Every week, Fantasy Review Barn runs a feature where they seek out examples of fantasy tropes. Other bloggers are welcome to join in, finding their own books to match the given topic.
This weeks topic is Dead Gods:
Fantasyland had gods, right? And now they are dead. Dead Gods are not forgotten though, often they are still just influential to the land as they were when living.
I’m not a huge fan of gods in fantasy – they tend to be a little dull, and to cause chapters that aim for half-baked mysticism. At worst, they’re an easy out for a protagonist in a tight corner. Evil gods are slightly better, because their actions, even ridiculous ones, tend to deepen the plot rather than avoid it. Overall, I find that gods are one-dimensional characters with little to recommend them; they occupy themselves with mysticism, not engaging character development.
Dead gods, though, are fine by me – they aren’t powerful enough to solve all the problems, but they’re present enough to influence events in interesting ways. In addition, their somewhat weakened state means that they get to be more complex characters – they have wants and needs, they aren’t just eternally perfect and boring.
I’ve thought of three examples, though they’re only dead for a given value of that state. They’re the closest to it that a god gets.
1. Ur-Gilash – Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
In the Discworld, gods gain their powers from worshippers – a god slowly gains in power and substance as more people believe in them, growing from an unheard whisper in the desert to a potent deity destroying armies from a throne on Cori Celesti.
The Disc is filled with whispers that could become gods, half-formed entities hovering in a spot with slight significance, waiting for that first rush of belief that will give them truer form. Only a very, very few of them will ever amount to more than a still small voice.
Ur-Gilash’s story is even more tragic. In centuries past, he was a mighty god, rival to the great god Om. Countless faithful followers made offerings and chanted his name. All that has changed now; the faithful have died or found other creeds to follow. Bereft of worshippers, Ur-Gilash is returned to the desert, amongst the embryonic gods, with nothing but empty sands and the fading memories of past glories.
2. Jupiter – Robin Jarvis, The Final Reckoning
Jupiter is Lord of All, a vile feline bulk worshipped by rats in the sewers beneath Deptford. Implacably malicious, Jupiter rules the underworld with secrecy and sorcery. Countless souls have perished at his hand or by his command, and countless more are set to do so until he is miraculously defeated by a group of terrified mice.
Death cannot stop Jupiter. If anything, his death only makes him more powerful – in The Final Reckoning, Jupiter returns to the world, bringing with him an endless winter. No longer a lurking presence in the dark, he now hovers in spirit-form above the public parks and throws spears of ice at those who dare oppose him.
3. Tymalous Shadowstar – Jim C. Hines, Goblin Quest
Like Ur-Gilash, Tymalous Shadowstar was a mighty god, powerful and held in awe. But then his strength was broken – a new, more potent god attacked, destroying his temple and sending Tymalous fleeing far into obscurity.
For a long time, Tymalous was forgotten; no one even remembered his name. But then a tired dwarf’s mind is nudged and Tymalous’s name is heard in the world once more. His congregation is not the most typical – Jig is a goblin, for starters, and one who tends to bargain with his deity, rather than pray. But it’s a beginning, a route back from being totally forgotten and ignored.
All the dead gods have something in common – they are only debatably dead, and they all want to come back from it. I couldn’t think of a god who had died and was okay with this. Gods, it seems, tend to be sore losers: hard to kill, and harder to keep dead.
The post on Fantasy Review Barn is here, and in addition to that list, there are links there to many other bloggers with their own take on the idea. Next week’s topic is Heists. I’m unlikely to be involved in that one, as I am travelling in savage lands for the next week or so.