Thud and Blunder
"... 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.""Thud and Blunder" is a term used to describe a certain style of Heroic Fantasy. It focuses heavily on personal combat and 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 Rule of Cool. 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:
—Nathan Rabin, in his review of The Scorpion King for The Onion's A.V. Club
- Hit it with his mighty sword or other huge implement of destruction.
- Ride it down under the trampling hooves of his great steel-shod warhorse
- Kill it some other way.
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Anime & Manga
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann's first arc is how a Super Robot anime would do this trope.
- Averted in Berserk. Guts is a Barbarian Hero who can eat monsters and small armies for breakfast, but he is probably never going to defeat the Big Bad or gain any real redemption, because casuality says otherwise.
- Red Sonja: takes what she wants and hacks it pieces if she can't have it. Also something about revenge, possibly.
- The Warlord is a Planetary Romance about an Air Force officer who crashes into a Hollow World where he becomes its greatest hero largely through his prowess with the sword.
- The comic Groo the Wanderer parodies the Thud-and-Blunder genre unmercifully. Groo himself is not only not an intellectual, he's flat-out stupid.
- Depending on how you look at it, either subverted, averted, or deconstructed in "Planet Hulk", seeing as every time he just goes and smashes things it actually ends up being kind of pointless, even when he's no worse than where he was — whereas when he acts intelligently, or works to save people without killing, things go really well.
- A lot of 1970s' The Mighty Thor comics, to boot.
- The Swedish gaming-mag comic strip Birger Barbaren also parodies the genre, but in the opposite way from Groo. The eponymous main character — you cannot call him a hero — is a selfish, lecherous, beer-loving fat slob of a barbarian warrior, who also happens to be really smart in crude, tricksterish way.
Films — Live-Action
- Deathstalker, in particular the first and fourth installments. The third... sorta-kinda. Part II? Naaah.
- The Scorpion King starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson has it all: a villainous sorcerer (who turns out to be a sorceress, and who pulls a heel/face turn); an evil Emperor; not one, but two lovable rogue sidekicks; an elite mook; and a final Deus ex Machina to save the day.
- The Beastmaster is another Thud and Blunder flick, from the loinclothed hero down to the Evil Sorcerer antagonist. The hero's various animal companions have more charisma and, in the case of his weasel rogue duo, more intelligence than the hero.
- The Barbarians: not one but two muscular, action packed, barbarian heroes, with swords fights and magic aplenty.
- Pretty much any adaptation or expansions of Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian. The actual original stories always tried to avoid this and only rarely failed at it.
- The Eye of Argon is widely regarded as the absolute nadir of the genre, with all the elements of this trope amplified beyond any literary sanity. This doesn't keep it form being entertaining in its own right, though.
- John Carter of Mars is, like Conan, a partial example. The heroic types are mighty-thewed Master Swordsmen who rescue damsels and explore strange lands, and the prose gets almost ultraviolet at times, but it's notable that they're often intelligent (or at least cunning) and as willing to solve their problems with brains or running like hell as they are to carve their way through them with swords. Indeed, at least two major heroes (Carthoris and Ulysses Paxton) are Science Heroes as well as sword-fighters.
- The Gor series is a subversion; the first book is a loving homage to John Carter, but as early as the second Tarl is punished for his Thud and Blunder approach with enslavement, not for the last time. He becomes more of a Guile Hero, and very few books contain no combat at all, even in the climax. Also, the prose may be purple, but the text is dense with what could only be called "Anthropology Porn", going well beyond Shown Their Work and into Author Appeal.
- Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, one of the Books on Trope, discusses some of the Thud and Blunder tropes as well as things found in other fantasy genres. In particular, barbarians and evil overlords make several appearances.
- The Baldur's Gate novelisations by Philip Athans reduce the original story to Thud and Blunder as much as they can, sacrificing plot in favor of action and actual action in favor of gorn.
- In Tabletop RPG such as Dungeons & Dragons, campaigns that focus heavily on Dungeon Crawling tend to have a Thud-and-Blunder feel, as whatever plot exists is mostly an excuse to kill things and take their stuff.
- Barbarians Of Lemuria actually aims for a style of play emulating Thud and Blunder stories, with fast-paced game mechanics, and things like heroism Points enabling the players to pull a Deus ex Machina during play.
- The swordsman Yeagar in the webcomic Nodwick is pretty much a typical thud-and-blunder fighter. The only real difference is that he tends to hit things with Nodwick at least as often as he does with his sword. The series itself is somewhat of an aversion of this trope — while Yeagar himself is content to approach any problem with violence, it rarely actually has much of an impact on the plot; actually resolving anything significant pretty much always hinges on (in order of frequency) Nodwick's common sense, Artax's intelligence, or Piffany's general good nature. Yeagar's job is more to keep the others alive long enough to use their various traits.
- Darths & Droids has a lot of fun with this view on Star Wars:
Palpatine: Do not trust anything he may say.
Obi-Wan: Oh, don't worry. We're good at ignoring things opponents are trying to tell us during fights.
- American Barbarian is a nice homage to the genre, complete with a Jack Kirby-esque art style.