I was reading a discussion concerning a certain fantasy author and someone asked if the author was a cliché writer. This appeared to have been asked as a bit of a put-down. What was meant by cliché writer? Since the writer has authored almost exclusively fantasy, I suspect the critics meant the story line so popular to the genre: Reluctant hero convinced to undertake some sort of quest; Hero joins with others who support the quest; Quest includes finding some object or another and defeating a terrible evil.
Is it fair to call this a cliché? I don’t think so.
In the simplest definition of the word, something becomes a cliché through overuse, not necessarily through any fundamental flaw with item in question. This supposed fantasy trope is a common framework, but it is the details in execution that differ with each story that make it succeed. If the critics were being fair, they would recognize that this cliché isn’t unique to fantasy, but — in one form another — prevalent across much of storytelling.
The reluctant-hero-team-up-battle-evil-save-the-world plot is at the heart of nearly every superhero film or show so popular now. However, it isn’t unique to the fantastic. How many other thrillers, adventures, mysteries or whatever you can think of include one or more of what is supposedly unique to fantasy? Better yet, why is this story line the bedrock of so much human storytelling? John Eldridge explains in his book Epic
Notice that all the great stories pretty much follow the same story line. Things were once good, then something awful happened, and now a great battle must be fought or a journey taken…
It’s true of every fairy tale, every myth, every Western, every epic…Have you ever wondered why?
Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a Larger Story, a Story woven in the fabric of our being…
All of these stories borrow from the Story. From Reality. We hear echoes of it through our lives. Some secret written on our hearts. A great battle to fight, and someone to fight for us. An adventure, something that requires everything we have, something to be shared with those we love and need.
There is a Story that we just can’t seem to escape. There is a Story written on the human heart.