The End of Kings

From the Action Force Mailbag:

What is one fantasy trope that annoys you the most?


I struggled to answer with this. In the end, it’s all about execution. Anything I would suggest could be properly executed somewhere, and it’s all personal.

I dislike the deconstruction of “Evil Superman”, for example. Not the idea of a villain with incredible powers. There are plenty of those to go around. But there is a common idea that the edgiest thing one can do is create a version of Superman that is outwardly a hero but inwardly an egotistical, arrogant, possibly dull-witted, jerk. I rarely find that interesting, though there are exception.

I’m not crazy about zombie stories and, specifically, I’m not a fan of “Who is the real monster?” tropes where the humans turn on each other and cause as much or more damage than the zombies. It doesn’t engage me.

I don’t like “Aloof, beautiful immortals”, often illustrated by elves and vampires. And even Vulcans on Star Trek can get on my nerves, especially when they exist on straw version of logic and superiority.

I’m not crazy about “One-Hat species”. All orcs are violent barbarians. All elves are beautiful and know magic. All ferengi are manipulative merchants. But that’s less of a trope than it once was.

I can say that while there are many tropes I don’t like, there are almost none I think need to be completely removed. But then, it hit me. The one trope in fantasy that undoubtedly goes unchallenged more than it should.


More specifically, kings and queens and birthright rulership. Because that’s just some major nonsense that we need to put behind us, and one of the best places to start is in our fiction.

It’s interesting that even well-meaning fiction will apply this idea without question. In the MCU, both Asgard and Wakanda are monarchies. While Ragnarok remains one of my least favorite MCU films, it does at least question the romanticizing of monarchy. Black Panther, an otherwise excellent film, sits firmly in the acceptance that having a king by birth who can only be replaced by ritual combat is noble and acceptable. Which works just great until an usurper comes along who isn’t “worthy” to be king.

Incidentally, this is why I’m not a fan of The Lion King. Scar is an unworthy leader, but the only reason he isn’t leader is because of birth order, not worthiness. And it takes the rightful heir (who just happens to be a good guy, so that’s lucky) returning to take the throne to set things right.

It’s easy to see why so much fantasy has royalty in it. It’s a classic source of conflict. Much of fantasy plays on those assumptions. Both Asgard and Wakanda are intentionally high tech kingdoms with old world trappings from their respective cultural templates. And if you’re writing a story in a pseudo-medieval world (as much of fantasy is, even urban fantasy) it’s natural to put royalty in it.

But it doesn’t have to be in there. There’s no rule that says your magical version of whatever base medieval-ish setting has to have kings and queens. That sort of default assumption leads to a ton of stories built around the notion of divine right and genetic predisposition.

It’s one of the reasons many responded so negatively to The Rise of Skywalker. The previous film had suggested that being an important person wasn’t a matter of birth. Rey wasn’t related to anyone important, and, yes, her powers were extraordinary. (Though power creep is such an obvious thing in the Star Wars universe, I don’t understand why someone thinks Rey is overpowered. Heck, Darth Vader does things in Rogue One that he doesn’t even come close to doing in the original trilogy. But that’s another discussion.) But it’s not something she inherited. It’s just something she has that she can develop on her own.

And then The Rise of Skywalker comes along and makes it less about her and more about her bloodline. For some, that’s going to be appealing. There’s no denying that birthright and royalty is something humans lean toward. Even in countries that don’t have royalty, we love the idea of passing the torch to the next generation. How many stories, not really about royalty, are still about children becoming the next incarnation of their parent? Remember in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when we found out Mutt was Indiana Jones’s son, and therefore, worthy of possibly being his successor?

Probably not. It’s not a very good movie. But it’s in there.

When I think of all the stories I’ve written, I think it’s telling that I’ve never written about royalty. Even in the dozens of stories and half-stories that I’ve written that haven’t been published, there’s not one king or queen among them. It wasn’t intentional at first. But even before realizing how much I disliked the idea, I wasn’t interested. Now, I can’t imagine wanting to write about it without some major tweaks. Definitely ot interested in writing a story that suggests there’s any glory or romance in it.

So there you have it. The one trope I dislike the most: Royal birthright.


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