Tropes, Archetypes, and Stereotypes

27 Mar

So in addition to banging off a bunch of stuff from my To Read List, I started listening to the Wheel of Time Audio books as well as The Witcher series from the Library – ebooks or audio, I’ve barely been inside a bookstore in a year. Both titles were published in the early 90’s, and the topics that will come up in the following weeks is isn’t so much reviews but just talking about themes. The Eye of the World was first published in 1990, with The Blood of the Elves in 1994. A Game of Thrones was 1996, and it struck me how these series all started out with established convention, and became their own thing. WoT has an upcoming series, with the other two titles being in production or concluded, with a potential Spin-Off for GoT. It got me thinking not only about adaptation, but tropes that rise in and out of popularity.

That is to say nothing of how long these authors spent writing their books. I assume if your book was published in 1990, it was probably accepted no later than 1988, so Jordan was probably started working on it no later than 1986. I’m amused, because I keep imaging these characters with 80’s hair. Yes, I was around in the 80’s, but I don’t remember much about it other than the campy stuff.

I also started watching Legend of the Seeker, more tv watching lately due to a back spasm, but I haven’t read the series yet and will talk about it once I can do memes again. Mostly, because I want to talk about the costumes.

When I was in High School, when I said I like to write, “Science fiction and fantasy.” And another guy in my class scoffed, asking if it was all elves and goblins and such. I said no, but it wasn’t because I didn’t like Tolkien, but my exposure was more old Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and Conan the Barbarian that my grandparents got for my dad when he was a kid. I devoured his old sword and sorcery comic books, although I’ll admit that I’m starting to give them away to my nephew who’s about the right age. We won’t talk too much about academia and how they treat my chosen genre, but a few years later, while I was still in University, in one of my creative writing classes I asked how contemporary fiction tries to retain a timeless feel, and I was advised by another student that science fiction and fantasy also can feel dated.

I agree with him to a point. People often ask me if I like the way Burroughs portrayed women (or at least the love interest) and I’ve had more than one writing teacher look at me and apologize for not having read The Lord of the Rings once, to which, I really didn’t care.

But once the technology and special effects caught up with what could only be done in comics, and the success of franchises multi-filmed movies like Harry Potter and Star Wars, our expectations as audiences grew. To me, there’s nothing about films like Gladiator that make it especially late 90’s in film format. My niece and cousin have finally gotten around to seeing the first few films of The Pirates of the Carribbean, although they grew up with movies like The Princess Bride, a film that it seems will be met with constant criticism at the mere mention of a reboot.

A trope, for our purposes, is basically a literary device we recognize. There are tropes common to certain genres, and they seem to  go beyond their genres. How it related to an archetype, is an archetype tends to be the more pure form of an idea that we might even recognize in our subconscious. I could write multiple posts on Archetypes, I would recommend reading books by either Joseph Campbell or Jung to start. A stereotype, tends to be something we’ve seen ad nauseum and it feels lazy. I don’t feel qualified to write about archetype, so let’s just go with a simpler term ‘trope’ and ‘stereotype’.

How it tends to work is something like this:

Legolas from The Lord of the Rings is the Archer Archetype. He’s not the lead, he’s more of a lancer. The stereotype that follows? Take your pick, but one of them is that all elves are fantastic archers and haughty.

Gimli son of Gloin is a classic bearded, axe-wielding dwarf. Once again, he’s not the lead, a lancer. The stereotype? Countless dwarf-like characters who are gruff and more than a bit snarky. They like mining and are more down-to-earth than the elves.

And from these two, we see an absolute ton of media that follows withdwarves and elves having animosity towards each other, which was common in Tolkien’s world, although the books themselves was about them becoming friends, to the point where Legolas brought Gimli with him to the undying lands.

To me, there’s nothing about The Lord of the Rings that suggests that it had to be written by a World War I veteran or was published in 1954. It’s obvious that Tolkien was a scholar and his attention to detail was amazing, and the more I read supplementation to his work, the more impressed I am. However, because of the success of Middle-Earth, it opened up the publishing world to more detailed and developed fantasy worlds, and not only for extreme fans. I took my niece to the bookstore two days ago for book 7 in a saga, which weighed in around 750 pages. It’s not the last book, nor is it the only series she’s read at that length. The series is designed for readers 12-14, and I’ve noticed that more contemporary books are getting thicker, especially for fantasy.

The problem I see is that the financial backing for some of these projects gets so heavy, that’s why we keep seeing reboots as opposed to original works. It works because the big names will bring in casuals, and then the folk who will spend the money, whereas the fans will want more, and go to other media as well. We want more but the producers take a financial risk with each product.

I think the universal feel though, is that despite the fashion choices of the time, or the actors chosen, is because they say something real and raw. Perhaps we’ve seen it, or something like it before, but we’re left unsatisfied, or at least want to relive the memories.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t choices taken. Compare these book covers:

That is to say nothing of when the WoT books were split in two for a YA audiences. Over time, the more detailed art lost favor for a more stylized, simple cover. Odds are, with the tv series, we’ll see brand new covers with the actors on them.

How about the casting of these actresses? The top is Liv Tyler as Arwen, the first LotR movie came out in 2001. The other actress is Brigette Regan, she played Kahlan in The Legend of the Seeker series which debuted in 2008.

               I think this blog post has gone on long enough for an in general talk about tropes. II’ll talk about some of my thoughts about these series and in general in the coming days, so long as my back spasm continues to improve and I can sit up for more than half an hour without getting whiny.

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