"The family -- that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to."—Dodie Smith
The transition from nuclear family to clan is gradual, but you know it when you have a clan at hand. These families often consist of many family branches and generations, are called collectively "The Foobars", or pompously, "House (of) Foobar". They might have their own family mythos, and the members often resemble each other in looks and personality. Two such clans can engage in lengthy wars.
If there are several clans, each has a tendency to actually wear a hat. This is popular in a lot of fantasy works. For example, you'll generally run into at least some of the following: a Proud Warrior House, an Evil or Arrogant Aristocrat House, a Greedy Merchant House, and of course The Hero House.
Holding the clan members together is an official or unofficial head of the family. This person can be an ancestor, someone whose personality centers their family on them, or an actual post that gets passed on through one of the family lines. Often this post is mythological or totemic, using some sort of Motif rather then actual though of course collective decisions have to be made by a living person such as chief or elder or counsel.
The exact nature of a clan differs. In some societies it is more like a long running extended family, in others it is a small kingdom all of whom are cousins. Some have a rather confusing network of ever expanding kinships and debts of honor with clans having somewhat fuzzy borders(both territorial and genealogical) between them.
The trope is at least Older Than Feudalism: The Greek pantheon is a sprawling family large and interconnected enough to count. They say blood is Thicker Than Water, and it is easy to empathize with the characters. Just like the real ones, the fictional clans can be the safe haven in the storms of life or a maelstrom on the high seas and everything in between. Sometimes alternating. If the clan is powerful and their name ancient they will often be as degenerated as they are proud. A good example of this comes from the culture which provides the term clan The modern Irish word "clann" still means "family" and ancient Scots and Irish societies were organized around extended family structures.
Writers often use related characters to show variations on a theme: each character or generation can provide similarity and contrast to each other.
Upbringing and heredity mark one forever (often, Lamarck Was Right too). And relatives, as everybody knows, are impossible to eliminate. All this makes for a lot of characters, clashing personalities, drama, humour, mysteries, characterization and plot.
- The issue-ridden Sohmas from Fruits Basket who need a Messiah to make their lives better.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The House of Armstrong has been playing this for laughs for generations. The Xingese characters, on the other hand, play it straight.
- The 10 Great Families from Tower of God, stemming from the 10 Great Warriros that accompanied King Zahard. There is a bit of rivalry between them, but in the Tower, where friend and enemy always change on an individual level, it holds no meaning.
- Naruto clans wear their martial art headbands proudly. Some of these specialties are genetic (called Bloodline Limits), while others are secret clan techniques and others are just traditions (symbiotic relationships with animals and spirits). Only a few recurring characters don't belong to a specialized clan, thus they are usually Badass Normal. With the exception of Uchiha, whose Hat is copying people (and breathing fire), we hardly ever see any member of these clans using anything but their clan techniques.
- Tsukihime: The Nanaya clan were a clan of inbred demon-slaying super-assassins who had achieved the limitations of human reflexes/strengths on sheer willpower, training, and dedication. They had a special mutation in their blood which gave them various psychic perception abilities, but since psychic mutations can only usually last for one generation they were a completely incestuous clan in order to maintain that gene. They were wiped out by the Tohno Family before the events of the game, with only one member (the protagonist, Nanaya Shiki) surviving due to a whim of the Tohno Family head (Nanaya Shiki had the same-name-written-differently as his son, Tohno SHIKI); Nanaya Shiki is later brainwashed into believing he is Tohno Shiki to cover for the "accident".
- The Tohno family is also a clan by the standards of this trope, probably moreso, particularly the branch family and head of the family aspects.
- Bleach mentions the Soul Society's Four Great Houses, although the only one we learn about in any detail is the Kuchiki family.
- The Shihouin (Yoruichi's clan) are another one, and the Shiba's used to be part of the Four (apparently it was once Five) before Kaien bit the big one and they got booted out when they where weakened. Ukitake, Kyoraku, and Kira are nobles as well, but are not part of the Four Houses.
- The Scrya Clan in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha that Yuuno is a part of. Examining history and the past is the clan's main occupation, and they possess quite a few specialty spells for those purposes such as one that lets them scan through several books at once.
- Cardcaptor Sakura: The Li Clan, while not mentioned often in the series, is a large magical family directly descended from the sorcerer Clow Reed of which Syaoran and Meiling Li are members.
- The Jinnouchi Clan in Summer Wars. It goes back 16 generations.
- The various clans of Kaze no Stigma.
- Saiunkoku Monogatari is set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China with the ruling nobility consisting of eight clans, all named after a different colour.
Comic Books[edit | hide]
- Scare Tactics featured several: the Skorzenys (vampires), the Ketchems (werewolves) and the Knightbridges (ghouls).
Literature[edit | hide]
- The title's unlucky Buddenbrooks from Thomas Mann's book.
- The Sacketts, a fictional clan from the backwoods of Tennesse. They all seem to be badasses too.
"Pick a fight with one Sackett, and the rest of them come a runnin'"
- Discworld: The Oggs, who manage to be both happy and a Dysfunction Junction. Also, the Lavish family in Making Money, without the happy bit. One of them, Cosmo, envies Lord Vetinari for having no family but an old aunt.
- Harry Potter:
- In the House of Black, members are vastly different from each other in about everything but the name.
- The Weasleys, a family so big that Harry can pretend to be a nonexistent cousin under Polyjuice and no one would notice.
- The Blacks and the Weasleys are, unsurprisingly, related, though the former would rather deny it. According to Sirius, all pure-blood wizard families are inter-related to some degree. If you're only going to let your kids marry other pure-bloods, your choice is increasingly limited - not that this stops people like the Malfoys from calling Category Traitor.
- Saiunkoku Monogatari has tons of these, the most prominently featured being the Kou Clan, which the main character belongs to. Most of the plotlines involve some kind of politics between clans or within a specific clan.
- The Dune series opens with the end of the bitter rivalry between House Atreides and House Harkonnen. Great Houses control a significant part of the Galaxy's economy. The House Ix wears the Gadgeteer Genius hat, sometimes to their detriment in a technophobic Empire.
- The noble houses of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire. House Targaryen is a house of beautiful mad geniuses. House Stark is stoic and honorable. House Frey is backbiting and greedy. House Bolton are Machiavellian bastards. House Greyjoy are grim raiders. House Lannister is vain. Some of the hats are strongly influenced by the current heads of the family, while other hats seem to go back generations. Houses also try to brand themselves with their particular hat through a house motto.
- The Phoenix Trilogy books by M. K. Wren (Sword of the Lamb, Shadow of the Swan, House of the Wolf) has as one of it's primary focuses the politics and backstabbing between a series of Houses, each with its own government-granted monopolies.
- The House of Finwe from The Silmarillion. The Feanorians wear the Ax Crazy hat (but Maedhros and Maglor at least are shaded with rather more subtlety than that), whereas the Fingolfinians and Finarfinians are much easier to live with. JRR Tolkien loves this trope. Most of his heroes are part of one clan or another. Hobbits have lots of clans like the Tooks, the Brandybucks, and the Baggins'
- The four clans of Warrior Cats normally get along. Of course, every once in a while, somebody gets cocky and decides to try taking some territory. Generally, RiverClan can swim, and tend to be a little smug, WindClan are fast and flighty, ShadowClan are proud, fierce, and a little mysterious, and ThunderClan are strong, brave, and compassionate.
- More recent books seem determined to upend previous Clan stereotypes: WindClan, who ThunderClan was always rescuing earlier, now are aloof and independent. ShadowClan has more recently been downright sympathetic, even helpful. ThunderClan has been repeatedly called out on their interfering and rule-bending, and have also notably been rescued... by WindClan.
- And of course, we have SkyClan, who left the other clans a long time ago to seek a new life. And they recently seem to have succeeded.
- And we mustn't forget BloodClan, the vicious tribe of alley cats from the city who attempted to take over the forest. It's implied that very few of the cats from BloodClan are actually bad cats deep down inside; they only did what they did out of fear of their Complete Monster leader. Now, BloodClan is currently scattered across the city, with no clear leader, after being defeated by the four forest Clans and a few scuffles with Ravenpaw and Barley over some farmland territory.
- And we also have the mythical TigerClan, LeopardClan, and LionClan, whose legends are known throughout all the clans. But despite Word of God confirming that they didn't actually exist in-universe, this hasn't stopped the fans from trying to make them exist in the series... and it hasn't stopped the characters themselves either.
- Tiger Clan and Lion Clan did briefly, but not the mythical ones. Tigerclaw combined Shadowclan and Riverclan into Tigerclan and Windclan and Thunderclan formed Lionclan, fulfilling the prophecy "Four will become two. Lion and Tiger will meet in battle and blood will rule the forest." Blood was a Bloodclan reference.
- The Comyn of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series consist of seven Clans including The Hero Houses of Hastur and Alton; the Corrupt Aristocratic House of Ardais and the renegade House of Aldaran.
- Most of the main characters in War and Peace are from, or vaguely related to, one of three aristocratic Russian families: the Bezukhovs, the Rostovs, and the Bolkonskys. Other clans are also mentioned often throughout the book.
- The AurÃ«nfaie in Nightrunner are divided up into clans. They include almost-literal hats in the form of headscarves with distinctive colors and styles.
- Charles Stross 's Merchant Princes series, where clan members can all walk between worlds.
- The Clayr in The Old Kingdom are like this. Oddly enough, considering how many Clayr have non-Clayr fathers, Lirael is the only one who doesn't look like a Clayr.
- Technically, the seventeen Houses in Steven Brust's Dragaera books are all descended from seventeen individuals. Well, sort of. They can trace the genetics, though, back to the original founders.
- Amelia Peabody: Egyptologist Amelia Peabody and her husband Radcliffe Emerson are the founders of a clan, including their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, Emerson's brother and his wife (Amelia's best friend), and, through the marriage of a niece with the grandson of their Egyptian foreman, a large chunk of an Egyptian village. Oh, and there's the bastard half-brother and his liaisons.
- Secret Histories: The Droods from the books by Simon R. Green.
- The Vorkosigans and the other Vor families in Vorkosigan Saga.
- The Woosters, Bertie's Big Screwed-Up Family in Jeeves and Wooster. According to Bertie, they "did [their] bit in the Crusades".
- The Harrington family is a good example (at least until most of them are killed in a Colony Drop).
- In The Peregrine the Nomads simply have Nomad as their tribal name but each ship is a subordinate clan and when there is population overflow a new ship is made in a sort of barnraising. Each ship is exogamous and marrying within it is considered incest(an in-law from a marriage to a member of another ship can join of course if they are already married to one of the crew, that is it is not a monastery in space). Every ship is named after something having to do with traveling and the tribes founder was captain of the traveler, and the chief of the whole tribe is always captain of a Traveller(Traveller 2, Traveller 3, etc).
- The Addams Family. The Addams. Like the main family of the series, the Addams clan is weird but friendly and apparently goes back a very long way. They all seem to be generically freakish, although Addams Family Values showed at least one case of a Muggle marrying into the clan through Cousin It. Family unity is valued very, very highly.
- Shameless has the Maguires, described as "a minor crime dynasty stretching back to the potato famine".
- In the 80's mini-series North and South, (as well as the books it was based on) had the Hazards of the North and the Mains of the South. However they were considered friends rather than enemies, and it was the American Civil War that pitted them against each other rather than themselves.
- Babylon 5: Both Minbari and Centauri society consider this important.
- Highlander had the Clan Macleod, based in real life Scottish history, though with a few Artistic Licence History changes.
- In the dark elf houses from the Forgotten Realms franchise, most members hate each other but don't kill their relatives as long they still need them.
- For the Ravenloft setting, the supplement Legacy of the Blood provides details on several of the Core's most (in)famous clans, including unique family feats, spells, prestige classes and stat modifiers.
- Exalted: The eleven Great Houses of the Realm are all Clans; five pairs of two houses each sharing a tendency towards producing Dragon-Blooded aspected to one of the five elements. And then there's House Nellens.
- The, well, The Clans from BattleTech. The Bloodname Houses make up the warrior caste, each consisting of every warrior that has a direct matrilineal link to the House's founder, which is not difficult to determine.
- Romeo and Juliet: The Montague clan versus the Capulet clan. There is a decades-long feud, ending with the last legitimate heirs all dying.
- There's also a handful of vague implications that the Prince of Verona is himself the head of a third clan, which is also apparently decimated by the feud (Mercutio, his nephew and presumptive heir since no royal children are mentioned, dies moments before his own killer, the youngest male Capulet, Tybalt, and the prince's cousin Count Paris is killed by Romeo Montague only a little while before the deaths of Romeo and Juliet). In the end, the prince shares in the Montagues' and Capulets' grief by commenting that he has also lost "a brace of kinsmen".
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind : The Dunmer (Dark Elf) Great Houses are a combination of blood relations and adopted members. Each House has its own specialty: House Telvanni is led by ancient wizards, House Hlaalu is for merchants and thieves and House Redoran is the warrior house. Two other Houses are mentioned by not seen: House Indoril and House Dres. The Big Bad of the game is the titular head of House Dagoth, which had been forcibly dissolved.
- Rome: Total War: The Roman Empire (or, more properly, The Roman Republic) in this Real Time Strategy game consists of three main factions, the Julii, Brutii, and Scipii, each one based around a single influential clan (there's also a fourth faction, the Senate, but that one isn't relevant to this trope).
- Imperium Nova: You create and play as one in this feudal space MMORPG, creating a crest, generating dynasty members, picking a sphere of operation, and even making a hat for your house.
- Castlevania: The Belmont clan from the series, dedicated to battling Dracula and his minions.
Web Comics[edit | hide]
- In Drowtales the mega city state of Chel'el'sussoloth is made up of 9 Great Clans and countless smaller clans and guilds, and much of the conflict is between clans. Within the great clans only people directly related to the main house can carry the Val prefix on their names, and within clans there can be countless numbers of houses.
Web Original[edit | hide]
- In The Gamers Alliance, Maar Sul and Scundia are full of various clans, for example the House of Aurelac and Clan Mallorein. Demons have clans too.
- Whateley Universe: The incredibly wealthy, aristocratic, lese majeste oriented Goodkind family. If the Goodkinds didn't hate mutants with a passion, they might even be the good guys. Since the main characters are all mutants (including one kid who was a Goodkind and has been disowned after being kidnapped and tortured), the Goodkinds don't look so great.
- This is the central mechanic of Imperium Nova, where each player plays as one Clan.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: The Apple family which includes mane cast member Applejack as well as secondary character Applebloom (her little sister), and regulars Big Macintosh (older brother of the sisters) and Granny Smith their grandmother. However during an Apple family reunion the family is shown to be much, much bigger, most of them having apple themed names and one episode confirms most of them own and run their own apple farms spread out across Equestria.
- Scots clans (the original) were a slightly different sort of thing than the small, tight-knit image the word "clan" conjures up today. They could have several thousand members and were almost small kingdoms. Even today some Scots and their far-flung descendants still try to keep at least an awareness of their original clan.
- Poets sometimes refer to the King or Queen of Scots as "Chief of Chiefs". Given how much of Scotland was dominated by kin based rather then feudalistic structure that has historical accuracy as well as poetic attraction.
- Southwestern Native Americans have clans, mostly exogamous and matrilineal. Clans determine who one can marry, marrying anyone from one's parents' or even grandparents' clans is considered incest. Clans also determine one's religious role, each Navajo or Apache clan has its own versions of all the myths and ceremonies, while each Hopi clan has specific ritual tasks, the most prominent being the Snake Clan, who perform the rain dances.
- Many of the great dynasties in history. One of the most important things to remember about history is that monarchs often thought of themselves as head of The Clan first and head of The Kingdom only second.
- Chinese Clans are among the most sophisticated examples of this with such abstractions as written customs and rules and careful recording of ancestry. They can keep in touch over long distances and provide each other Sacred Hospitality.
- It is far more sophisticated then that, too. Chinese clans compare with Italian Alberghi(see below)and can use the combined resources of their members to form what amounts to a guild or a corporation to administer far flung assets.
- One of the more interesting variations are consort clans which are descended from a close male relation of an Imperial consort.
- In the earliest days of the Wild West (1600 to 1800) in the Appalachians large families with cousins and cousins of cousins would live next to each other. This was necessary, because of the possibility that Indians, French, British, Tories, or simply the folks next door, or whoever they were fighting at the moment might make life uncomfortable. And therefore mutual protection was needed. Having large families together was one way of solving this problem. It was probably similar to the reason a lot of peoples would form into a clan. Another contributing factor was the fact that many of these settlers were themselves immigrants from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Grouping together into clans was a familiar way to deal with an unfamiliar and dangerous world.
- The Japanese still have a clan system and wars between various clans have led to many of Japan's civil wars for example the Ōnin War was started between the Yamana clan and the Hosokawa clan. That war led to Sengoku jidai, "the Warring States Period" which was basically a very bloody free for all between the various houses for control of Japan.
- Italians are famous for this, especially the most famous Italian clans of all. Older Than Feudalism: Roman families (a gens) were the forerunners to this. Famous ones include the Julii, the Junii, the Cornelii, and the Antonii. The vast webs of patron-client relationships held the Roman Republic together and operated in a fashion very similar to The Mafia.
- The Alberghi were a special type of these, being a confederation or commonwealth of several families grouped under one name and occupying their own parts of a city. This system was especially popular in Genoa.
- The Medici were one of the most famous Italian families, dominating Florence through the debts (of money or service) owed to them until they were de facto monarchs. They were, in their time, known for their sponsorship of art projects.
- Occasionally whole nations, ethnicities, or even religions will trace their origins to a clan or confederation thereof. Or start as a religion and evolve into being a clan as well by such means as strict endogamy and the use of various forms of rituals as a logo. Jews are among the most obvious of these but others can be thought of. It is to be noted that though the clan structure is often associated with premodern societies, it can be compatible with cutting edge technical sophistication and is not necessarily an anachronism, depending on how it is practiced.
- Nepal has a fondness for clannishness. The Gurkhas were once primarily recruited from about half a dozen clans only one interestingly enough was Kshatriya(warrior-aristocrats)though that technicality seems not to have been taken seriously. Sherpas first tended to live as yak-caravaners, and then found mountain tourism more profitable if dangerous. Few Sherpas historically have gone soldiering in the Gurkhas apparently though one wonders why not as business must have slacked off during the World Wars with all their customers fighting somewhere; while demand for Gurkhas obviously picked up.
- Criminal organizations drawn from tribal cultures are so famous in Hollywood that many times when people recognize the ethos of clannishness they instinctively apply the stereotype. In fact of course, the kin-based cohesion formed by a clannish society is a fairly good foundation for any underground organization, but that does not mean crime is the only use it can be put to and it works well for many other uses including normal business.
- In Japan and Korea it is known for family groups to maintain clusters of corporations anchored by exchanging ownership of stock or having a holding company above. These are called variously Zabatsu, Keiretsu, and in Korea, Chaebol. In a way it is going back to roots by having what amounts to mercantile Daimyos.