Gotta love the internet (or Internet, for those who like their capitalization to be proper). This morning, I did a quick, interesting research session on reforging broken swords, and found just the bit of information necessary for one of my characters to sound like he knew what he was doing.
In the midst of that search, I encountered many references to World of Warcraft and The Lord of the Rings (the shards of Narsil, after all, were reforged by the Elves into Anduril), and was struck by the notion that the use of a broken blade in a fantasy tale might not be a good idea. It's overdone. However, the two broken swords in my novels are not magical or powerful in any way; they are just ordinary weapons damaged in battle. The first almost kills one of the heroes; the second belongs to a man killed while fighting a dragon.
Yet, as I contemplated the possibility of change, I came to the conclusion that -- just because my story has a fantasy trope or three -- I don't have to fall into any ruts or cliches.
A trope is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a word or expression used in a figurative sense" and "a common or overused theme or device" i.e. gunfights in Westerns, love triangles in soap operas, alien invasions in science fiction.
Tropes are tropes for a reason: they generally work. Yeah, we rail against them as being predictable, cliche, too easy, but they are markers, telling us what kind of story we have encountered, what we might expect if we proceed further. On the other hand, if an author knows the tropes of his genre, he can twist the story, surprise the audience, turn the cliche upside down or inside out.
I guess that's one reason I enjoyed the recent SyFy miniseries, Tin Man and Alice: the familiar, beloved The Wizard of Oz (book, movie) and Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass (AiW book, LtLG book, and various movie interpretations) retold in unexpected ways. Although the original stories were present, they did not unfold the way the audience already knew.
There's something to be said for the familiar and predictable: it can be comforting. Young children, for instance, want the story to be told, word for word, the same way every time. They might chastise or correct the adult who tries to skip ahead or change up a tale he or she finds boring.
On the other hand, we grownups have pretty much heard and seen and read it all. We tend to be on the search for something fresh, something that will keep us guessing. Still, we also have certain expectations about what makes up a particular genre -- there's generally a crime committed in a mystery novel, or something futuristic in a science fiction yarn -- and therefore, whether we like 'em or not, there are tropes.
So, alongside dragons and big battles, the broken swords will remain in my novels. They're fantasy, after all. Can't leave the audience always guessing.