Literature / River of Dancing Gods

A troperiffic fantasy series written by Jack Chalker. As with all Chalker products, expect copious amounts of Author Appeal between the heaping servings of high parody. What can you say about any series where most popular fantasy tropes have been literally written into the physical laws of the universe by powerful magicians?

Consists of:
  • The River of Dancing Gods (1984)
  • Demons of the Dancing Gods (1984)
  • Vengeance of the Dancing Gods (1985)
  • Songs of the Dancing Gods (1990)
  • Horrors of the Dancing Gods (1994)

Contains examples of:

  • Anti-Climax: Chalker either ended the series one book too soon or pushed the concept one book too far.
  • Author Appeal: Among Jack Chalker's trademarks:
  • Baleful Polymorph: Played with. Once they've escaped the Circe-esque witch that transformed them, Joe and his companions exploit the Mundane Utility of their animal transformations to sneak through a dragnet. Inverted completely with Posti, who turned out to have been a very poor specimen of manhood before his transformation. Given the choice he decided he'd much rather remain a pretty stallion than a dimwitted and ugly human.
  • Barbarian Hero: Middle-aged truck driver Joe finds himself reborn in a fantasy world as Joe, the Barbarian! With a mighty sword...Irving!
  • Becoming the Genie: This is the curse of the Lamp of Lakash. People assume they can get three wishes, but in fact the lamp only grants two, and only the first is free; the second will replace the current genie with the wisher automatically (although the wish must still be fulfilled).
  • Blessed with Suck: Joe's heroic sacrifice gave him immortality and near godlike powers but only at the cost of being stuck as a girl and a fairy, both fates worse than death as far as the macho male barbarian is concerned. Especially since he believes it cost him both his one true love and his last chance to be a proper father to his son.
  • Chainmail Bikini: One of the most famous Rules is that "weather and climate permitting, all beautiful young women must be scantily clad". This means the female barbarian character must compromise between protection and conforming with the Rules.
  • Continuity Cameo: In Book 4, the villain, who has been banished from both heaven and hell wonders where his soul will end up. It turns out he goes to a limbo where all the great defeated villains go. There he meets Baal, Sauron, and even great Cthulhu.
  • Cool Sword: Joe the Barbarian's mighty sword Irving.
  • Dangerous Sixteenth Birthday: Discussed in the last book (as a sign of the general level of Genre Savviness) but ultimately discarded as the character in question has been in hiding her whole life and probably has no idea when her real birthday is.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: In Demons, there's a sorcerer plotting to bring about the end of the world. Every other evil sorcerer in the world is against him, once they find out, because they've all done a Deal with the Devil to enhance their power, and consequently want to postpone Judgement Day as long as possible.
  • First Law of Gender-Bending: Joe gets temporarily genderbent a few times as a result of various magical shenanigans, but at the climax of Songs of the Dancing Gods he winds up permanently stuck in a female body after his own body is destroyed in a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Five-Man Band: "All companies shall consist of at least nine people, one of whom is not to be trusted"
  • Freeing The Genie: Anyone greedy enough to make a second wish from the Lamp of Lakash would automatically free the genie and take its place (though they did also get their wish, for whatever good it might do them). The "three wishes" story was a clever dodge by the genies to get themselves freed by unwitting masters.
  • Freudian Excuse: Subverted in one of the books, wherein a) the character discussing his tragic early life is on the side of good, and b) it transpires that this tale of a sad past is complete and utter nonsense designed to throw the villain off his game. It works.
  • Functional Magic: Combines Theurgy with ludicrously elaborate Rule Magic and takes them to their humorous extreme, resulting in a universe entirely governed by fantasy tropes.
  • Genie in a Bottle: The Lamp of Lakash.
  • Genre Savvy: the equivalent of Street Smarts in a world that explicitly runs on fantasy tropes
  • High Fantasy: Ruthlessly parodied.
  • Kitsch Collection: Throckmorton P. Ruddygore has one.
  • Least Rhymable Word: In Vengeance, there's a magical oracle who can only speak in rhyme. He keeps a guy called Porange Chilver around as insurance, in the case he accidentally ends a sentence with "orange" or "silver".
  • Magical Land:
  • Magitek: Magic follows very specific rules and mathematically precise patterns, such that every high-ranking wizard also has to be a genius mathematician. One of the major subplots follows how much this system is screwed up by the introduction of technology smuggled from Earth; even a pocket calculator could turn a mediocre magician into a powerhouse, and more powerful computers can be programmed to work out new spells at high speeds. Also, in one plot where a powerful wizard came to Earth, he discovered that creating magic spells was analogous to computer programming, which allowed him to bring magic to our world.
  • Mermaid Problem: Discussed. The mermaids that live in the River of Dancing Gods are 100% mammal (more half-dolphin than half-fish), and when a male character gets involved with one it's explicitly mentioned that their bits are human-compatible.
  • Most Writers Are Male: Lampshaded: "Weather permitting, all beautiful women will be scantily clad."
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Literally enforced by the rules. Change bodies (which is Chalker's thing) and you're subject to the rules affecting the new body. Possess someone and you have to live by the rules affecting their body.
  • Named Weapons: One of the Rules is that all magical swords must have names. Joe, to the bemusement of pretty much everybody, names his "Irving".
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The fair folk in the fantasy world take the place of our world's natural processes. They live eternal, but sadly limited, lives.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Mermaids are half human and half dolphin but their social organization resembles a pack of hyenas crossed with the mafia. They make their living extorting protection money from fishermen.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: The were (not werewolf, just were) transforms into whatever animal is nearest when the full moon takes effect. And since humans count as animals, many find it convenient to marry other were, combining a "Freaky Friday" Flip with Power Perversion Potential.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Prophecies from the better oracles are always true: the only problems are that you usually don't know what the specifics mean right away, and the prophecies don't state what the outcome will be, only what is needed to have a chance of getting the outcome you want.
  • Red Herring: Alvi, the Author Appeal laden purported Living MacGuffin of Horrors of the Dancing Gods actually turned out to be a Sequel Hook for a following book which was never written.
  • Second Law of Gender Bending: Averted, unusually for a Chalker protagonist, in the case of Joe, who never accepts being changed from a barbarian hero into a tree nymph.
  • Third Law of Gender Bending: The version where the character simply cannot resist adopting stereotypical attire or behavior due to irresistible compulsion, latent desires, Mind Control, biological imperatives, or some combination of the above is written into the Rules.
  • Trapped in Another World:
  • Unscaled Merfolk: Mermaids are all-mammal, with their "fish" half most closely resembling a dolphin.
  • Virgin Power: The female protagonist starts out learning a form of magic that demands virginity. Naturally, once she's passed her tests she's instead taught a form of power based on prostitution.
  • World of Ham: It's in the Rules.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: "All epics must be at least trilogies."

Alternative Title(s): The River Of Dancing Gods, Demons Of The Dancing Gods, Vengeance Of The Dancing Gods, Songs Of The Dancing Gods, Horrors Of The Dancing Gods