Created By: Lumpenprole on November 20, 2011 Last Edited By: Lumpenprole on November 24, 2011

Bureaucracy Trumps All

When characters in a humorous fantasy are subject to mundane laws and restrictions

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This is when fantasy is played for laughs by presuming that no matter what is happening, the background standards of a civilized, law-abiding, highly regulated society prevail. The humor is that the juxtaposition is usually absurd- if any authority existed that could enforce petty rules and regulations, most of the scenerios of heroic fantasy wouldn't make sense.

  • The Tolkien parody Bored of the Rings is a prime example, with both heroes (such as they are) and villains fighting for the fate of a world where nonetheless the standards of mid-Twentieth century America are in force:
**"But, as Frito saw with surprise, the Black Nine were halted at the foot of the crossing by a figure robed in shining rainment. 'Toll, please,' commanded the figure of the startled Riders."

  • In the comic book adaptation of the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine, the submarine is ticketed and towed for illegal parking by Rita the Metermaid.


Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • November 20, 2011
    Sorry to toot my own horn, but I did this myself in a political parody comic series called Angloman ( At one point the title character has to renew his superhero license at the Quebec Authority for Superhuman Affairs, and is led on the usual kafkaesque nightmare through the bureaucracy.
  • November 20, 2011
    Doesn't this happen in one episode of Doctor Who, where the Doctor has a million parking tickets or something? Sorry for lack of clear recollection.
  • November 21, 2011
  • November 21, 2011
    I have watched the original Yellow Submarine movie a number of times, and I can't remember any scene where anyone named Rita the Meter Maid appears or has the Yellow Submarine towed. I also can't find any reference to such a scene with a Net search.

    @Lumpenprole/OP: The original movie is on YouTube starting here. Could you tell me where it is in the movie so I could look at it?
  • November 21, 2011
    Hilarity Sues is related
  • November 21, 2011
    In the seventh Spellsinger book, Jon Tom disposes of some mooks by summoning a magical bureaucrat to bore them to death.
  • November 21, 2011
    The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove.
  • November 22, 2011
    In Beetlejuice, the afterlife is governed by numerous bureaucratic policies and restrictions which are played according to the Rule Of Funny.
  • November 22, 2011
    Order Of The Stick: on arriving in a dictatorship ruled by an Evil Overlord, the main characters are imprisoned for not having the right paperwork.
  • November 24, 2011
    Happened frequently in the second season of Avatar The Last Airbender; the Earth Kingdom kind of had this as its hat:
    • Aang was arrested and put on trial for a murder his past incarnation committed; they wouldn't accept Water Tribe money for bail.
    • There was a bureaucrat in charge of the ferry to Ba Sing Se refusing to admit the Avatar or anyone without a pass (except for any Bei Fongs...)
    • Another bureaucrat at the other end of the ferry required some sleazing on Iroh's part.
    • When they finally got to Ba Sing Se, the Dai Li, Joo Dee and Long Feng were waiting.
  • November 24, 2011
    ^Arivne, you're right- that scene is from the comic book adaptation of Yellow Submarine, and I've corrected the main article. I guess it's true- if you remember the '60s, you weren't there. :)

    Also, this trope isn't exactly about fiction where you'd expect to find bureaucracies (the king's tax collectors, etc.) It's about works where there's a completely silly mismatch between a supposedly anarchic or barbaric scenerio and the constraints typical of our highly-civilized and controlled modern era. The Bored of The Rings example: what exactly was stopping the Black Riders from simply smashing in the tolltaker's skull and crossing the river? The police- what police? What law? It's as if in the story of the Three Little Pigs, the pigs had been menaced not by the Big Bad Wolf but the local housing inspector.