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Fantasy Pantheon/Gods Pet Peeves

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Topic stolen shamelessly from Reddit r/fantasywriters.

What tropes are you tired of seeing in fantasy pantheons and gods? What bugs you, what seems tired and overdone? I know there's a lot of us out there inventing religions, lets hear what you are trying to avoid in your own works!

For me, I don't like fantasy religions that are thinly veiled real-world metaphors. At least TRY and put a spin on your crystal Jesus figure, or your 'totally not Wiccan' witch goddess. Too often they devolve into anvilicious bashing of real world religion. I come for escapism, not someone to moan about their views.

 

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I'm not a huge fan of protagonists who are gods, half-gods, reincarnated gods or whatever. I haven't seen it too much in published works, at least the ones I've read, but it seems to be fairly common with newer writers of fantasy. The characters usually end up being too powerful and I like to limit the power of my protagonists.

That said, I do have one character who becomes sort of a god. I'm still working on exactly what that means, what he can and can't do, and what his arc will be. It's all part of the magic system, though.

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I don't like pantheons with gods that are fully evil or good or whatever. Even in pantheons with literal gods of evil or gods who murder people (take Set or Loki for example) the gods had features or jobs that were necessary (Set protected Ra from Apop, Loki was a chaos god and sometimes that chaos worked for Asgard). Not to mention, the evil gods are usually the antagonists and they're really boring ones. Oh no, they want to destroy the world because they're evil, and they only want to be evil. Oh no, how intimidating.

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Not a big fan of I Can't Beleive It's Not Christianity (either as formulaic Evil Institutions ruling hapless sheeple, or as the author's analogy for Jesus). Either way it turns into a space for people to work out their religious hangups while the story grinds to a halt.

Also not a big fan of Wicca with the labels removed, or the "Universal Triune Mother Goddess of White Light" thing. People need to stop doing that with historical pantheons; I've developed an allergy to it in fiction.

General rule: please have more than 1 religion and please give them some depth, or just don't even go there.

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3 hours ago, SecretRock said:

Not to mention, the evil gods are usually the antagonists and they're really boring ones.

Ares in Wonder Woman bugged me so much! It was otherwise a pretty fun film and the audience probably didn't notice or care, but whyyyy. And Set(?) in that bad remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise. 

Loki gets this portrayal too. (Tricksters, man, you set off the Apocalypse like, one time and everybody's hating...)

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15 hours ago, Banespawn said:

I'm not a huge fan of protagonists who are gods, half-gods, reincarnated gods or whatever. I haven't seen it too much in published works, at least the ones I've read, but it seems to be fairly common with newer writers of fantasy. The characters usually end up being too powerful and I like to limit the power of my protagonists.

I'm with you there. I really want to like these characters but 9 times out of 10 they verge into Mary Sue levels of being overpowered. There are ways around this for sure. Writing Excuses has a couple amazing podcasts, one about raising the stakes, but it touches on this. (link, another link). They have 3 sliders, competency, likeability, and proactivity. An overpowered god character may be super competent, but they may be less proactive or likeable. Or, maybe they have these great powers, but they aren't great at using them, they aren't competent, but they ARE likeable. This makes a character more rounded.

15 hours ago, SecretRock said:

I don't like pantheons with gods that are fully evil or good or whatever.

I agree 100%, its so flat and boring. I wish we could say its a product of a simpler, more Tolkien style, but we still see it in fantasy to this day. I think people are afraid of having the bad guys be seen as sympathetic or as having a point. But all they are doing is shooting themselves in the foot by setting up a strawman villain.

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My pantheons exist already. Walhalla and its gods, Christianity with pilgrimages, santeria with loas... And mermaids. I love mermaids. I want to write a short story collection with mostly mermaids...

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On 7/8/2019 at 4:05 PM, SecretRock said:

I don't like pantheons with gods that are fully evil or good or whatever. Even in pantheons with literal gods of evil or gods who murder people (take Set or Loki for example) the gods had features or jobs that were necessary (Set protected Ra from Apop, Loki was a chaos god and sometimes that chaos worked for Asgard). Not to mention, the evil gods are usually the antagonists and they're really boring ones. Oh no, they want to destroy the world because they're evil, and they only want to be evil. Oh no, how intimidating.

Not to mention that "evil" is a subjective concept anyway. Different cultures have different ideas of what qualifies as good or evil. To some people, genociding certain other populations of humanity would be considered a moral necessity, whereas others may turn a blind eye to rape if the target "deserves it".

If anything, a lot of the behavior most of us would consider evil actually came about from people who had convinced themselves they were doing the right thing. In some cases, sure, their agendas were actually self-serving, but they were still able to make themselves and others think they had altruistic motives. The numerous examples of nations invading others to "civilize the savages" or "pacify the barbarians" while claiming their natural wealth come to mind. Hell, to tie it back into the theme of religion, a lot of the violent religious fanaticism seen throughout history was driven by people who felt the world would be a better place if everybody followed the same religion.

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