Follow TV Tropes


Thud and Blunder

Go To

"Thud and Blunder" is a term in certain circles for a certain style of Heroic Fantasy, particularly within Sword and Sorcery, which focuses heavily on personal combat and runs on Rule of Cool above all else.

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. The original context of the essay was about contemporary writers falling into Cliche Storms, including over-reliance on Anachronism Stews, and deficient Worldbuilding.


The hero of a Thud and Blunder story prefers to solve problems through force. He will often be a Barbarian Hero and everything he does is Rated M for Manly; he tends to be Made of Iron, while his opponents tend to all be Made of Plasticine. If he is a barbarian, he invariably wears little but a loincloth, and he can be expected to use any and all kinds of melee weapons such as swords or axes, the bigger the better. He will also be adept with his bare hands, and often he is stronger than ordinary men. He'll often have a lovely lady by his side (she may be a Distressed Damsel, Beautiful Slave Girl, or Amazon) and a less manly companion. Together, they'll vanquish an Evil Overlord or Evil Sorcerer (or the combination of both: the Sorcerous Overlord), mainly through the hero beating all his opponents to a pulp.


This type of story likely originated from stories derived from and influenced by the Trope Codifier of Heroic Fantasy, Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian stories. But the Conan stories themselves are not an example, at least when Howard wrote them. While the stories solidly belong in the pulp fiction genre, Howard's Conan differs in many ways from the later generic "barbarian" stereotype. He wears clothes and armor suitable for the settings; while he can steamroll most human opponents like modern gun-toting Action Heroes do, he is often more of an Action Survivor when facing supernatural forces, does not seek them out to fight, and just as likely to prudently run away from them instead of charge at them; he's depicted in various "un-barbarian" professions over the course of his life like burglar, military general and ultimately a king burdened by The Chains of Commanding; he is intelligent, learned and articulate, even garrulous; and weapons are not oversized, and he never has any sidekicks. Most notably, the stories have the recurring theme of the conflict between barbarism and civilization, explored through both the narrative voice and Conan's own philosophical contemplation as well as actions.


But after Howard's early death in the 1930s, the original stories were continued by many other authors decades later, and then adapted into other media like comics. Under the worst of these other authors, the character of Conan was subject to Flanderization and acquired much of the stereotypical image described above. Outside the franchise proper, Conan became a Fountain of Expies for many other barbarian-type characters riding the wave after Conan pocketbooks illustrated by Frank Frazetta became bestsellers in the 1960s. The 1982 film adaptation was In Name Only but it kicked off a similar wave of sword and sorcery movies. Thus, Howard's original concepts have been, perhaps inevitably, Lost in Imitation and subjected to Pop-Cultural Osmosis.

Detractors of this type of story charge it with sacrificing depth, substance and logic for mood and visceral appeal. This stance was even enforced by the rights holder of the Conan franchise for decades, L. Sprague de Camp, who dismissed the idea of the original stories having any meaningful themes and literary merit, instead being merely pure entertainment, while rewriting the texts and keeping the unedited versions buried and writing new stories himself. Since his own death, the Conan franchise and fandom have forcefully swung in the opposite direction, with the original versions getting reprinted, the newer books falling out of print, and fans championing Howard with a vengeance, like publishing new literary studies. In context, the surge in popularity of sword and sorcery in the 1960s, fueled by the Frazetta Conan books, came around the same time as the publication of The Lord of the Rings in the United States, which gave rise to its own waves of imitators of epic High Fantasy. So there may well be some fundamental Fandom Rivalry between fantasy fans at play here.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Red Sonja: The titular warrior heroine takes what she wants and hacks it to pieces if she can't have it. There's also a plot thread about her own revenge.
  • Played With in Planet Hulk. Although The Incredible Hulk is defined by his Hulking Out and comparative lack of head over heart, every time he just goes and smashes things as a gladiator on Planet Sakaar, 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.
  • As befits a comic that originated in Métal Hurlant, Arawn is nearly the platonic ideal of this trope. Subtract the brawn, boobs, and edgy hellscapes, and it's not clear that the remainder could fill a standard page.

    Film — Live Action 

  • The Baldur's Gate novelisations by Philip Athans greatly dilutes the original stories of the video games, sacrificing plot in favor of action and actual action in favor of gorn.
  • The Eye of Argon is an infamous Sword and Sorcery novella that - due to use of Purple Prose to pad out the thin plot, as well as its generally adolescent sensibilities - is held up as a prime example of this sort of thing.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Disco Elysium: In the world of the game, there is a series of novels about "The Man from Hjelmdall," which are of this genre. The hero is a barbarian type who dual-wields two-handed swords, and the plots only serve to carry him from one fight to the next.