[DWJ] Tropes (was: trolling for ideas/suggestions)

Robyn Starkey rohina at shaw.ca
Tue Dec 5 22:04:42 EST 2006

Very nicely explained by minnow; I just wanted to add that "tropes" is 
used in this way in literary criticism more broadly, too.

Minnow wrote:

>The Knowledge Pika wrote:
>>The Tough Guide was being used in another session to
>>point out 'overused fantasy tropes'...
>>Hm.. does tropes in this sentence really mean what it's supposed to
>>mean? I looked the word up in the OED and it was defined as merely a
>>figure of speech...
>In Clute's entries in *The Encyclopedia of Fantasy* (from which the Tough
>Guide sprang) he uses the word in a slightly more deep-and-meaningful way,
>and it is probably his usage that's being referred to: the OED lags behind
>the SF&F community by about thirty years, as far as I can make out, though
>they did recently ask the SF community to contribute to their new edition
>with usages from fantasy and science fiction of the latter twentieth
>It was not for nothing that DWJ seriously proposed an entry for the Enc.
>Fant., to be written by her, entitled "Humpty-Dumpty" and intended to
>explain to Mere Mortals what Clute meant when he used various words and
>phrases!  He ignored her suggestion, of course, which is a shame, because
>it would have been fun to read that essay.
>I think that rather than being merely a figure of speech, for Clute a
>"trope" is at least in part a cliche or collection/clump of cliche that has
>been so well-used as to become accepted without question.  Trivial examples
>might well include many of the things so beautifully pointed up by DWJ as
>faintly absurd when one looks at them afresh, like Colour Coding for eyes
>and hair, or the way that Elves are always Old and Wise and Young and Sexy
>and they Sing, or Dragons Speak The Truth At All Times.  All the baggage
>that fantasy has gathered unto itself and made essential, all the rules and
>conventions that you break only at your peril and only if you know what you
>are doing (as with messing about with perspective in art: you'd jolly well
>better know how it works before you play about with it, or what you paint
>simply looks wrong instead of clever) are more-or-less to be regarded as
>tropes.  I think maybe the trope is a sort of verbal/behavioural form of
>"underlier" (another Clute usage), as the underlier proper is the "mythago"
>behind a character who is being very similar to say Pierrot (who underlies
>the young Don Quixote types) or Harlequin (underlier to for example Jerry
>Cornelius) or Scaramouche (the slightly reprehensible Old Soldier who knows
>his stuff and turns up all over fantasy) -- to take examples from the
>Commedia dell'Arte just 'cos it came first to my mind.  Holdstock's mythago
>works are chock-full of underliers and tropes, mostly Celtic or
>Matter-of-Britain ones, and Clute writes of the Ryhope Wood sequence that
>it "is almost embarrassingly dense with fantasy tropes".  If the trope is
>what I think it is in Clute's lexicon, that seems about right to me.
>Actually I suspect that by looking in the Enc. Fant. at a random "abstract"
>entry, as it might be "Face of Glory", one can get a list of quite a few
>"tropes" in Clute-speak: Face of Glory itself, Masks, Lion, Thresholds,
>Map, Liminal Being, Quests, Metamorphosis, Recognition, Medusa, Hero With A
>Thousand Faces, Foliate Head, Bondage, Mirror, Labyrinth...  And if one
>then goes to those entries one will encounter more tropes in the Clute
>sense of the word, like Polders and Crosshatch and Thinning and...
>Humpty-Dumpty.  "Impenetrability, that's what I say!"
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