Nerine Dorman talks Fantasy and the Boy Hero, Tropes and Twists

I’m taking a back seat today and letting author Nerine Dorman drive this hearse of mine and talk about Boy Heroes. Nerine writes dark fantasy, and The Guardian’s Wyrd is her first foray into children’s literature.

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Hands up if you watched The Neverending Story when you were a wee sprog. Extra Nerine points awarded if you cried when Artax died in the Swamp of Sadness. This classic film is based on a novel by Michael Ende, and it plays with a common fantasy trope that is as old as the dust of the planet Tatooine.

We’ve all encountered that well-worn trope of the farm boy who discovers that he is secretly a prince, haven’t we?

The boy on a quest is certainly not a new concept – in fact many fantasy or SF classics begin with the boy who has been the catalyst for world-changing events. He is Luke Skywalker, Ged, Rand al’Thor, Atreyu, Bastian Balthazar Bux, Frodo Baggins, Eragon, Harry Potter, Garion, Jaxom… I’m pretty sure you’ll have a few of your own favourites to that list.

They all have something in common. No matter whether they were of common or noble birth, they all went from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and embarked on a great quest, that often involves slaying monsters and retrieving some sort of McGuffin, be it a golden fleece or a magical sword.

Why is it that this trope keeps recurring? Isn’t it tired already? Why is this sort of story so satisfying?

To answer that question, I suggest looking at the words of mythologist Joseph Campbell, who had a fascination with history, myths and legends, that he examined in his many written works and lectures.

According to Campbell, a common thread runs through the majority of our cultural heritage, be it among the Hopi of North America, Europe’s ancient Celts, the Scandinavian Northmen or the adherents of India’s Hindu religion. He names this common thread the Monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces makes for fascinating reading if this piques your interest.

To sum it up, the trope of the boy-hero setting out appeals to many of us precisely because it strikes a deeply rooted chord within our collective subconscious that spans our storytelling tradition from the earliest days when people first gathered around a crackling fire.

Though in fantasy and, to an extent science fiction, this trope does play itself out with greater frequency than other forms of genre fiction, it’s not so much the underlying framework that counts, but what author do to make it their own. As much as we get told to write what we know, real life often won’t fulfil readers’ expectations. After all, we ask ourselves, why is it that we read particular books?

I’m sure many of us can answer that it is because we wish to escape to a world other than the one in which we live. Real life is often frustrating, ugly and filled with limitations. What better than to step into another’s life where the hero overcomes many obstacles.

And I suspect, this is why our boy-hero (or girl-hero, depending on what your prefer) will never get old.

People have asked me why I’ve chosen to write a teenage character for my latest release, The Guardian’s Wyrd, when the majority of my fiction is aimed at adult readers. The answer is simple – there’s nothing more exciting than setting out on an adventure with someone who stands at the cusp of great change. I want to read about what the hero does before he or she learns to swing that sword. I want to share in their excitement when they unlock their powers. I want to grow with them when they have their firsts.

So I invite you to step into the shoes of Jay and Rowan as they embark upon a quest. You will never be sixteen again, but you can always heed the call to adventure.

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