Wiki Headlines
We've switched servers and will be updating the old code over the next couple months, meaning that several things might break. Please report issues here.

main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Literature
  • Amadis of Gaul is the most important knight-errant Chivalric Romance of all time, but today it seems dated, to the point that it has been all but forgotten and replaced in importance by its extremely angry Deconstruction, Don Quixote. Note, however, that Amadis of Gaul is saved from the fire for its merits in the chapter where the library of Don Quixote is being burned, indicating thatCervantes himself was aware of this trope to some degree.
    The first that Master Nicholas put into his hand was "The four books of Amadis of Gaul." "This seems a mysterious thing," said the curate, "for, as I have heard say, this was the first book of chivalry printed in Spain, and from this all the others derive their birth and origin; so it seems to me that we ought inexorably to condemn it to the flames as the founder of so vile a sect."
    "Nay, sir," said the barber, "I too, have heard say that this is the best of all the books of this kind that have been written, and so, as something singular in its line, it ought to be pardoned."
    "True," said the curate; "and for that reason let its life be spared for the present. Let us see that other which is next to it."
  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is seen as a pretty tame book by today's standards, but its frank discussion of puberty and religious issues were controversial in the 70s when it was written and resulted in it being banned from many schools.
  • Ball Four, a 1970 book by Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton, was so controversial that MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn called the book "detrimental to baseball" and tried unsuccessfully to make Bouton sign a statement saying the book was fictional. Today, its revelations about the behind-the-scenes activities of major league players, which made Bouton extremely unpopular among many in the baseball community for violating the "sanctity of the clubhouse", don't seem nearly as shocking. One particular example is the book's revelation of widespread amphetamine use by major league players, which seems quaint compared to the steroid scandals of recent years.
  • The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, published in 1991, is about how society expects women to conform to strict beauty ideals at all costs and punishes women who don't. While many of its points were novel back in the early 1990s, nowadays most feminist books point out beauty norms as a matter of course and move on to different topics. The book also is aimed more at upper-middle-class heterosexual white American women, whereas nowadays feminism typically attempts to include gay people, as well as other races and countries.
  • J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye started an Angst revolution in literature that it's never come out of. Angst has been a part of literature ever since Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, and even The Iliad (Achilles sitting in his tent sulking, anyone?), but there it was presented in such eloquent language that it seemed more legitimately emotional. As a result, those who've read similar-style books before reading Salinger's book often write Catcher off as okay at best, and a poor man's Chuck Palahniuk at worst.

    The use of a casual, first-person writing style also contributes heavily to making it dated. The use of slang and turns of phrase that are alien to newcomers makes it strange to a modern reader. On top of that, almost everybody admonishes Holden not to swear when the worst thing he says is... "goddamn". This leads to modern readers, who hear words like "fuck" and "shit" on a daily basis, seeing Holden as more of a Rule-Abiding Rebel when he was, for his time, quite a potty-mouth.
    • This is parodied in the South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs", where the kids are required to read The Catcher in the Rye for school and are disappointed by how tame they find it to be after hearing so much about how controversial it was. Cartman even says that the book was a conspiracy to get kids to read by making it seem a lot edgier than it was.
    • You could argue that not only was Salinger groundbreaking, he was also way, way ahead of his time. The sarcastic first-person narrator he pioneered has become so popular in fictional media involving teenagers that people tend to forget it only really took off as recently as The Nineties. John Hughes could use it in Ferris Bueller's Day Off three-and-a-half decades after Catcher in the Rye was published and still make it seem original; even Clueless, which was nearly a decade after that, seemed fresh at the time.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia nowadays seems just like a lot of other books you've probably read several times by now. Kids discovering a mysterious pathway to another world, finding their arrival to this strange new world to be predicted in prophecy, some of the residents are pleased to find them while others want them all dead, and soon everyone embarks on a large adventure to save the world... Yeah, it doesn't sound too original today. It almost sounds kind of like some children's stories, shounen manga series, a few video games, and a typical Fan Fic plot. Oh, and as for biblical references? * Yawn* . Name something today that doesn't draw from The Bible heavily.
  • Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Their hard-boiled detective fiction certainly qualifies.
    • The same goes for the inventors of "classic" detective fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie in particular. Many of the stories and novels by both are stuffed with clichés and twists that a modern-day reader has seen a bit too often - but they invented them.
    • While the works of Conan Doyle may seem a bit dated today, many of the mystery authors that succeeded him, and were hugely successful at the time, are almost unreadable today - their mysteries may have seemed innovative at the time, but have been imitated and done better so many times that they've lost their attraction. And, unlike the authors whoe remain popular today, such as Agatha Christie, their writing wasn't good enough to survive when their plots ceased to be novelties.
    • Isaac Asimov, when he set out to write some mysteries of his own, soon reached the conclusion that Christie had already used up nearly every twist in existence.
  • The Discworld novel Equal Rites was originally a subversion of the "witches = bad, wizards = good" trends in fantasy. However, the conventions used have since become so commonplace that today the book just sounds preachy.
    • Terry Pratchett was amused to be told he was "following in the grand tradition of J. K. Rowling", given that he's been writing and published for two decades longer.
  • Dr. Seuss. When he started producing books for children featuring nonsensical word usage and surreal art, he was considered both genius and highly controversial, which tends to go right over the heads of modern readers.
  • Dracula being the ultimate vampire Trope Maker, has been so thoroughly ripped off, parodied, retooled and revamped that even many Goths are sick of him.
    • To a lesser extent, this happened to Dracula's precursor, Varney the Vampire, which invented the idea of a vampire with fangs, puncture marks on the throat, and the sympathetic vampire. However, despite its influence it was never a particularly good book to begin with.
    • Dracula is an interesting case, in that he has become so Lost in Imitation, those who read the original novel are generally shocked by his inhuman appearance, total amorality (Stoker's Dracula never showed any signs of guilt or love), and clever schemes, rather than the endless tales of tragic beauty and Vampire Vords that he is incorrectly remembered for.
  • Dragonriders of Pern started the Dragon Rider trend in the 1960s, and you would be hard-pressed to find current fantasy writers who don't make dragons a Bond Creature in some way.
    • Also, those books were first serialized as Weyr Search and Dragonflight in Analog, a pro science fiction magazine, whose primary readership was adult men. The nonstandard sexual mores of the dragonriders were considered adult themes. Today, the dragon books are associated with pre-teen girls and the hardbitten Lessa is considered a Mary Sue.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons books. People new to it (and in particular the Forgotten Realms novels) and who scoff at Drizzt being the emo badass rebel from an evil society don't realize just what hot shit those books were in the early '90s—and that they inspired a lot of the clichés they deride the books for using. Author R. A. Salvatore has even had readers come up to him at conventions to say "A good dual-wielding Drow ranger? How cliche!"
    • Dragon Lance suffers from this trope as well, alas. Reviews exist of the original Chronicles that tear them apart on the premise that it's such a cheesy/overdone/cliched setting and cast of characters.
  • Ernest Hemingway. Read any other novel or watch a movie on wartime experiences before reading A Farewell to Arms. It'll end up looking like just another run-of-the-mill war story.
  • Howard P. Lovecraft. Compared to some of the tropes they've arguably spawned, certain stories of his can come across as charmingly old-fashioned and not necessarily all that horrifying to the modern reader. Or, in the case of his obvious racism, not-so-charming.
  • Jane Austen and to a lesser extent the Brontë sisters suffer from this. Their novels have had a massive influence on romance novels to the point that they may appear hopelessly clichéd and even a bit low brow because of the countless imitators.
  • The Joy of Sex and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* * but Were Afraid to Ask weren't trite when they were published.
  • Lensman. E. E. “Doc” Smith's classic saga can seem like a Cliché Storm of Space Opera tropes, but, of course, it started most of them.
  • Lost Souls. While Poppy Z. Brite's novel probably didn't originate of a lot of vampire clichés — bisexual, seductive vampires, New Orleans, Goths, Ho Yay — these tropes were a lot fresher when she and Anne Rice wrote their books.
  • Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles suffer from this even harder, if only because she was more prolific than Brite and she's much more well-known in the mainstream. Lestat in particular is the poster child for this. The "sexy Eurotrash rebel-without-a-cause in literal leather pants" character is so cliche in modern vampire fiction that people groan when they see it. Somewhat hilariously, it was a major criticism of the Queen of the Damned movie.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: This book popularized most of the cliches found in fantasy today, but modern readers may well find it unspeakably boring, purely because everything in it has since been subverted, inverted, parodied, and otherwise done to death. Aside from that though, it also has lots of Unbuilt Trope which are actually not like what non-readers think the book contains.
    • He gave the first definitions of the stock races as mostly used today. Elves existed in many different forms in different mythologies, from little wingy tinkerbells to modern fantasy dwarves; now, everyone thinks "pointy ears", archery, and intelligent beauty. Orcs were a new name, and possibly didn't exist in that form in folklore except in general as orcneas, ogres. The elf-dwarf hostilities began in Tolkien. Dwarfs as bearded miners, while that did exist before, was codified. "Dwarves" was also a Tolkienism.
  • Michael Moorcock. A good bit of his work falls into this, especially The Elric Saga. Like The Lord of the Rings, he created or expanded upon many fantasy tropes that are commonplace now. Hell, even one of the introductions to the new paperback collections of Elric's tale states this. Also all that crazy-ass, sexually deviant, creature-of-their-time, lone wolf super spy stuff (different from the way James Bond does it, mind you)? Well, that's Jerry Cornelius, possibly Moorcock's second most famous creation.
  • Nancy Drew can suffer from this a little bit. Post-feminism, it's kind of hard to realize how influential she was (almost every prominent female politician cites her as an inspiration.) She precedes Ellen Ripley and Wonder Woman and has been called one of the first feminists in American Fiction. Not to mention she was headstrong and adventurous, something that wasn't encouraged in children's literature (same goes for The Hardy Boys.) Nowadays, You Meddling Kids is a cliché in itself, and the books are seen as nostalgic at best and a little hokey at worst, while her utter perfection would have her written off as a Mary Sue if she was to appear for the first time today.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson was hailed as a radical departure that overturned science fiction with its noir mood, gritty realism, and dystopian outlook. Now Cyber Punk looks old-fashioned and passe to some, and Shiny-Looking Spaceships are back in vogue as unironic extensions of modern consumer products.
  • The Neverending Story. Similar to The Chronicles of Narnia, it can seem an awful lot like a rather standard read, albeit a long one for children. A child finds a mysterious book that appears to be a gateway to another world. He appears to have found himself written into the story of this mysterious new world, and finds himself embarking on all sorts of adventures in a realm of fantasy powered by human imagination, becoming part of it all along the way, then finally departing home at the end after almost losing himself to his own fantasy and defeating the Big Bad. Even if the entire story wasn't replicated too too much (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance comes close, however), a lot of the book's themes seem a bit... well, cliché. The plot itself doesn't seem to be anything new either.
  • Paul Clifford. Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's fifth novel, was an immense commercial success when first published. Today, it is remembered only as the origin of the notorious "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night".
  • Sherlock Holmes. Some argue that he qualifies as a "stock character", arguing that even though he was the origin of various clichés, to a modern reader they are just clichés.
    • There was a Holmes story in which Holmes is sure that he got the right guy, but the guy has an alibi. What could possibly be going on? Can you figure it out? Turns out the guy had an identical twin. Bet you never saw that one coming, did you?
    • Holmes is a fleshed-out version of Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin can extrapolate from tiny clues, scoffs at the clueless police and has a narrator friend who worships him. There's actually a Lampshade Hanging on this in the very first Holmes story.
    • Also, in the Holmes short stories Arthur Conan Doyle basically invented the concept of having a series of episodes starring the same regular characters in self-contained plots. (Before Holmes, magazines usually published serialized novels that required readers to have been following from the beginning). You know, as in the format that was appropriated by just about every single TV show ever.
  • Edgar Allan Poe was one of the very first writers of horror and suspense fiction, and he helped to create many of the conventions of the genre. Said conventions are now so common that it's hard for a modern reader to find his work as compelling as his audience did. Poe's pioneering use of the Unreliable Narrator doesn't seem like a big deal anymore now that suspense and horror readers have come to expect their narrators to be unreliable.
  • The Snow Crash physical manifestation of the internet can come off as either a brilliant, eerie prediction of the future or a "I know this already" unsurprising setting depending on whether you read it before or after Second Life proved everything.
  • "A Sound of Thunder", a short story by Ray Bradbury, was about time travelers who went back to prehistoric times, killed a butterfly, and accidently caused a fascist candidate to win the presidential elections. Which was a really original plot, when it was written. However, those story elements are so trite now that when the movie loosely based on the story was made, it was criticized for using old, tired cliches.
  • Stephen King's books have fallen into this due to so many modern horror writers copying his style. When he first published 'Salem's Lot and Carrie, the idea of bringing horror out of gothic castles and into average New England towns revitalized the genre. Now, between King and the rediscovery of HP Lovecraft, merely setting a piece of horror fiction in New England is seen as a cliche.
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein features a Jesus-like human from Mars who can perform telekinesis, telepathy, and miraculous healing simply by meditating. He spends most of the novel trying to "understand earth behavior" and ends up bringing his followers sexual liberation. Most people nowadays tend to forget that Heinlein wrote the novel in the '50s but that it was only deemed publishable in 1961, when the hippie movement was just getting started. It ended up having a huge influence on the counterculture mentality of the '60s and '70s, predating Jonathan Livingston Seagull by over a decade. Many attitudes in modern New Age philosophy are taken directly from Heinlein's work, often disguised as ancient Eastern wisdom.
    • A lot of Heinlein's works have ended up as this simply due to the sheer amount of influence he had on science fiction at the time. Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters are two especially good examples.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin: The characters seem incredibly stereotyped to modern eyes because the popularity of the book — and the minstrel shows inspired by or at least named for it — established those very stereotypes.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: This book heavily influenced geek humor during the 1980s, but by more or less codifying the genre, doomed itself to this category. It also suffers from a degree of Python syndrome.
  • The Shannara franchise, particularly The Sword of Shannara. People today tend to look at it and see a blatant rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. At the time, people wouldn't have, due to Brooks' other innovations, including Elves that were human and known to be fallible, a Mentor who was a whopping example of Good Is Not Nice, the aversion of Always Chaotic Evil, the After the End setting and of course, the twist ending (The Sword convinces The Big Bad of his Dead All Along status). The series had the first high fantasy novel (Sword) not written for children to be a commercial success in its own time (that's right; The Lord of the Rings was not a commercial success until many years after it was published), and Elfstones and Wishsong were numbers two and three, respectively; all three spent weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. This was largely what convinced publishers that fantasy could be a commercially viable genre separate from sci-fi, causing an explosion in the publication of fantasy. Nowadays this is forgotten and the novel's innovations are so common that modern readers tend only to notice the flaws and the similarities to Lord of the Rings, instead of the differences.
    • When Shannara first appeared in '77, fantasy fans did see it as a LOTR ripoff. It came in for a lot of derision by the SF&F crowd. Its success came from younger and more casual readers, disappointed because The Silmarillion (also published in '77) wasn't like the earlier Middle-earth books. These readers picked up on Shannara because at the time there wasn't much else in the genre.note 
  • Annie on My Mind. The villains are one-dimensional, the romance develops in a short time (a month or so), and the heroes, Woobies or not, make some stupid decisions. These tend to turn people off the to the book. They forget that this was the first book to portray lesbians in a positive light, without having them turn straight or die.
  • Science fiction in general. Technologies that used to be completely fantastic tend to become Truth in Television decades later. See also Technology Marches On.
  • A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthurs Court (1889) has fallen victim to it. It was one of the earliest Time Travel novels, and the protagonist's efforts to introduce "modern" technology and values in The Middle Ages was groundbreaking on its own. However this idea was followed in (among others) Lest Darkness Fall (1941), which was itself influential in the Alternate History genre, The Cross Time Engineer series, the 1632 series, and Timeline. While The Man Who Came Early (1956) by Poul Anderson served as an influential Deconstruction of the concept, nowadays its hard to realize what was unique in the original novel.
  • William Morris (1834-1896) attempted to revive the Chivalric Romance genre with novels The Wood Beyond the World (1894) and The Well at the World's End (1896), creating "an entirely invented fantasy world" as their setting. These works and his earlier Historical Fantasy novels influenced writers such as Lord Dunsany, Eric Rücker Eddison, James Branch Cabell, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. Problem is that they are among the founding works of Medieval European Fantasy. They had a noticeable influence in the development of Heroic Fantasy, High Fantasy, and even the Cthulhu Mythos. There is now nothing innovative about creating an invented world, and his works were considered dated by The Seventies.
  • The Great God Pan (1894) was a prototype Cosmic Horror Story, notable for "the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds". It was cited as a major influence by HP Lovecraft, and (more recently) Stephen King. But part of the suspense is killed for the modern reader, who knows what to expect from the genre.
  • The Tale of Genji. It's considered one of the first modern novels, if not the first. Nowadays, it can be quite hard to get into.
  • Drizzt Do'Urden, the subversion of Always Chaotic Evil, was pretty groundbreaking in fantasy when released. However, Drizzt was the font from which the "Wangsty Exiled Drow" flowed, and is now held up as a shining example of everything that is wrong about the D&D fandom.
  • John Carter of Mars launched the Planetary Romance genre, and has been hugely influential on creators of fantasy/science fiction media, including the minds behind Star Wars and Avatar. This influence created problems for John Carter, in that while it was faithfully adapting the original novels, for those not familiar with the source works, it came across as a massive Cliché Storm.
  • Many novels and stories by H.G. Wells contain what seem like very unambitious and dull uses of sci-fi devices. For example, in The Time Machine, the time traveller simply goes to the future, has a look at what it's like... and then comes back home again. However, Wells was practically the first sci-fi writer of any kind (to the extent that the term 'science fiction' did not exist - Wells himself invented the term 'scientific romance' to describe his works). This can be applies equally to many other early sci-fi works.
  • The Bible is widely considered by many as the go-to example of Values Dissonance that keeps mysteriously proliferating itself, a fantasy novel masquerading as a self-help book or vice-versa. Never mind the fact that between the dated verses is moral philosophy that was well ahead of its time, some of which is taken for granted having now become the status quo, and some of which can still be considered "progressive" today.
    • What many people nowadays can't seem to understand is that, even in the early days of the Torah, the Bible was never intended to be exclusively a "guide to life" as such. Not everything in even the Old Testament is supposed to teach a moral lesson; there is much that is pure history or even poetry.
  • Pride and Prejudice is one-half this and one-half Values Dissonance. By the standards of today, it's a generic Cliché Storm that doesn't have any tropes the reader hasn't seen before, because it was the first Trope Codifier for the Romantic Comedy. In addition, Mr. Darcy is almost a cliché in his own right for being Troubled, but Cute... because he was the first major example of the Troubled, but Cute Deadpan Snarker as a male lead.
  • Don Quixote is this to... western literature. The first part of the novel had a Random Events Plot, a Romantic Plot Tumor and other errors, but the Even Better Sequel had almost none of the tropes under the Bad Writing Index. Imagine a world where everyone ignores literary techniques. If it looks like nothing special today, that is because everything after it followed the techniques that made it successful.
  • Jack London's The Iron Heel is arguably the first Futuristic Dystopia novel ever written. The central premise of the story - an evil Mega Corp. takes over the government, takes control of the media, violently oppresses all free speech and thought, etc. - was novel and topical (and quite scarily plausible) at the time London was writing, but it has since been done to death and back so many times over that the original seems tame and dry by comparison (YMMV on the continued topicality).
  • When The Belgariad first came out, Ce'Nedra, the "spoiled brat" who becomes "a little tiger when the chips are down" (to quote the author himself) served as a Spiritual the high fantasy genre. In more recent years, with the advent of high-fantasy works like A Song of Ice and Fire, which offer a variety of major female characters in various roles, Ce'Nedra's distance from the kind of damsel characters she was intended to parody has shrunk.

FilmSeinfeld Is UnfunnyLive-Action TV

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy