tough travels

Back in 2014, Nathan Barnhart created a weekly feature called ‘Tough Travels’, which he hosted over on Fantasy Review Barn. Inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre – it would spotlight a different trope every week, and invite other bloggers to compile their own lists of examples. Despite being put to rest eighty-three (83!) weeks later, ‘Tough Travels’ was widely successful, with over fifty blogs participating at one time or another. On April 1, 2017, Fantasy-Faction received Nathan’s permission to revive Tough Travels once more…

This week the topic is Non-human heroes:

The Tough Guide assures us that HEROES are ‘mythical beings, often selected at birth, who perform amazing deeds of courage, strength and magical mayhem, usually against all odds.’ Furthermore, ‘if you get to meet a so-called Hero, she/he always turns out to be just another human, with human failings, who has happened to be in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, more likely)’.

HOWEVER. For good or for evil, some of fantasy’s most memorable Heroes are not human at all. Some look human, but aren’t. Others may look monstrous, but be ‘human’ on the inside. Others still never pretend to be anything other than what they are – and why should they? In nearly all cases, we are likely to Learn Something from them – usually that appearances can be deceiving, or that the concepts of both ‘Human’ and ‘Hero’ are entirely subjective.

I love non-human main characters. Some of my favorites are, of course, elves:
Shadow by Anne Logston
Logston wrote three very upbeat and delightful fantasy books where the MC is an elf thief who loves life and dangers. The books are “Shadow”, “Shadow Hunt”, and “Shadow Dance”.

October Daye by Seanan McGuirse
Toby is a half-fae who is turned into a fish for fourteen years. She deals with the fallout of that misadventure in the first book. In the human world she’s a private investigator and in the fae realm she’s a knight in the service of Count Sylvester Torquill. The first book: “Rosemary and Rue”.

Raine Benares by Lisa Shearin
Raine is the one honest person in her family full of criminals. She’s a Seeker who finds lost items. The first book: “Magic lost, trouble found”.

Drizzt Do’Urden by R. A. Salvatore
He’s the only good dark elf in the underground city of Menzonberranzan. Not surprisingly, he leaves the city and his evil family to escape to the world above.

A few MCs are actually gods:
Selene DiSilva by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Selene is Artemis, the Greek maiden goddess of hunt and the moon. She’s lived thousands of years from Ancient Greece to modern day USA. She’s a private investigator but mostly she protects women. The first book is “The Immortals” and the second book “Winter of the Gods” is out and I need to get it.

Loki by Joanna M. Harris (also by Marvel comics)
Harris’ “Gospel of Loki” tells the Norse tales from Loki’s point of view. He’s abrasive, insulting, and very funny.

Vampires are quite common these days as MCs:
Lestat by Anne Rice
Louis and Lestat are the iconic vampire MCs from Rice’s books.

Mira by Jocelynne Drake
Mira is a six hundred years old vampire. She’s very protective of her small circle of people and an oddity even among vampires because she can create and control fire. The first book is “Nightwalker”.

Last but not least:
Corwin (and his family) by Roger Zelazny
Amber’s ruling family are immortal and eternally bickering with each other. When the patriarch Oberon vanishes, his sons fight viciously for the throne. The first book: “Nine Princes in Amber”.

Superhero comics, a bit surpisingly, don’t seem to have many strickly non-humans. Many Marvel characters are mutants but they’re human just with a different gene set. However, there are many who started out humans but were later changed, one way or another such as Victor Stone (Cyborg) and Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel/Binary/Captain Marvel). A case could be made for Inhumans being non-humans and the original Captain Marvel was a Kree man. But there are a couple of very prominent non-humans:

is from Krypton, of course, and therefore alien.

Wonder Woman
is an immortal Amazon. The other Amazons started as humans (at least depending on the current origin story) but Diana was created an immortal.

the Vision
is an android, although his brain patterns come from a human, Simon Williams.

Edit: I managed to leave out two of my favorite comics!
Cutter by Wendy and Richard Pini
and the rest of the elves in the Elfquest comics.

Dream by Neil Gaiman
The immortal Endless siblings are embodiments of some idea: Dream, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Desire Delight/Delirium, and Despair each have their own spheres of influence.

Back in 2014, Nathan Barnhart created a weekly feature called ‘Tough Travels’, which he hosted over on Fantasy Review Barn. Inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre – it would spotlight a different trope every week, and invite other bloggers to compile their own lists of examples. Despite being put to rest eighty-three (83!) weeks later, ‘Tough Travels’ was widely successful, with over fifty blogs participating at one time or another. On April 1, 2017, Fantasy-Faction received Nathan’s permission to revive Tough Travels once more…

This time the topic is:
Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

Assassins! One of the troupes of fantasy (and comics: Marvel especially has several heroes who have been trained by ninjas and often fight hordes of ninjas. But DC also has the League of Assassins which has featured a lot in the TV-show Arrow as well as comics.) who are often just minions for the major bad guy. But sometimes, they have more important roles:

Fitz by Robin Hobb
He was the first assassin main character I read about. Fitz in an orphan but he’s also related to king Shrewd. He’s too much a potential danger, so king Shrewd decides to train him as the royal assassin, keeping Fitz working for Shrewd rather than for the king’s enemies. This causes Fitz a world of pain.

Vlad Taltos by Steven Brust
Vlad is a human who lives is a world ruled by elves, or Dragaerans as they’re called in this world. The humans are considered a much lower class than Dragaerans but fortunately, Vlad’s father was able to get enough money to buy his way into the Jhereg, the Dragaeran criminal house. When the series starts, with “Jhereg”, Vlad is an assassin and a minor crime boss. He’s a smartass and so is his familiar, Loiosh. Their banter is one of the things that really endeared me to the books, not to mention the wonderful cast of characters around Vlad.

Elektra from Marvel comics
Elektra started out as Daredevil’s girlfriend and later enemy. She’s been a hero for a short time but, as far as I know, she’s currently a villain again. She was trained by the Hand, a deadly ninja organization.

Psylocke from Marvel comics
She started out as a British telepath (she’s actually Captain Britain’s twin sister). But thanks to a trip through Siege Perilous, she ended up in the hands of Hand (heh) and in a body which wasn’t hers but which belonged to a Japanese woman. She never got her original body back and her powers have changed through the years, as well. But she was trained as an assassin by the Hand and is one of the most reliable X-Men.

Storm Shadow by Larry Hama in the G.I. Joe comics and movies
G.I. Joe comics have a lot of assassins, as well. Storm Shadow (who started out as a villain but then turned into a hero but, IIRC, was brainwashed into a villain again by the time the comics ended) was the most prominent ninja assassin in the series for years (yes, Snake-Eyes is also a ninja but since he’s a good guy he doesn’t actually assassinate anyone) but there are several ninja clans running around with various masters and apprentices, including Snake-Eyes and Jinx. Storm Shadow was a villain because of an incident in his past and when that was cleared up, he became a hero.

Lord Vetinari by Terry Pratchett
The Patriarch of Ankh-Morpok was trained as an assassin. Most likely that influenced his ruling style which is very subtle. Discworld has a number of other assassins, as well.

Ehiru by N. K. Jemisin
He’s a Gatherer. His job is to give peaceful death to the suffering, or the corrupt. In order to do that, he must enter his victim’s dream and make is a peaceful, blissful dream. He also gathers the victim’s dreamblood which is very addictive. He and his apprentice Nijri are followers of goddess of dreams, death and the afterlife. Their organization is completely legal.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

This week’s topic is Tricksters

A great prank is always amusing. Many an adventure start with a well placed trick. They are even more amusing when performed by those with god like powers.

Sadly, this will be the last Tough Travels post. I came to the meme late and I didn’t always manage to post but I really enjoyed this meme. Thanks, Nathan!

Tricksters are some of my favorite characters, so onwards:

Loki: of course I have to start with the main trickster in the Marvel Universe, both on screen and the comics. Loki is one of the major villains in the MU.

The Joker from DC Comics, of course.

Pretty much every pantheon of ancient gods have their tricksters: some Native American tribes have the Coyote, Roman gods have Mercury, and the Egyptians have Set. Greeks had more: clever Odysseus, Eris the Discord goddess, Hermes the messenger/ trickster god, along with Prometheus who stole the fire from gods to humans. Pretty much every Greek god was known for tricking humans one way or another, and each other, as well.

Robin Hood
plays often tricks on the Sheriff of Nottingham and his minions. Admittedly, the adult versions of Robin’s legends don’t always emphasize that side of him.

The Bastard god from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion, Palading of Souls, and Hallowed Hunt.

Puck, from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was Fairy King Oberon’s court trickster.

from fairy tales and to a degree in the Once Upon a Time TV-show.

Puss in Boots from fairy tales. One of my favorites. Loved him in the Shrek movies, too.

Jack from the comic book Fables was so good a trickster than few people want him to stick around long.

Bugs Bunny is a cartoon character always playing tricks on others and many cartoons are fantasy.

Q from Star Trek: the Next Generation. One of my favorite tricksters ever!

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
This week’s topic is MILITARY GENIUS

Let’s face it. Fantasy life is often a life of war. One can only hope to serve under a commander who has some clue what they are doing.

Strangely enough, I could think of very few examples in fantasy even though I’ve read a lot of fantasy books which have a lot of fighting, and even some armies clashing. But generals in every genre tend to be ruthless, otherwise they wouldn’t win. So, I’m not so sure I’d like to serve under any of them, at least as a nameless trooper.

Prince Benedict of Amber: He’s the most martial minded of Oberon’s many sons and daughters. Even though he’s lost an arm in a duel (IIRC), he’s unmatched as a general.

King Arthur: depends on which writer’s version we’re talking about but Arthur is usually depicted as the general while his knights are individual fighters, no matter how formidable.

Superhero comics rarely deal with armies in the same way that epic fantasy tends to do but when leading large groups of superbeings Cyclops or Captain America are pretty much the people you want to lead your team.

In DC universe, Batman tends to be the expert tactician.

When I was thinking about this topic, science fiction characters came to mind more often, such as:

Aral Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Shards of Honor” and Barrayar”. He’s the acknowledged master general of his generation on his planet.

Piotr Vorkosigan, Aral’s dad is less acknowledged for his tactical skills in Bujold’s series. But just to point out how badass Piotr is: he had a horse cavalry when his planet was invaded by a huge and far more powerful nation which routinely use spacecraft. Piotr won. (okay, Piotr was one of the generals so it’s not just his victory. :))

Honor Harrington by David Weber. A rare female general.

Grand Admiral Thrawn by Timothy Zahn in the first Star Wars sequel books.

Captain John Sheridan in Babylon 5 is regarded as a master general.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.


Fairy tales are real in fantasy land. They may seem like stories told to kids, but in fantasyland they are very, very real.

Indeed, some books and movies are based on retelling stories and then there are a few books where stories come true.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. The three witches go to a far-away land and along the way to find out that stories are coming to life. And not in a cute and cuddly way.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire. Blind Michael is a monster right out of a fairy tale. The book has also other fairy tale elements. It’s the third book in McGuire’s Toby Daye series.

The Princess books by Jim C. Hines, first book is “the Stepsister Scheme”. Princess Danielle, also known as Cinderella, has married her Prince Charming but the stepsisters want their revenge. Luckily, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White want to help Danielle.

Rose Daughter and Beauty by Robin McKinley are retellings of the Beauty and the Beast story.

One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear. Movies and TV-shows are modern day fairy tales and in this book the tropes used in them, more accurately in spy movies and shows, come to life.

Speaking of TV-shows, Once Upon a Time is an obvious choice. Snow White and Prince Charming and the whole other fairy tale gang in the mortal world. However, they seem to bring some of the fairy tale rules with them, namely “heroes always win” and “heroes get their happy endings”.

Fables the comic book also features fairy tale characters who have come to the mundane world. They’ve fled from the Enemy who has conquered their lands. Some of the main characters are Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
This week’s topic is THE GOOD THIEF

Sure they may pocket things that don’t belong to them. And yes, anything that can be wiggled loose isn’t really locked down and may be fair game to them. And if they put half of their intelligence into legit trades instead of long cons they would probably be pillars of fantasyland’s community. But damn it, some thieves are still good people.

Lovable rogues are some of my favorite characters and I love read about them.

Robin Hood, Little John, Alan-a-Dale, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, and the rest of the Merry Men. They are the original good thieves.

Autolycus the King of Thieves from Xena the Warrior Princess. Bruce Campbell brought to life this happy-go-lucky thief.

Moist von Lipwig by Terry Pratchett. “What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.”

Silk from Eddings’ Belgariad series: one of the first good thief characters I ever read about. And he turns out to be a prince.

Kelsier and his whole crew from Sanderson’s Mistborn series. In the first book they’re planning a heist, the biggest heist in their world.

Loch and her crew in Patrick Weekes’ Palace Job. This group was inspired by “Ocean’s Eleven” except that it has far more women in it (yay!).

Tasslehoff Burrfoot from Dragonlance is a kender, the equivalent of a Halfling in the Dragonlance world. They’re adventurous and talk a lot, rather the opposite of hobbits.

Bilbo Baggins, the burglar hobbit who went traveling with twelve dwarfs and a wizard in Tolkien’s Hobbit.

Regis the Halfling in R. A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books. Regis is the requisite thief and he’s kidnapped quite often.

I can think of only one example from comics:
Marvel has Black Cat: a thief who has the power to bring bad fortune on her enemies.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
This week’s topic is PURE GOOD

No middle ground, no moral middle, no grey area at all. Some people are pure avatars of goodness. Fantasyland seems to be full of them.

I have to disagree: a startling amount of characters are grey. Also some characters are presented by the author as pure good and yet they go around killing people. Usually that happens in a war but a startling amount of fantasy books have good and evil races. And (pure) good is presented in Western setting with Western values.

Still, the first person who springs to my mind is:
Sir Galahad. He’s actually a very interesting case because he (and his dad Lancelot) is a later addition to the Arthurian saga. He’s the perfect knight and one of the three who found the Grail. Sir Percival is another, earlier pure knight.

Carrot Ironfoundersson by Terry Pratchett is another person who I think is also “pure” good – and an excellent foil to his boss who might be the biggest cynic in fantasy (although incorruptible), Sam Vimes.

Samwise Gamgee by Tolkien is never tempted to take the Ring for himself and he loyally follows Frodo on all the adventures.

Drizzt Do’Urden by R. A. Salvatore is a drow, a dark elf whose whole race is Evil. He’s the only good one, except of his dad. He’s an example of characters who are supposedly very good and yet kill a suprising amount of people. Indeed, his only real skill seem to be killing people.

Comics have a few characters who are supposed to be as pure good as people can be. Lots of readers seem to think that they’re boring, and they might be if their goodness is never tested but just taken as given.

Superman and Captain America are both the epitome of goodness in their respective universes. They also refuse to kill anyone. (Except in alternate universe stories)

Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. He not only refuses to kill, he has saved his enemies.

Thor: his hammer can only be lifted by someone who is worthy of being Thor. By Asgard standards.

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