The Genre Tourist’s Guide to Epic Fantasy – Part Three

This Band of Brothers…or whatever.

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In every Epic Quest, the hero quickly draws into his orbit a doughty group of supporters, each with unique talents that will become essential in order to Fulfill the Prophesy and enable the hero (girl or boy – we are post-gender-biased here) to do whatever it is that they need to do in order to Save The World.

In addition to a wise old mentor of mysterious origin, there is usually at least one person, generally recognized as “The Ranger”, who arrives armed with bow and arrows.

In general, these folk are of hearty, peasant stock and know innately the Ways of the Wild. They can simultaneously track a single deer over hundreds of miles, unearth badgers at the drop of a feathered hat, unerringly detect the presence of a disturbance in the woods (just moments before all Heck breaks loose), accurately read the minute signs of passing waterfowl and know why they did not remain in this foul place, whilst  whistling Dixie (or some other annoying tune) the entire time.

The nice thing is that when the group of intrepid Questers is at starvation point in some deserted wasteland, the Ranger will be able to track, kill and cook the only wildlife available for the next forty miles or so.

Another essential companion on these excursions is the Comic Relief.

The childhood friend who accompanies Our Hero/Heroine on the journey often does double duty and fills this role as well. But Comic Relief can also take the form of a servant, with or without an attitude, who has a commoner’s slow, straightforward literalness of mind that causes the hilarity.

They might be a thief, suborned by some means into joining the Quest, often as a way to escape some other, more dire punishment.

Their tendency to steal from the wrong people at the wrong time serves not only to provide much-needed breaks from the seriousness of the task at hand, but to usefully pitchfork the entire group into some life-threateningly terrible Peril and enable at least one of the group to discover heretofore unknown talents, to reconcile a quarrel or other difference of opinion between members of the Questing team, or, in some cases, to push the Reluctant Hero onto the inevitable path required.

Sometimes the Comic Relief comes in the form of an animal/insufferably cute pet, or even a magically-animated object. While animals usually provide amusement merely by being true to their animal instincts, Talking Swords are often great ad-lib comedians, and one has to listen very carefully to discern the difference between practical advice and practical jokes.

Another important component of this requisite crew will be the love interest.

In the case of young peasant boys who turn out to be royalty or great natural mages hidden from Evil’s eyes, this is usually a willful, adventurous Princess (sometimes in disguise) who, while at first seeming to be a lot more trouble than she could possibly be worth (royal ransom notwithstanding) eventually comes to her senses and learns to cook, throw oddly-pacifist-but-sort-of-useful magic spells, or knife people in dark alleys.

Or whatever.

The reverse, of course, always works: the young peasant girl who has been dragooned by Fate into the role of Savior will inevitably team up with some rogue Prince or noble cutpurse, who besides being devastatingly attractive, will constantly do things that put Our Heroine in jeopardy and/or rescue them in clumsy but endearingly whimsical ways.

In the case of young nobles/royalty escaping the machinations of their Uncle-The-Usurper, the love interest is often a highly talented but unpedigreed wizard/sorceress, or the most kick-ass natural warrior ever born. Either way, love blooms, and once ensconced on the throne, the new ruler inevitably finds a loophole in the law (or simply ignores centuries of tradition) and marries them anyway.

It’s a Good Thing, too, because some of those royal families get awfully inbred and eccentric over time.

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