Tropes and Taverns, Oh My!
This is a guest post from Tiffany Hall. Often to be found curled up on her couch in a blanket, regardless of the weather outside, Tiffany Hall is what you’d call an “indoor person.” She constantly has a novel in her purse, maybe even two, and pulls them out in the middle of class, parks, conversations… Even so, she is a genuinely friendly person who adores sharing her love of reading with her friends and family through extensive and unsolicited book talks. While reading is one of her main obsessions, Tiffany also likes to scream at Sudoku puzzles, make sarcastic remarks, and write short stories that she aspires to get published one day. Tiffany is also ever the dedicated student, always willing to look up new factoids, analyze different arguments, and learn more about the wonderful and crazy world around her.
Love Triangles. Corrupt governments. The chosen one. Weak female friendships. Insta-love. The self-deprecating yet utterly gorgeous main character. White washing. TAKE YOUR PICK. It seems you can’t throw a stone anymore without hitting a book containing at least one of these common tropes. Yet, it feels like no matter how much readers complain about these unrealistic and sometimes offensive scenarios, storylines aren’t enough. So, in the interest of maintaining my composure and the peace, I’m not going to address any of these. No, because bringing awareness to love triangles, etc. only seems to make them grow like weeds in the sun.
Let’s talk about taverns.
“Taverns?” you say. Yes. I mean establishments where drinks and food are commonly served along with lodging that is usually up a flight of stairs.
Think about this for a second, because when you do it will hit you like a ton of bricks. It seems like many popular fantasy novels in both YA and adult fiction categories have some sort of edifice similar to a tavern or inn. Priest Hole, the Stones Throw (not to mention the three alternate reality versions of it), the Prancing Pony, the Green Dragon Inn, the Waystone Inn, the Leaky Cauldron, Clubs’ Shop, the Old Imperial…shall I go on?
There is something about filthy, seedy, and altogether unsettling taverns that irritates me. No, it’s not the dark atmosphere or the greasy bartender. It’s the fact that this tavern, this bar-hotel hybrid, is everywhere nowadays and it leaves the feeling of reading the same beginning of the same story regardless of the different writing style or characters. We start in the same place every time. It doesn’t matter the kingdom, continent, time, or alleyway, pretty much every one of these taverns are strangely illusive, ramshackle places that are cloaked in mystery complete with a gruff but charming bar keep and wooden floors.
I suppose I would be more supportive of taverns if they had a little more diversity. Perhaps marble floors and an open-concept floor plan? Just me? Fine.
If, by some stroke of luck, the tavern is unique in some way, I suppose my next quarrel would lie with the characters that go into the tavern and what the setting does to them. If we all agree that a love interest should not change the essential identity of a person, why is it that these bars suddenly get away with making timid and meek characters into brazen warriors? Why are skeptical and cunning characters becoming brash and reckless when there is no evidence of them having more than one drink? Call me traditional, but I like my character development to be a little more of a slow burn.
Lastly, and I suppose the most irritating and proliferate problem concerning this (dare I call it) tavern trope, is the fact that characters go to arguably one of the most public places to discuss important plans. Maybe I’m just a little crazy, but if I was going to kill someone, commit a giant heist, discuss shocking familial truths, or meet an assassin teacher I would go ANYWHERE else than a busy pub with rooms upstairs. But most of the time, nobody overhears the gang, or the main character happens to listen to just the right part of a random conversation, which seems entirely unlikely. Some might say that it is simply a public place for characters to interact and story arcs to intertwine, but why can this only happen in what is essentially a bar? It sounds like a crutch argument that simply does not satisfy me.
Please don’t misunderstand me—a well-placed and well-articulated tavern can add a moody and foreboding atmosphere, as well as introducing us to characters who are mysterious and brooding. I just cannot support such an overused trope that feels the same in every book I read and uses the shady environment to disguise glaring character flaws and plot holes.
Regardless of the merit of these fine establishments, or the benefit they may pose in literature, you won’t catch me in a tavern anytime soon.