger world around them. This is arguably what Game of Thrones did really well in its first half, where the political dramas and in-set biases of a bunch of interrelated characters kept them from dealing with a much larger problem. It's harder to defend when the Fate of the Universe seems to ride on a relatively small family's shoulders though.

 

 

 

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On 6/20/2019 at 9:46 AM, jdvollans said:

But there is one that really gets on my nerves, and it's so petty, but I can very rarely get over it once I notice it: Fantasy Characters Do Not Ever Use Contractions.

This is one of the funny quirks of the genre. I don't think people do it on purpose exactly, they just write something and feel like it doesn't feel 'fantasy' enough. I don't see the problem that often in the books I read now at least. One of those things that sticks out once you starting noticing it.

 

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A trope I don't particularly like:

Eco-terrorist villains. They're either written as reactionary jabs at legitimate environmental activism (e.g. Samuel L. Jackson's character in that vastly overrated Kingsman movie, or the villains in Michael Crichton's State of Fear), or as half-assed "villains with a point" like Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (also overrated). They're almost always misanthropic caricatures either way.

Thanos in particular had a rather flimsy motivation because he supposedly wanted to fix overpopulation by wiping out half of the Universe, when it should have occurred to him that policies like better access to birth control and sex ed, better resource management, and maybe less rapacious capitalism would have done the job better. That oversight by itself would have been forgivable if the film had rebutted the narratives he believed in, but here's the thing...

Spoiler

They fuckin' didn't. Not even in Endgame.

An unpopular trope I like:

The so-called "warrior chick in a chain mail bikini" trope. Mind you, chain mail isn't a material I would recommend for a bikini, but plenty of warriors across human history have fought without the heavy coats of armor we associate with medieval knights. This is particularly true of warriors from hotter climates, and even more so if they already had plenty of melanin to protect them from the burning sun. The idea that you need a full suit of mail or plate armor for combat reflects a Eurocentric prejudice biased towards cultures from colder regions.

Plus, you gotta admit, sexy female warriors are an enduring archetype for a very good reason. I wouldn't advocate that all female characters need fit that mold, nor would I object to somebody writing sexy male warriors in loincloths (a la certain illustrations of Conan the Barbarian) to straight female/gay male audiences. Just don't get in the way of enjoying my hot warrior babes like any red-blooded straight dude would.

UPDATE:

10 hours ago, katfireblade said:

*squints angrily*

Just...for the record...there are a lot of better ways to phrase this without demanding the right to sexually objectify women for your own gratification. Nor is this made okay because of your sexual orientation. I'm just saying. I get that may not have been the way you meant it, but whatever you intended, it didn't pan out well.

And I'm not even going to get into the difference between a male power fantasy (Conan) and an objectified female (chainmail bikinis) and how both cater to a male audience.

OK...it it sounds like I shouldn't have brought this topic up if this is how you feel about it. My bad, I won't mention it again on WS.

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4 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

An unpopular trope I like:

 

The so-called "warrior chick in a chain mail bikini" trope. Mind you, chain mail isn't a material I would recommend for a bikini, but plenty of warriors across human history have fought without the heavy coats of armor we associate with medieval knights. This is particularly true of warriors from hotter climates, and even more so if they already had plenty of melanin to protect them from the burning sun. The idea that you need a full suit of mail or plate armor for combat reflects a Eurocentric prejudice biased towards cultures from colder regions.

Plus, you gotta admit, sexy female warriors are an enduring archetype for a very good reason. I wouldn't advocate that all female characters need fit that mold, nor would I object to somebody writing sexy male warriors in loincloths (a la certain illustrations of Conan the Barbarian) to straight female/gay male audiences. Just don't get in the way of enjoying my hot warrior babes like any red-blooded straight dude would.

*squints angrily*

Just...for the record...there are a lot of better ways to phrase this without demanding the right to sexually objectify women for your own gratification. Nor is this made okay because of your sexual orientation. I'm just saying. I get that may not have been the way you meant it, but whatever you intended, it didn't pan out well.

And I'm not even going to get into the difference between a male power fantasy (Conan) and an objectified female (chainmail bikinis) and how both cater to a male audience.

 

Moving on....


1. Tell us about a trope you dislike, and why

I won't go into the chainmail bikini thing.

The Chosen One isn't very chosen.

Bless Harry Potter, I loved those books to death, but Harry was a crap chosen one and an excellent example of this (or an excellent subversion of the Chosen One trope, and I can't decide which). He excelled in nothing but Quidditch, and his excellence there never helped him against Voldemort. Oddly, despite his skill riding a broom (and having the fastest one around) he was almost never on one when the shiznit hit the fan, and even when he was his skills were never mentioned and never seemed to come into play in any significant way. He was often overshadowed by the more capable people around him, and while he took his responsibility as the "Chosen One" seriously, I never truly believed that, had it all really been on just his shoulders, he could have made a hill of beans difference.

Shoddily written Chosen Ones abound, where the only reason they're chosen is that The Author Says So. I think this really goes off the rails when the author wants an everyman hero and won't let them leave that status long enough to level up.

Also, any love triangle. If I wanted a soap opera, I'd turn on TV.


2. Tell us about a disliked trope you love, and why its not that bad

I've said this before, but Portal Fantasies. Love them still. I know they got a bad rap in the 80s when they over-saturated the shelves, but it's been almost thirty years since then; I think it's safe to try again. They still sell well in children's fiction, and honestly I think the new VR novels and shows (enter a VR world as a modern day human to do fantasy things) is just an updated twist on the same theme. I'd like to see these make a real comeback.

Also, I was reading up on why agents and editors don't want them. You know one of the reasons cited? Because; "The fate of the real world is not affected by the events of the story, and there is no reason for readers to care what happens to a fantasy world."

*blinks*

I...think there's a fundamental misunderstanding of the type of person who reads fantasy books there. Or, you know, how reading even works.

Another reason cited was; "If the protagonist didn't fall through the portal, there would be no story."

*facepalms*

I wish I was making this up.


3. If someone above hates a trope you love, defend it! Explain why it deserves a second look (while remaining polite, defend without being defensive)

The fascination with a Portal Fantasy is to see a modern day human learn and adjust to a completely unfamiliar culture. It's watching them grapple with a bunch of stuff they were taught all their life is impossible. It's seeing our culture and beliefs do a compare/contrast to those of the new culture, and the way they can open us to different ways of living. This isn't "some other culture," in a way as it becomes a place the main character can maneuver in, so do we. It becomes our culture, and that can sometimes be an amazing thing. And you get all this while having a rollicking adventure, which is awesome!

I think it's necessary, especially now, in a world where people are losing faith that we can have a better world, and we're becoming increasingly xenophobic and suspicious of anyone different than us. Novels that can open us to other cultures can soothe those fears. I think we're past due for them.

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8 hours ago, katfireblade said:

The fascination with a Portal Fantasy is to see a modern day human learn and adjust to a completely unfamiliar culture. It's watching them grapple with a bunch of stuff they were taught all their life is impossible. It's seeing our culture and beliefs do a compare/contrast to those of the new culture, and the way they can open us to different ways of living. This isn't "some other culture," in a way as it becomes a place the main character can maneuver in, so do we. It becomes our culture, and that can sometimes be an amazing thing. And you get all this while having a rollicking adventure, which is awesome!

I think it's necessary, especially now, in a world where people are losing faith that we can have a better world, and we're becoming increasingly xenophobic and suspicious of anyone different than us. Novels that can open us to other cultures can soothe those fears. I think we're past due for them.

Thing is, a large proportion of the portal fantasies I've seen have the modern-day protagonist end up saving the fantasy world from some threat (often native to the world in question), such as an evil wizard or warlord. It's a variation of the "foreign hero saves the vulnerable natives" trope, and nobody here should have any difficulty imagining how a less competent or thoughtful writer might mishandle that.

What we could stand to see more of, in my opinion, are visitors to portal worlds who are more along the lines of Ibn Battuta. They get to explore the world they've discovered and comment on how it differs from their own, but they aren't necessarily the ones who end up saving the world or even deliver the fatal blow to whatever force of conflict is besetting it. You raise a good point about how portal fantasy as a subgenre could stand to be revived, but some of its cliches have received a stigma for good reason.

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17 minutes ago, Tyrannohotep said:

Thing is, a large proportion of the portal fantasies I've seen have the modern-day protagonist end up saving the fantasy world from some threat (often native to the world in question), such as an evil wizard or warlord. It's a variation of the "foreign hero saves the vulnerable natives" trope, and nobody here should have any difficulty imagining how a less competent or thoughtful writer might mishandle that.

What we could stand to see more of, in my opinion, are visitors to portal worlds who are more along the lines of Ibn Battuta. They get to explore the world they've discovered and comment on how it differs from their own, but they aren't necessarily the ones who end up saving the world or even deliver the fatal blow to whatever force of conflict is besetting it. You raise a good point about how portal fantasy as a subgenre could stand to be revived, but some of its cliches have received a stigma for good reason.

Okay, I'll admit some portal fantasies probably do cross over with the the "save the natives" Mighty Whitey trope. I haven't read them all (or re-read them with modern eyes) so I admit it's definitely possible. Considering how many are from the 80s or earlier, when no one even acknowledged the trope, yeah, they probably do exist.

But....

There are significant differences in most well written portal fantasies.

For one thing, the hero/ine is often plunged into a non-tribal, often white or multicultural society. The hero/ine themselves may not be white. And instead of "out nativeing the natives," they often stumble trying to get used to the new culture, and sometimes outright don't think much of it. And, should they try to teach folks "a better way," instead of being embraced they're ignored, shunned, or even laughed at. In most portal fantasies, the hero/ine isn't dealing with the stereotype of a primitive, easily swayed tribal folk, but solid, fully realized societies who have no time for their crap, thankyouverymuch.

Not every instance of an outsider coming in to save the day is a "save the natives" trope. The problematic part of Mighty Whitey comes in when a "modern" character achieves mastery over characters that code as "ancient" or "backwards." Most well written portal fantasies don't have this.

For instance, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the kids were welcomed by the locals because of a prophecy, but they spent most of the book stumbling their way through figuring out this new place they'd been plopped into, and while they definitely contributed to saving the day, without Aslan they'd have been screwed. If anything, the locals were saved by a combination of displaced earthlings and local magic user/deity, not simply by the kids. And never do the inhabitants of Narnia code as "ancient" or "backwards." They need help, true, but not because their culture was so flimsy they needed a bunch of Europeans to step in--they're just legitimately in danger. And even when the kids were put in charge, becoming "kings and queens of Narnia," they immersed themselves in the new land, essentially becoming well learned and fully fledged immigrants, instead of insisting on imposing the ideas and laws of their previous home (and even then it's hinted that it took them years to get to that point; they didn't just pick it up in a montage).

In others the hero/ine is often laughed at or looked at strangely for their odd ideas, in some cases so much so that they're actively marginalized. And when they do save the day/the world/that guy's puppy, sure people think more kindly of them, but more in a "yeah that person is okay, really crazy-odd but a decent sort overall" sort of way. Even as uber-heroes people may like them, but they don't necessarily want to be them. Because again, these are fully fledged, fully realized, stable cultures.

Not every instance of an outsider saving the day is a "mighty whitey" trope, even when that outsider comes from another world. If it was, then urban fantasy would be just as problematic, because you frequently have a human--gifted in powers or not--saving a magical community they often hadn't known existed until about two minutes into the adventure, or a magical creature saving a bunch of merely human folks who don't know about magic. How much any "outsider saving the day" story plunges into the Mighty Whitey trope will depend on how well the story is written and how much care the author takes.

Plus, of all the reasons I've heard to dislike portal fantasies, being prone to the Mighty Whitey trope has never been one of them. A quick Google and a trip to the TV tropes page for examples also doesn't turn up any portal fantasy books singled out as problematic. Do you have examples of books that fell into this trope? I'd be curious to check them out.

 

16 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

UPDATE:

 

OK...it it sounds like I shouldn't have brought this topic up if this is how you feel about these topics. My bad, I won't mention it again on WS.

 

Hmmm...I believe a point was missed here, so let me try again now that I'm calmer.

It's not what you said, it's how you said it.

16 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

The so-called "warrior chick in a chain mail bikini" trope. Mind you, chain mail isn't a material I would recommend for a bikini, but plenty of warriors across human history have fought without the heavy coats of armor we associate with medieval knights. This is particularly true of warriors from hotter climates, and even more so if they already had plenty of melanin to protect them from the burning sun. The idea that you need a full suit of mail or plate armor for combat reflects a Eurocentric prejudice biased towards cultures from colder regions.

Okay, so...several issues here in logic.

One, yes, some tribal people fought in very little clothing. Their lack of armor (or choice to be covered in it) had less to do with protection from the sun (making melanin not a deciding factor) and more to do with protection from dying.

No one could say Persians came from a cold climate or were white, being from Iran and all, and yet their armor looked like this (beneath cut because I can't resize the thing). They also painted their fingernails (apropos of nothing, but I just find that really cool):

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The original city of Rome grew up in an area where it could get to 105 degrees in the summer, nor are the people there known for their milk-white skin tones, and yet this is how the fighting boys there dressed (beneath cut):

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And just to go female, a depiction of the legendary Amazon warrior on a Grecian urn has her fully covered, armored, and in trousers (the Greeks considered trousers to be barbaric):

170px-Amazon_trousers_BM_VaseB673.jpg

And good lord, does it get hotter or less white than Egypt? And yet look at all the armor. The only half-naked dude of the bunch you get the feeling is a foot soldier. You know, expendable:

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As for African warrior armor, it varied. The reason might be heat, but I suspect more often it was rank, available resources, and/or beliefs on what made a warrior truly brave. And even those who wore less than might be advisable were either distance fighters like archers or gunmen, or they hid themselves behind very large shields. Or, in some cases, they were just disposable, again, foot soldiers:

Spoiler

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They knew where their organs were, and they were more than happy to protect them.

It should also be noted that often how a warrior dressed was indicative of who he was going up against. In a setting where all your neighbors are on the same technological level as you, slapping on a loincloth and a big shield and calling it a day is probably fine. But when their technological levels increase, yours must too. That is where the full body armor we associate with the middle ages come from, and you can see this increase in protection over most societies as the dangers they faced in battle began to change. Yes, even African ones.

However the "natives too stupid to don armor" trope was great for painting them as backwards, clueless people who needed rescued from themselves. That was a huge help in justifying their oppression.

So no, having armor that actually protects your squishy bits is not a Eurocentric view of the world. Pretty much every culture throughout history has eventually done this. The hold outs either are cultures that refuse to change for whatever reasons, are the biggest badasses on the planet, or both. But even Zulu warriors--some of the biggest badass holdouts around--weren't above using guns.

17 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

Plus, you gotta admit, sexy female warriors are an enduring archetype for a very good reason.

And this is where things really go off the rails.

A very good reason? What good reason is that, exactly? Because I can't think of any other reason than "it gets men's willies hard," and that's about as far from a good reason as one can get.

Now, in certain circumstances, sure, that reason is good. Say this was a cheescake pinup using a warrior babe in a chainmail bikini. Okay, that's fine. Cheesecake is meant to be titillating, that's it's whole reason for being. In that circumstance, yes, it's fine. no one seriously thinks anything in a cheesecake setting is meant to be taken seriously. Straight porn is another exception--kind of the point of the whole industry is objectification for sale. What's being done with the bodies is more important than who those characters having sex are. Again, an acceptable medium to have a warrior chick stripped of her chainmail bikini so men can vicariously live out the fantasy they've always had about her through her partner. These are acceptable "it gets my willy hard" forums for our sex objects to be displayed and enjoyed.

But cheesecake pinups have no business adorning real fantasy novels, nor becoming living sex objects in a fantasy world. But that's what they've been. For decades. They were used as prizes, distressed damsels, and sex objects in cannon in novels. They were packaged and marketed to a (horny) male gaze on book covers and in magazines. They helped lay the foundation of the now pervasive cultural idea that women are simply accessories for men and not people in their own right.

And seriously, do I need to point out that this armor only protects the goodies that men want to touch, implying they're the only important parts of a woman? Take her life, but don't make her tits ugly!

Now, if you'd said you like cheesecake, that'd be one thing, but you were actually advocating for this terrible depiction of women-as-sex-toys in a serious novel. Not even an erotic novel, but normal, everyday literature. That's problematic on so many levels that it blows my mind just thinking of how to explain it all without going into my own novel-length treatise in rebuttal.

17 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

Just don't get in the way of enjoying my hot warrior babes like any red-blooded straight dude would. 

And this is where it goes even more off the rails.

You asserted that it was your right to enjoy women-as-sex-objects simply because you are male. Having nothing more than the correct genitalia earned you the right to depict another person in way that is condescending, dehumanizing, and degrading and then share that depiction with the world. And even the very way you said it ("hot warrior babes") was objectifying and even demeaning the very women you advocated putting in your novels. You're a writer, you know language has power and how you say things is important, and yet this is how you chose to get your point across.

Whether you meant it the way it came across or not--and I know how hard you've advocated respectful depictions of other races, so I know 100% you didn't think about or mean the implications of those words--that still just oozes the worst sort of sexist misogyny. This is a learned behavior, it's the toxic background radiation that makes up our lives. We absorb this shit from our culture without realizing it--yep, even me. Some of the stereotypes I beat out of my own writing--involving women, no less--sometimes shocks me. It's inescapable.

But just because we don't mean to have toxic attitudes or use toxic language doesn't mean that, when we realize we have absorbed something awful, we shouldn't confront it.

Again, the problem wasn't liking cheesecake. The problem was advocating for it to be used as a serious trope in a fantasy novel that wasn't specifically set up to be erotica. And that was compounded by stating it was okay to do so because you were male and liked to be turned on by pretty girls. I mean, no one would ever get away with "I want to depict blacks in the negro stereotype because I like how powerful it makes me feel, and it's okay to do it because I'm white." Why should this line of reasoning any different?

This whole post, from the discussion of portal fantasies to the discussion of the chainmail bikini trope is simply about depicting people respectfully. That doesn't mean never depicting them erotically--check out Kushiel's Dart for a great example of a main female character who is often erotic but never a sex object (despite being a courtesan)--but it does mean giving them the kind of agency real people would have. And yeah, that includes dressing them for a battle in a way that implies that yes, they do have brains in their pretty little heads. And that they want to keep them there.

 

17 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

I wouldn't advocate that all female characters need fit that mold, nor would I object to somebody writing sexy male warriors in loincloths (a la certain illustrations of Conan the Barbarian) to straight female/gay male audiences.

Okay, quick and visual difference between Conan and a chainmail bikini babe (under cut and quite funny):

Spoiler

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Do some women like muscled hulks? Yeah, they do. But from my experience, most women are either neutral or actively turned off by them. I'm fresh from a discussion on another forum where women were discussing changes they wished would happen to romance novel covers. A big one requested?

Get rid of the overly muscled dudes.

Being that guy is a male fantasy. But if you pay attention to what women are drawing or pictures they collect and display that show sexy men, more often the guys look like this:

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Sure, they have fit bodies, but they are often juxtaposed with moments of tenderness, of vulnerability, of seduction. They may have traditionally "female" traits like long hair , jewelry, or painted nails. Sumptuous luxury is another oft-used element--elaborate clothing, furs, a luxurious background, again a "feminizing" touch used to both bring out and soften their masculinity into something approachable. You'll even notice it in real life examples--how often does the beefy-dude fireman calendars show brawny guys smiling approachably, cuddling puppies, or have other open, friendly poses that hint at personality and vulnerability? And these are often aimed at women.

Isn't it interesting that, when you look at what women deem erotic, what you almost never find is some muscle-bound, nearly emotionless fighter-dude covered in blood. It's almost like there's no market for it. It's almost like they don't like it.

Nor is Conan in a loincloth a fair comparison to the types of outfits females get slapped into. If ridiculous outfits were equivalent, male-to-female, you'd be seeing more men in outfits like these:

image.png.043762679b17faa464368c5fe4fd576c.pngimage.png.e132b44dbde5216d539b482b0142d052.png

So all those movies and video games and fantasy novels where you get this diametric?

image.png.6255c8306dcc7338f0146e06e81e29a1.pngimage.png.f986dbe1309f7f55944b5525b6a75b09.png

All aimed squarely at men. That blood covered dude up there isn't even meant to be attractive to women. He isn't what women want to bang, he's what men want to be. The same with Conan, the Witcher, and numerous other male heroes--even when half dressed, the character was not created for or aimed at women. Instead it's aimed at the super-macho hero men wish they could become.

The reason the chainmail bikini has become such a fraught trope is because it has always been deeply enmeshed in sexism, misogyny, and seeing women as things rather than people. And then peddling that to men everywhere, in spite of what women feel about it or might want, and even actively ignoring their protests as unimportant. The trope cannot--may never, in fact--be able to shake those historical underpinnings. And that makes it seriously problematic.

If you like sexy, half-dressed woman and you have worldbuilt well enough to justify that garb and also made your women into actual three dimensional characters, I say go for it. There's room out there for some worlds where people don't wear a lot of clothing. But I would say be careful that you don't drag into it the very attitudes and ideas that made chainmail bikinis so problematic to begin with. People will notice, and not just female people. You may wind up with guy fans you revile because they're so awful, while the fans you do want won't touch your work.

And also, watch how you phrase things when bringing up touchy subjects. Otherwise we all run the risk of one of my tedious lecture posts. 😉

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@katfireblade

I do appreciate you taking the time to explain your sentiments (in regards to that trope I defended earlier), and I will admit that I shouldn't have posted what I did earlier. So let us leave it at that, and I won't say stuff like that again. My apologies.

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5 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

@katfireblade

I do appreciate you taking the time to explain your sentiments (in regards to that trope I defended earlier), and I will admit that I shouldn't have posted what I did earlier. So let us leave it at that, and I won't say stuff like that again. My apologies.

Like I said, after time to get over my knee-jerk response, I'm not mad. That's not generally who you are or how you talk on the forums. 🙂

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10 hours ago, katfireblade said:

Like I said, after time to get over my knee-jerk response, I'm not mad. That's not generally who you are or how you talk on the forums. 🙂

FWIW, I do think certain media can go way overboard with the "cheesecake" theme anyway. There's no need for panty shots outside of erotic scenes, for instance, and I don't think I would ever write (whatever would be the literary equivalent of) a panty shot in a story outside that specific context. I also agree that female characters getting most of the cheesecake treatment in stuff like video games and comic books often presents a double standard since their male counterparts rarely get the same treatment. Some cultures do have men and women walking around with less clothing coverage than others, depending on climate and context, but when you have a culture where one sex reveals far more of their anatomy than the other...yeah, you can tell they have certain ideas about gender that aren't egalitarian (and probably do reflect the creator's personal "gaze").

So, yeah, I can't dispute that a lot of media really does has a problematic "male gaze" bias.

That being said, I would dispute your example of ancient Egyptian soldiers as an example of "armored infantry in a hot environment". The primary sources we have from ancient Egypt would contradict that claim, at least for the majority of soldiers.

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Higher-ranking officers and the Pharaoh might have worn more protection, but it doesn't seem to have been the norm for common Egyptian soldiers. Of course, artistic license and hyperbole are possible issues even with primary sources as shown above, but the same could be raised for modern illustrations (and, frankly, the way most modern media portray ancient Egyptian people and culture is a pet peeve of mine that would cause a whole 'nother derail in discussion).

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