Created By: Koveras on June 29, 2012 Last Edited By: Koveras on July 27, 2012
Troped

Metallic Motifs

Characters associated with metals or alloys and their physical and symbolic properties.

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Trope
Stock symbolism attached to various metals and metallic alloys and applied to characters associated with them. Most common include:

  • Iron: strong, durable, but rough and unwieldy
    • Steel: like iron, but sharper and more dangerous
  • Gold: either king of metals (leader role; Authority Equals Asskicking optional), or fancy but completely useless
  • Silver: mystical metal, invariably badass
  • Bronze: durability, antiquity, old ways, classic art; at other times, "third-rate"
  • Copper: utility, cheapness, deformability
  • Tin: toy-like, ineffective, utility
  • Brass: loudness, cheapness, antiquity
  • Mercury: speed, volatility, unpredictability, shapeshifting
  • Lead: slow, heavy, impenetrable
  • Platinum: like gold, Only More So
  • Aluminum: modernity, high-tech

May overlap with astrological motifs (mainly Western Zodiac), since each celestial body is associated with a metal in astrology (e.g. Sun with gold, Moon with silver, etc.).

Subtropes include: Chrome Champion, Iron Lady, Iron Woobie.

Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • Sailor Moon's magic crystal was known as the Silver Crystal, and her knigdom was known as the Silver Millenium. Mamoru's magic crystal was known as the Golden Crystal. Both of these are in keeping with the associations given in the description, since Sailor Moon was the incarnation of an all-powerful goddess, and Mamoru was a king (and also somewhat useless when his powers were compared to hers).

Comic Books
  • The Metal Men.
  • Superman is known as the Man Of Steel.
  • Doc Savage is "the man of Bronze," both for his strength and his bronzed skin. The Superman people "borrowed" it for their "man of Steel" sobriquet (as well as Savage's "Fortress of Solitude").
  • The Incredible Hulk: one member of the U-Foes, an evil version of The Fantastic Four, is Ironclad, the Thing equivalent.
  • There was an old Spider-Man villain-turned-somewhat hero called Molten Man who was colored gold but was not a nice guy. When he reformed, instead of turning into a full-fledged superhero as most Heel–Face Turn cases do, he mostly tried to lead a normal life after he gave up villainy.
  • The Silver Surfer is a cosmic herald, who can fly through space and draw on raw cosmic force to blast his enemies.
  • Iron Man wears Powered Armor, which is the source of his strength.

Film
  • The T-1000 from Terminator 2 very much resembles mercury, and its shapeshifting properties are definitely thematic.

Literature
  • In the Arcia Chronicles, the Praetorian Guard of Tayana are split into the king's personal unit and the crown prince's unit. The former are associated with gold and mainly deployed to parades and celebrations. The latter are associated with silver and regularly carry out force recon and special operations.
  • Both the "fanciness" and the "royalty" symbolism of gold are invoked by Moist Van Lipwig after picking up a golden suit in Going Postal to go with his golden postal worker's hat (in the next book to star him, he covers a top hat in gold glitter for the same effect on being put in charge of the bank). As a former Con Artist, standing out is pretty much how he succeeds. Made a plot point when it turns out an army of ancient golems will listen to him, because the gold suit is similar to what their handlers would have worn.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the former blacksmith to the Baratheon family compares each of the 3 Baratheon brothers to different types of metal. Youngest brother Renly is copper, pretty and looks nice, but not worth much in a medieval society. Lawful Stupid middle brother Stannis is like iron; hard, inflexible, but brittle too. He'll break before he bends. Oldest brother Robert was the one that the blacksmith considered true steel, but 15 years trapped in a loveless marriage doing a job he hated ruined Robert's "true steel".
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the Ent Treebeard says at one point that the wizard Saruman "has a mind of wheels and metal". This implies a cold, intellectual, sterile view of the world that has no place in it for the love of anything organic or growing. Considering the Green Aesops of LOTR, this is not a good thing to be in that series, and Saruman is dominated by Pride, Resentment and Jealousy, all of which cause his downfall.
  • Prince Nigel Haldane, Duke of Carthmoor in the Deryni novels is nicknamed "the Iron Duke". He's proven himself at combat from the age of twenty onwards, and he has Gray Eyes to boot.
  • The Steel General in Creatures of Light and Darkness is an ancient warrior from Old Earth who fights for the downtrodden, the underdog, and the rebel. As he's been wounded in battle, he's had parts replaced with steel, till all that remains of his original body is a ring of flesh he wears on his pinky.
  • The various Oz books had a handful of metal-themed characters. The best known is Nick Chopper, the Tin Man, however there was also Tik-Tok the mechanical copper man, and an iron man who guarded the Nome King's palace.

Live Action TV
  • Sapphire and Steel: Steel, Lead, and Silver all have symbolic connections to the metals they're named for.

Music
  • The origin of Led Zeppelin's name. To quote TOW: "One account of how the new band's name was chosen held that Moon and Entwistle had suggested that the supergroup with Page and Beck would go down like a "lead balloon", a British idiom for disastrous results. The group dropped the 'a' in lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, so that those unfamiliar with the phrase would not pronounce it "leed". The word "balloon" was transformed into "zeppelin", perhaps an exaggeration of the humour, and to Page the name conjured the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace."

Tabletop Games

Western Animation
"He's got an iron will, nerves of steel, and several other metal-themed attributes..."
  • In The Fairly OddParents, The Crimson Chin's various enemies were all metal-themed. There was The Bronze Kneecap, The Iron Lung, The Brass Knuckle, and others.

Real Life
  • The use of metal titles for "ages" of man: Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, reflecting the basic level of technology.
  • The use of the term "Golden Age" to mean "a period of great happiness, prosperity, and achievement." E.g. the Comic Book culture has adopted Golden Age as well as Silver Age, Bronze Age (and sometimes Copper Age for post-Bronze & Platinum Age for pre-Gold) to delineate the history of comic books.
  • Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was nicknamed "the Iron Duke" for "his consistent political resolve" (as The Other Wiki says).
  • Prince Otto von Bismarck was known as "the Iron Chancellor", in part for his diplomacy of realpolitik and his powerful rule and in part for a famous speech he gave advocating strong military power in a unified Germany.

Will go under the Motifs and Added Alliterative Appeal indices.
Community Feedback Replies: 42
  • June 29, 2012
    randomsurfer
  • June 29, 2012
    AP
    See also Chrome Champion.

    Comic Book

    • There was an old Spider Man villain-turned-somewhat hero called Molten Man who was colored gold but was not a nice guy. When he reformed, instead of turning into a full-fledged superhero as most Heel Face Turn cases do, he mostly tried to lead a normal life after he gave up villainy.
  • June 29, 2012
    TooBah
    Lampshaded in Phineas And Ferb, the "Perry the Platypus Theme Song (Extended version)":
    "He's got an iron will, nerves of steel, and several other metal-themed attributes..."
  • July 9, 2012
    Koveras
  • July 9, 2012
    kjnoren
    Literature:

    Real Life:
    • Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady
    • Arthur Wellesley, the Iron Duke. His nickname became widespread after he installed iron bars in front of the windows of his mansion, to stop vandalism.
  • July 9, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Can you elaborate on the Discworld example? As for the Iron Lady examples, I think it's another subtrope.
  • July 10, 2012
    kjnoren
    Don't have the books at hand, but in Discworld, Diamond trolls are the kings of all trolls.
  • July 10, 2012
    Koveras
    Diamond is not a metal, however...
  • July 10, 2012
    Bisected8
    I wouldn't say that the Discworld example fits; trolls are made of rock and their king isn't an exception. I can think of a Discworld example though

    The gold example of this trope is invoked by Moist Van Lipwig after picking up a golden suit in Going Postal to go with his golden postal worker's hat (in the next book to star him, he covers a top hat in gold glitter for the same effect on being put in charge of the bank). As a former Con Artist, standing out is pretty much how he succeeds. Made a plot point when it turns out an army of ancient golems will listen to him, because the gold suit is similar to what their handlers would have worn.
  • July 10, 2012
    Boston
    The T-1000 from Terminator 2 very much resembled mercury, and its shapeshifting properties are definitely thematic.

  • July 10, 2012
    Blubble
    In Chinese Taoist thought, Metal attributes are considered to be firmness, rigidity, persistence, strength and determination. The metal person is controlling, ambitious, forceful and set in their ways as metal is very strong; and they are self-reliant and prefer to handle their problems alone. The metal person is also materialistic, business oriented and good at organization and stability. However the metal person can also appreciate luxury and enjoy the good things in life.

    In Chinese Astrology, metal is included in the Five Elements and governs the Chinese zodiac signs Monkey, Rooster, and Dog.

    It is also associated with the Autumn, the west, old age, the planet Venus, the color white, dry weather, and the White Tiger constellation.

    note: I added Minecraft in the example, under video games.
  • July 10, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Thank you, but please ask the original poster before editing their YKTTW in the future. The normal wiki rules do not apply to YKTTW. Especially since the Minecraft example wasn't an example of this but of reasonably accurate depiction of metals in fiction. :)
  • July 11, 2012
    Blubble
    ok :)
  • July 11, 2012
    TheWanderer
    • In A Song Of Ice And Fire, the former blacksmith to the Baratheon family compares each of the 3 Baratheon brothers to different types of metal. Youngest brother Renly is copper, pretty and looks nice, but not worth much in a medieval society. Lawful Stupid middle brother Stannis is like iron; hard, inflexible, but brittle too. He'll break before he bends. Oldest brother Robert was the one that the blacksmith considered true steel, but 15 years trapped in a loveless marriage doing a job he hated ruined Robert's "true steel".
    • In The Lord Of The Rings, the Ent Treebeard says at one point that the wizard Saruman "has a mind of wheels and metal". This implies a cold, intellectual, sterile view of the world that has no place in it for the love of anything organic or growing. Considering the Green Aesops of LOTR, this is not a good thing to be in that series, and Saruman is dominated by Pride, Resentment and Jealousy, all of which cause his downfall.
  • July 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Real Life:
    • The use of metal titles for "ages" of man: Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, reflecting the basic level of technology.
    • The use of the term "Golden Age" to mean "a period of great happiness, prosperity, and achievement."
  • July 11, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Literature:
    • Prince Nigel Haldane, Duke of Carthmoor in the Deryni novels is nicknamed "the Iron Duke". He's proven himself at combat from the age of twenty onwards, and he has Gray Eyes to boot.
  • July 11, 2012
    peccantis
    How about Metallic Motifs to drop the Metal music confusion?
  • July 15, 2012
    Koveras
  • July 16, 2012
    PaulA
    • Sapphire And Steel: Steel, Lead, and Silver all have symbolic connections to the metals they're named for.
  • July 16, 2012
    Belfagor
    • Magic The Gathering has each mana color associated to a classic metal: gold for White, silver for Blue, lead for Black, iron for Red and copper for Green.
  • July 16, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The origin of Led Zeppelin's name. To quote TOW: "One account of how the new band's name was chosen held that Moon and Entwistle had suggested that the supergroup with Page and Beck would go down like a "lead balloon", a British idiom for disastrous results. The group dropped the 'a' in lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, so that those unfamiliar with the phrase would not pronounce it "leed". The word "balloon" was transformed into "zeppelin", perhaps an exaggeration of the humour, and to Page the name conjured the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace."
  • July 16, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^ Do the spells cast with certain metallic mana types also exhibit association with those metals' properties?
  • July 17, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Real Life:
    • Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was nicknamed "the Iron Duke", among other things. The Other Wiki says this particular nickname for him "originally related to his consistent political resolve rather than to any particular incident. In various cases its editorial use appears to be disparaging. It is likely that its use became more widespread after an incident in 1832 in which he installed metal shutters to prevent rioters breaking windows at Apsley House." Aside from defeating Napoleon Bonaparte, Wellington served as British Prime Minister twice.
  • July 19, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Real Life:
    • Prince Otto von Bismarck was known as "the Iron Chancellor", in part for his diplomacy of realpolitik and his powerful rule and in part for a famous speech he gave advocating strong military power in a unified Germany:
      "The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions--that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849--but by iron and blood."

    Mythology:
    • Edith Hamilton not only describes the Golden Age (the blessed reign of Saturn in Italy re-enacted in the annual Saturnalia festival), she also gives an alternate creation story of the five ages of mankind. According to this tale, the gods experimented with various metals in creating people. In order, they are:
      • The golden race "lived like the gods without sorrow of heart, far from toil and pain." after death, they became beneficent guardian spirits.
      • The silver race "had so little intelligence that they could not keep from injuring each other." Their spirits died with them.
      • The brass race were strong, but "such lovers of war and violence that they were completely destroyed by their own hands."
      • A great race of godlike heroes (no metal specified) came after the brass. They had the great adventures "which men have talked and sung of through all the ages since."
      • The iron race ("which is now upon the earth") has evil in their nature, "so that they never have rest from toil and sorrow." Every generation is said to be worse than the one before it, and Zeus will finally destroy them "when no man is angry any more at wrongdoing or feels shame in the presence of the miserable".

  • July 19, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Actually, those five ages are from Ovid's Metamorphoses.
  • July 19, 2012
    chicagomel
    ^ Yeah, she cites Ovid as one of her sources, but she doesn't specify in the text that she got the five ages from him. Her book Mythology (my source for the quotations) actually says most of her chapter on world origins is from the eighth or ninth century BCE writer Hesiod (with credit to Aeschylus for the tale of Prometheus' punishment), and she says in her introduction that she avoided using Ovid as far as possible because "he was really farther away from them in his point of view than we are today. They [the myths] were sheer nonsense to him."

    I guess that makes this trope clearly Older Than Feudalism.
  • July 19, 2012
    chicagomel
    Another possible 'see also' could be Iron Woobie, right?
  • July 19, 2012
    randomsurfer
  • July 20, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^^ I will see how I can add that example.
  • July 20, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons
      • Adventure DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor. Taha Marcovic, Duke of Borno, was nicknamed The Iron Duke after his brilliant command of the rear guard during the retreat of the Imperial Thonian forces from Blackmoor.
  • July 20, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    @ Koveras Be my guest. I think the title of Hesiod's work is Theogony, but I'm not sure, nor am I enough of a classicist to read it in Greek or anything.

    @ randomsurfer Wasn't he professional coach too? Chicago Bears, right?
  • July 20, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Yeah (also coached for the New Orleans Saints), but he got the nickname as a player.
  • July 20, 2012
    Koveras
    I think we need a separate page for all the Real Life examples for people being called Iron Whatever. Because I won't add any more RL examples until this gets launched.
  • July 20, 2012
    Xtifr
    Literature:
    • The Steel General in Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness is an ancient warrior from Old Earth who fights for the downtrodden, the underdog, and the rebel. As he's been wounded in battle, he's had parts replaced with steel, till all that remains of his original body is a ring of flesh he wears on his pinky.
  • July 21, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Doc Savage is "the man of Bronze," both for his strength and his bronzed skin. The Superman people "borrowed" it for their "man of Steel" sobriquet (as well as Savage's "Fortress of Solitude").
  • July 21, 2012
    Koveras
    Anyone has an idea for the summaries of copper, tin and brass?
  • July 21, 2012
    TBeholder
    • Forgotten Realms elven subraces has alternative "metal" names -- Gold Elf (Sun Elf), Silver (Moon), Mithral (Star).
  • July 26, 2012
    Koveras
    Hats? More examples?
  • July 26, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    ^^^ Well, the adjective "brassy" has definitions that include "loud and bold," "harsh and metallic," and "noisy and clamorous". Then there's the stuff from Edith Hamilton about the warlike brass people. Tin is associated with cheapness and shoddy craftsmanship (I suppose due to its flexible, ductile nature, as well as its low-melting point and low cost).

    As for copper, wasn't there some metaphorical mention of it in A Song Of Ice And Fire, describing the youngest Barathian brother as pretty but weak? The metal is a pretty colour and quite malleable, so perhaps that's something...
  • July 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    Copper and tin (and to a lesser degree, lead) are sort of the "utilitarian" metals; cheap metal objects are always made of copper or tin. Brass has the same connotations, along with some of gold's (since it resembles it somewhat and can be superior to copper in many cases) which makes it the metal of choice for antiques and a sort of "higher class" utilitarian metal;

    • In Bioshock Ryan's chief engineer mentions in an audio diary that he got the job when he insisted on using superior brass fittings rather than copper ones (on his own dime), since he'd rather reduce his profit margins than produce a leaky toilet.

    Brass, lead and copper also have gained a reputation for being stolen so that they can be sold on as scrap as the prices went up (there's something of a moral panic surrounding it developing in the UK, since the theft of things like copper gas piping, manhole covers and other infrastructure has lead to accidents and delays as well as statues which are thought to be being stolen for their value as scrap rather than their artistic value). Stealing lead from a church roof (or other old, important house) is an archetypal petty crime for marking someone as desperate or a jerkass (since the profit is very small compared to the collateral damage weakening the roof of such a building can cause), stealing gas pipes or cutting through power-lines might mark a thief out as outright malicious (since, again, the profits are small and it can lead to fatal accidents) or incredibly stupid (because of the risk of being blown up or electrocuted).
  • July 26, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Anime & Manga:

    Sailor Moon's magic crystal was known as the Silver Crystal, and her knigdom was known as the Silver Millenium. Mamoru's magic crystal was known as the Golden Crystal. Both of these are in keeping with the associations given in the description, since Sailor Moon was the incarnation of an all-powerful goddess, and Mamoru was a king (and also somewhat useless when his powers were compared to hers).

    Literature:

    The various Oz books had a handful of metal-themed characters. The best known is Nick Chopper, the Tin Man, however there was also Tik-Tok the mechanical copper man, and an iron man who guarded the Nome King's palace.

    Western Animation:

    In The Fairly Odd Parents The Crimson Chin's various enemies were all metal-themed. There was The Bronze Kneecap, The Iron Lung, The Brass Knuckle, and others.
  • July 26, 2012
    Xtifr
    I've created a work page for Creatures Of Light And Darkness, so you can turn that into a blue-link if you want.

    Tin, I think, is most often associated with being toy-like, ineffective, or mundane like tin soldiers, or a "tinpot dictator".

    Comic Books:
    • The Silver Surfer is a cosmic herald, who can fly through space and draw on raw cosmic force to blast his enemies.
    • Iron Man wears Powered Armor, which is the source of his strength.

    (Note that there's also the Iron Man and The Wizard Of Oz films. Up to you if you want to mention those as well, since the description is basically the same as mine and ^ respectively.)
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