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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."
Nathan Rabin, in his review of The Scorpion King for The Onion's A.V. Club

"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:
  1. Hit it with his mighty sword or other huge implement of destruction.
  2. Ride it down under the trampling hooves of his great steel-shod warhorse
  3. Kill it some other way.

He will almost always be a Barbarian Hero and everything he does is rated "M", (for "manly"); he is always Made of Iron, while his opponents tend to all be Made of Plasticine; all his battles are incredibly one-sided, unless his capture is necessary to advance the plot. His clothing is virtually always a loincloth.

The villain is most often an Evil Overlord or Evil Sorcerer, or the two combined into one, the Sorcerous Overlord. The priests of a Religion of Evil are also a popular choice. For a change of scene, the villain may be a villainess: a Dragon Lady, a Vain Sorceress or or an an evil Queen or Empress.

In terms of secondary and minor characters, expect to find at least one Distressed Damsel, plucky slave girl, or Amazon wandering about. If the hero has a companion, he will most likely be a Loveable Rogue, a deposed prince, or an ex-gladiator or Galley Slave. You can also pretty much bet that an Artifact of Doom of some sort will make an appearance. There will certainly be lots of Evil Minions running around for the hero to kill; the most common types are Elite Mooks or a Henchmen Race; there may also be a Praetorian Guard or giant mooks.

The Robert E. Howard Conan stories are Thud and Blunder done decently; The Eye of Argon is an excellent example of Thud and Blunder done So Bad, It's Good.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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 
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can be played in more than one way, but the game mechanics tends to incline the player to the Thud-and-Blunder style, since warrior skills are the easiest to raise Up to Eleven and the general atmosphere of the setting suggests you to be a Barbarian Hero.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.


Supernatural FictionLiterature GenresUrban Fantasy
FantasiaEs/Generos De LiteraturaFantasia Urbana
Throw The Mook At ThemJust for PunTinkle in the Eye
Throwing Your Sword Always WorksOlder Than PrintTrading Bars for Stripes

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