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Thud and Blunder

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"... 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)

"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 & 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 polarizing 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 (or possibly, some Sealed Evil in a Can) 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.

Many of the post-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.


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    Anime and 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.
  • Spawn: The Satan Saga Wars arc is this. Hell, one of the issues doesn't even have text, being made entirely of fights!

    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 

  • Pretty much any adaptation or expansions of Robert E. 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 from 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 Cabot 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. There's also a big undercurrent of male dominance and female submission which gets more and more blatant as the series goes on, to the point of spawning its own BDSM subculture.
  • The Blade of the Poisoner by Douglas Hill (perhaps better known for The ColSec Trilogy) is a relatively family-friendly example of this genre. Mind you, the word "relatively" is doing a lot of work here: the plot kicks off when the obligatory sadistic, Stupid Evil Overlord uses the titular object to carve his initial into the main character's chest, dooming him to a slow death rather than, say, lopping his head off with it and going home for lunch. By the time the heroes have to cross the overlord's Garden of Evil in order to Storm the Proverbial Castle, one starts to wonder whether Mr. Hill intended for the book to be sold alongside a set of Low Fantasy Bingo Sheets.
    • Also, the overlord's name is Mephtik; one less vowel, and he could have been a character in The Eye of Argon (see above).
    • To be fair, Poisoner does subvert some of the expectations of the genre. For example, the kindest, most level-headed of the heroes is also the one who best fits the term "barbarian," and although the overlord's inevitable deal with a demon does end badly, it's not in the usual way.
  • 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.
  • Harry Dresden likes to blow off steam by playing this type of character in Billy and the Alphas' tabletop gaming sessions. The word "thews" comes up a lot, and his character's catchphrase is "Enough talk!"
  • Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde from the Discworld series are best described as an Affectionate Deconstructive Parody of the trope, the deconstructive elements being most prominent in The Last Hero.

    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 an idiot content to approach any problem with violence, it rarely actually has much of an impact on the plot (and often makes things worse); 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 while they rescue him from his attempts to keep them alive.
  • 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.