Category:Thud and Blunder

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"... We can let our hero have all kinds of adventures, buckle all kinds of swashes. I merely submit that he ought to do so in a world which ... makes sense. The more it does, the more the reader will enjoy -- and the more he will come back for more."
Poul Anderson, On Thud And Blunder, 1978.
"[It is] designed to be consumed, enjoyed, and forgotten all at once."
Nathan Rabin, in his review of The Scorpion King for The Onion's A.V. Club

"Thud And Blunder" is a subgenre of Heroic Fantasy that focuses heavily on personal combat. It often relies on deus ex machinas and other asspulls popping up for the hero whenever things are getting sticky -- an ally discovered among the other galley slaves, a powerful artifact is activated at just the right moment, a plucky slave girl throws herself in front of the big bad's mighty sword stroke that would ordinarily cleave the hero in twain; stuff like that.

The name comes from an essay called "On Thud And Blunder" written in 1978 by Science Fiction/fantasy author Poul Anderson, a play on "Blood and Thunder," one of the nicknames of the Sword and Sorcery genre. He did not use it in a complimentary way, but it has since then come to be adopted as vaguely affectionate term when used by people who acknowledge the shortfalls of the type but still enjoy it, while remaining a completely derogatory term to those who dislike the type.

Hallmarks of the Thud-and-Blunder story include sacrificing characterization and dialogue in favor of a roller-coaster plot and extremely Purple Prose; Anachronism Stew by the gallon; and lots and lots of Did Not Do the Research, lots and lots of Artistic License and Rule of Cool. It is the cotton candy of the fantasy genre -- it looks substantial but is mostly fluff; it can be fun, but it is not satisfying for very long; and it tends to be a Love It or Hate It thing.

The hero of a Thud-and-Blunder story is not an intellectual. He may be quite intelligent, but he prefers to take the simple way through any problem: his solution to most situations is:

  1. Hit it with his mighty sword or other huge implement of destruction.
  2. Ride it down under the trampling hooves of his great steel-shod warhorse
  3. Kill it some other way.

He will almost always be a Barbarian Hero and everything he does is rated "M", (for "manly"); he is always Made of Iron, while his opponents tend to all be Made of Plasticine; all his battles are incredibly one-sided, unless his capture is necessary to advance the plot. His clothing is virtually always a Loin Cloth.

The villain is most often an Evil Overlord or Evil Sorcerer, or the two combined into one, the Sorcerous Overlord. The priests of a Religion of Evil are also a popular choice. For a change of scene, the villain may be a villainess: a Dragon Lady, a Vain Sorceress or or an an evil Queen or Empress.

In terms of secondary and minor characters, expect to find at least one Damsel in Distress, plucky slave girl, or Hot Amazon wandering about. If the hero has a companion, he will most likely be a Loveable Rogue, a deposed prince, or an ex-gladiator or Galley Slave. You can also pretty much bet that an Artifact of Doom of some sort will make an appearance. There will certainly be lots of Evil Minions running around for the hero to kill; the most common types are Elite Mooks or a Henchmen Race; there may also be a Praetorian Guard or giant mooks.

The Robert E Howard Conan stories are Thud and Blunder done decently; The Eye of Argon is an excellent example of Thud and Blunder done horribly badly.