Mundane Made Awesome: Literature

  • English poet Byron, back in the early 19th century, wrote this marvellous piece on the death of the hated Lord Castlereagh:
    "Posterity will ne'er survey
    A nobler grave than this.
    Here lie the bones of Castlereagh
    Stop, traveller, and piss."
  • Older Than Feudalism: In one surviving fragment of a Greek poem by Hipponax, the poet wrote in Homeric verse, complete with the stylistic invocation of the Muse. The subject boiled down to, "Boy, that guy's a jerk, and I hope he dies."
  • The Roman poet Ovid wrote a poem in which he dramatically curses everything (the maid who delivered it, the wax and wood it was written on, the bees who made the wax, etc.) remotely connected with the letter his girlfriend sent him saying she didn't want to see him that day.
  • Henrik Wergeland was particularly good at this. He lampshaded it many times, most prominently in this sentence:
    Look closely, if you wish to see the magnificent in the small...
  • In The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy novel Mostly Harmless, the narrator spends several pages describing the art of sandwich making.
  • The works of James Joyce, particularly Ulysses and Dubliners—they take the fairly boring subject of everyday life and make an epic out of it.
  • English poet Alexander Pope wrote The Rape of the Lock as a satirical, thinly fictionalized account of a contemporary society scandal, in mock-heroic, ludicrously overblown EPIC VERSE. He did this to both point out how utterly stupid it was to make a scandal out of the incident in question, and parody the Mundane Made Awesome tendencies of his contemporaries.
    • The title itself in an exemplar of the trope. It echoes such Classical Roman tales as "The Rape of the Sabine Women" (rape used here in the sense of theft or capture). A story about someone stealing a lock of some girl's hair is thus elevated to the level of Roman Epic, before we've even started. Smart guy.
  • The parody epic Batrachomyomachia (or Battle of Frogs and Mice), sometimes attributed to Homer (the author of the better known The Iliad and Odyssey). "Frog-mouse war" (in Czech, at least) has become a term for a pointless, overblown conflict.
  • The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey spoofs this (along with most existing fantasy tropes) when the elves' epic poetry turns out to be about drinking a glass of water. It's hilarious. Really.
  • The whole point of the bizarre NaNoWriMo novel The Best Story Ever. A little robot, a little robot ferret, and a little robot sheep. Also cowboys, pirates, ninjas, Spartans, cave Vikings, samurai, inferno bees, jetpacks, velociraptors, wailing electric guitars, repeated fourth-wall breakage, and next to no grammar. At one point, the author actually says there's only been 6 sentences in the whole story. It also helps that the story has no idea whether it's a video game or not. The boxers who live at the South Pole have a chapter devoted to them. Also, the planet the story takes place on is SO EXTREME that there's only an EXTREME HIGH NOON side and an EXTREME NIGHT side.
  • Discworld:
    • At one point in Maskerade, the protagonist has to learn the famous "Departure aria", in which her character sings about how difficult it is to leave her lover. This stunning piece of opera music (one of the opera masters is moved to tears to the point of being unable to speak by a talented rendition) turns out to roughly translate as "This damn door sticks/This damn door sticks/It sticks no matter what the hell I do/It is marked pull and indeed I am pulling/Perhaps it should be marked push?".
    • Wintersmith features the semi-literate, word-phobic Rob Anybody Feegle performing probably the most dramatic spelling of the word "marmalade" ever.
    • Inverted in Thief of Time. Lu-Tze shows off his badassery by eating one chocolate-covered espresso bean without wanting more.
    • It's a recurring theme of Discworld that the mundane is awesome, and a huge amount of our brains' processing power is dedicated to convincing us it isn't, so we don't sit around going "Wow!" all day. As Death puts it in Hogfather, the universe is filled with remarkable and wonderful things, and one of them is that humans have managed to invent boredom.
  • A signature feature of Neal Stephenson's fiction is the grandiose, ridiculously detailed, and long digression describing some mundane or tedious activity. Examples include delivering a pizza (Snow Crash) and eating a bowl of cereal (Cryptonomicon). Angsting over pizza delivery in Snow Crash is because, if the pizza is delivered late, the Mafia will shoot the Deliverator. And that if he's lucky, because, let's face it: Uncle Enzo is pretty cool guy, but it's the Mafia.
  • The gunshot that defines the second half of The Stranger is described something like this.
  • The Eye of Argon devotes about half a page to a guy falling over after suffering a Groin Attack. Earlier than that, the following describes the hero's wine getting kicked over:
    A flying foot caught the mug Grignr had taken hold of, sending its blood red contents sloshing over a flickering crescent; leashing tongues of bright orange flame to the foot trodden floor.
  • Florian and the otters in the Redwall book Marlfox perform a Play Within A Book detailing a Duel of Insults. The characters hurl verbal abuse at each other and react as if wounded when their opponent makes a particularly cutting remark.
  • Secret House is all about this. Think Bill Nye in book form.
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That is all. Plus, it has ninjas!
  • The Catullus poem that starts 'Mourn, all you Venuses and Cupids...' and continues with a tragic description of the journey to the Underground. It could be summarised as 'I'm sad because my girlfriend's sad because her sparrow died.'
  • In the book version of Cosmos, Carl Sagan makes the ability to read into an epic, astounding, time-and-death defying feat.
    A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called 'leaves') imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person — perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.
    Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds there ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contributions to the collective knowledge of the human species.
    • It's a skill that's easily taken for granted, true, but if you stop to consider the alternatives for a minute or two...then yes, being able to read arguably is that awesome.
    • A bit earlier in the book, he quotes Charles Sherrington, who makes the act of waking up hold cosmic importance.
      The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the cortex becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of sub-patterns.
    • "The simplest thought, like the concept of the number one, has an elaborate logical underpinning. The brain has its own language for testing the structure and consistency of the world."
    • This is Carl Sagan we're talking about. He can and does make absolutely ANYTHING sound awesome. That appears to be his job.
      • It was indeed his job, as a public science educator. The job description of public science educator includes "get across just how awesome and amazing and amazingly awesome and awesomely amazing this stuff is for the people who actually do this for a living because they love it".
  • Brisingr gives us the moment where Eragon's had his new sword made, in what I felt was a good scene—resolving an ongoing plot thread and simultaneously making Eragon a bit more of a Rider. Then Christopher Paolini had to go and spoil it by trying to make it awesome, instead of understated, and had said sword set on fire every time he says its name.
    • Some people do find that pretty awesome, if a little over the top.
    • It's so over the top, Angela lampshades and mocks it. Chris Paolini's sister (on whom Angela is based) probably did the same when she heard about it.
  • In The Turn of the Screw, the governess manages to make doing nothing sound epic. She magnificently decides not to say or do anything about Miles's expulsion. In the same scene, Mrs. Grose epically wipes her mouth with her apron.
  • This trope almost lends itself to a literary genre, as it is an integral element of the mock heroic.
  • Ernest Thayer's poem "Casey at the Bat". It tells the story of a baseball player striking out with all the gravitas of an epic.
  • In Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark: it's not just a fine Austrian beer; it's the beer that will save the West!
  • Tolkien manages to make a riddle contest absolutely epic in The Hobbit. Of course, it helps the stakes are Bilbo becomes lunch if he loses...
    • Carried over into the first film, as well. The scene was easily one of the most anticipated, and Martin Freeman's performance absolutely sells it.
  • P. G. Wodehouse gets a lot of his comedy from this. Any time one of his characters, Psmith and Bertie in particular, goes off on an extended and epic monologue, it's usually about something like working at a bank or drinking tea.
  • The entire prologue chapter of Mark Haley's Warhammer 40,000 novel Baneblade details the final assembly step of a Baneblade superheavy tank: A huge, three-day long heavily ritualized ceremony involving cranes, parchments, servitors, a choir of techpriests, unaugmented workers, ointments, robot welders, incense and so on.
    From somewhere high up, far, far from the most holy factory floor, a bell began to sound, counting time to the roar and squeak of audible data-shouts. Fashioned from the melted armour of four thousand holy war machines, fallen in service of the Emperor, it tolled loud enough to alert the Lord of Terra himself, telling him that a new champion was born to him.
  • German satirist Kurt Tucholsky dealing a volley against Brecht, accusing him of this trope:
    "Bert Brecht hat einen schönen Dreh gefunden: das kleine Einmaleins in getragenem Sing-Sang vorzulesen, wie wenn es die Upanishaden wären. Banalitäten feierlich aufsagen: das bringt vielen Zulauf." note