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  1. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

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    Prophecies in fantasy

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Stormsong07, Dec 1, 2018.

    What are your thoughts on prophecies in fantasy?
    You know, like in the stories where it's prophecized that the lost prince will return some day, or the 'chosen one' will rise. Or the more specific, riddle-types (like Lord of the Rings "renewed will be blade that was broken/the crownless again shall be king").
    Or, if you've read the Percy Jackson books (and the follow-up series), they can't even go on a quest until there is a prophecy, and it's usually a rhyming, specific one.

    What are your opinions on this?

    You see, I'm toying with using one in my novel, but trying to be a little more subtle about it. My idea is that only the bad guys have heard the prophecy, and therefore act against the good guys in an attempt to stop it coming true. But the good guys only know a snippet of the prophecy and don't even realize it IS a prophecy until after the big battle (in which it comes true) and that gives them the "Oooh, so THAT'S why they attacked us" realization.

    I can give more explanation if you need it, but trying not to present you with a wall of text, lol. Mostly I'm just looking for opinions on the use of prophecy in fantasy. Good or bad or eh and why?
     
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  2. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    I like prophecies where they're misinterpreted.

    "You were the Chosen One! You were meant to bring balance to the Force, not destroy it!"

    if a prophecy goes right, it's a spoiler. :D
     
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  3. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    Profephies are a very tricky subject. Or you do it right and works, or you do it wrong, and people will drop off. Is not easy because it has overdone so many times. Try that idea you have, write it down and share on this forum and then see what people think.
     
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  4. Just a cookiemunster

    Just a cookiemunster Active Member

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    I don't want to discourage you from writing Prophecies if that is what you want for your story but I am not crazy about the concept myself. As written above it is like a spoiler and I know the hero is going to find the golden sword and defeat the ultimate evil because it was already written so. But that does not mean one cannot turn the concept and idea into a good story. Trust me if the story is good, as a reader, I will read it and enjoy it.
     
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  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    Like nearly every other fantasy trope, I love prophecies when they're smartly executed. And if you ask me The Matrix did it brilliantly.

     
  6. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I usually don't like prophecies, but it depends on how they're executed.

    To me, accurate prophecies imply:
    1) there is a way to know the future
    2) it doesn't matter because either a) the future is set in stone or b) some cosmic force is guiding all events

    To me, that takes away a lot of the agency of individuals in the story. If prophecies can be successfully averted, however (even if it's just in part), that's usually a plus in my book, since that means that people are able to forge their own fates in whatever universe they live in.
     
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  7. TirelessSeven

    TirelessSeven Active Member

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    I agree, the seeming inevitability of a self-fulfilling prophecy can be a major turn-off and is almost always turned on it's head (in some way) when it's done well. Doesn't matter to me how it's presented (rhyming specific or otherwise) as long as it's treated well.

    My biggest issue with it (when it's not done well) is that often these prophecies are not tied up satisfactorily - only aspects of them get resolved (usually the ones pertaining to the MC and the ultimate conflict) and we're left as readers with a bunch of loose-ends. Thinking about things like The Wheel of Time, where the whole series basically begins with a prophecy, and we're given lots of hints and clues along the way which - some of them, at least - don't make a whole lot of sense in the end. I know there are extenuating circumstances - like the author dying before the series was finished and arguably that story just got too damn big to have no loose ends at all - but I found that aspect of it disappointing. A definite eh, for me, after a pretty good start.

    I guess I'm saying, prophecy is fine, however, the potential for plot-holes and inconsistencies tends to be much higher in these stories. Your idea sounds like it could be interesting.

    If I could suggest something short for you to read? There's a short-story called 'The Lesser Evil' in Andrzej Sapkowski's book 'The Last Wish' where he handles prophecy in an interesting way. I'd recommend the whole 'Witcher' series to anyone who's thinking of using prophecy in a fantasy story (and anyone who likes fantasy in general), but if you don't have the time for that, 'The Lesser Evil' is worth reading on its own. Could be particularly relevant to you because it deals with the aftermath of a preemptive strike against a prophecy and questions the nature of the trope itself with intelligent self-awareness.
     
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  8. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, that was a good scene of a prophecy.
     
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  9. Artifacs

    Artifacs Senior Member

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    In the Geralt's of Rivia Saga, the author plays differently with the non-deterministic prophecy concept. He doesn't call it prophecy but destiny, and everyone can be bound to some particular destiny if the fate itself is challenged by a very strong will.
    The MC does something that challenges destiny whitout noticing it. He doesn't even believe in destiny at all. For him, the only fate for sure is death. But many other characters around him actually believe in the destiny he has been bounded to, and their faith conditions their behaviour and thoughts.
    It's very interesting see how destiny(?) makes its moves as the story unfolds around the MC. Since the MC doesn't believe in fate, the reader keeps always the doubt in terms of Fate Vs Coincidence. Sometimes an event seems just coincidence and sometimes not. There's always this doubt, and since I haven't finished the Saga yet, I trully hope this conflict won't be solved. I rather keep the doubt than unravel the will of fate. The Fate shouldn't want the reader to know how it works, as in real life, that makes it more interesting in a story, I believe.
     
  10. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    Prophecies can take the fun away. If it is foretold that the king will return, then where's the tension? I suppose the prophecy could say that while the king will return, one of his closest companions will die, but that's just a spoiler. I'll see it coming, so it won't be as impactful.

    Maybe the prophecy is "the good guy and the bad guy are gonna have an epic fight and one of them will die" (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter), but that always happens. There isn't really a point.

    Prophecies really needs to work well to help. I want to see heroes succeed because of who they are, not because fate is entering in the cheat codes for them. Give me a prophecy that the Dark Lord will reign for a thousand years in terror. Then break it.
     
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  11. Vandor76

    Vandor76 Senior Member

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    Certain plots have a well defined, or at least expected, ending: like the hero will defeat the bad guy, gets the princess and become king. A prophecy telling exactly this does not worth to write it. If the reader doesn't know exactly how the prophecy will come true, it can be interesting. Think about a story, where the "hero" is essentially two men (friends or brothers) who fight against the bad guy together, and we don't know which of them will be the promised king.

    A common way to create an interesting prophecy is to use unclear wording. The prophecy that boosted Nostradamus' "carreer" (Prophecies I/35) states that the young lion will kill the old one in a duel by stabbing his eye. Later on, when french king Henrik II was killed in a tournament where a broken lance stabbed his neck and eye it was said that Nostradamus augured the event and this earned him fame.

    ETA: a good prophecy is a foreshadowing tool and like any other such tool it is only good if the reader has no idea what will come, but after it happens (s)he says "Oh, how straightforward, I should have known"
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
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  12. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    I like fantasy prophecies. Then again, there are a lot of overused, cliche plots out there that I am a sucker for (such as epic journeys with a ragtag group). But I understand that prophecies in fiction can be done "wrong".

    But everyone saying "But it spoils the story!" aren't stopping to consider that while, yes, the reader may know the basics of what may happen, they probably don't know HOW the characters in question are going to react, or whether fulfilling a prophecy is even going to be easy. There could be a lot of twists and turns, joy and grief, along the way that were NOT prophecised. People are assuming that a prophecy means that what is prophecised is a plot summary of the story, but that's not it at all. It merely describes one ultimate event. But how much blood will be shed before we reach that point?

    In my current story, the main character's special status grants her SOME degree of clairvoyance, but it is unreliable at best. She can never tell a nightmare/dream apart from what is actually a vision, and that makes her nervous. She has a dream/vision of someone she cares about dying, and even if it does inevitably happen, it a) doesn't happen the way she imagined and b) it doesn't stop the actual death from being any less painful for her. I actually don't mind my characters KNOWING about something that will happen, because then I get to play around with any fears, anxiety, or hope they feel now that they have that knowledge. HOW will they deal with the knowledge? What steps will they take along the way? That's how I like seeing prophecies handled (as well as the famous Matrix example given above. Such a damn good scene). It's like...why add a prophecy or a vision to your story if you aren't going to play around with how it affects your characters?
     
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  13. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    Oh, and to clarify about my post: I like using prophecies as a a way to screw with my characters, to get them scared, play with their emotions, etc. What fun is a prophecy if the characters in question aren't worried about it?
     
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  14. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

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    @BlitzGirl your reply makes a lot of sense. The impact on the characters angle, in particular. Gonna muse on that for a bit and see if it affects my idea...
     
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  15. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    Agreed. Imo some of the replies in this thread have overstated the consequence of "knowing the outcome" to a story. Was there any doubt Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey were going to make it work by the end of Dirty Dancing? I don't think so. Was there any doubt Marty Mcfly wouldn't ensure his parents fell in love in Back to the Future? No, none at all. We all know where these types of stories are going, but we enjoy the characters, the conflict, and the journey all the same. And this applies to protagonist prophecies. If they ruined stories, storytellers wouldn't continue to use them.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
  16. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I like the idea of a twist to a prophecy that nobody expects ...or there is something they're assuming ABOUT the prophecy that's not quite right. I can't think of an example right off the top of my head, but I know I've read books where the prophecy either has a sting in the tail, or there is something about it that seems more complicated than it actually is. Good point.

    I just remembered one. The Nazgul king in LOTR who thinks he's invincible because the prophecy said that no man can kill him. And he is killed by Eowyn, a woman. That kind of thing.
     
  17. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    Not to mention, it is also Merry, a Hobbit, not a (capital "M") Man who makes it possible for Eowyn to deliver the death blow! So, the two people who killed him were not "MEN" at all!
     
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  18. Artifacs

    Artifacs Senior Member

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    @jannert and you, @BlitzGirl have pointed out great examples for this thread. TLOR Saga has a lot of details like this coincidence-Vs-prophecy thing.
    Bilbo not killing Smeagol.
    Smeagol being, actually, who throws the ring into the Fire of Destiny because Frodo can bring himself to do it.
    Sam carrying Frodo up to the top and save him from sure death.
    The Aragorn's army distracting Sauron at the gates just to buy time at first, but then forced to fight against the dark army without knowing a thing.
    Probably, there're more examples like this I can't recall right now.
    But the thing is that all the characters have their contribution in the final achievement and nobody are really sure why are they doing it or what are going to get the global results of their actions.
    That's a very good way to tell a story involving prophecies.
    Also, I agree with you that it's a good excuse to put your characters in tricky or funny situations.

    I like this topic a lot. :)
     
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  19. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    My inner LotR fan is geeking out hard right now!
     
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  20. anotherghost

    anotherghost Member

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    this is my exact problem with prohpecies, they basically have to be vague and rough around the edges enough to subvert giving away their own punchline.
     
  21. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    That begs the question: do their punchlines need to be concealed. I would argue that they often don't.
     
  22. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know, I think Macbeth did it pretty well.
     
  23. Sithis001

    Sithis001 New Member

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    I personally don't like prophecies. But in the right context and used in the right way, they can be a powerful tool. If i use a prophecy at all, i alnost always use them in a religious context. It helps make my world feel more fleshed out.
     
  24. RaitR_Grl

    RaitR_Grl Member

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    I have a plan for my novel, where in my opening chapter my MC finds a book buried in the rubber if an ancient fortress, and then chapter 2 will pick up with her figuring out her next step based on what she thinks she knows (having read the book between scenes). Later on, she'll think back and can't be sure if her little adventure that day really happened or if it was just a dream.
     
  25. Nesian

    Nesian Member

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    Imo, keep it as an ambiguous riddle so the readers can have fun trying to figure it out. Also, imo, do it in pieces for the impatient type of readers that would skip to the end just to find the answer if a whole prophecy is revealed with enough of the back story to have the answer satisfy their curiosity.
     
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