B is for Bard

Decored_letter__B_by_KILLERSMEMOIt’s time for the second installment of my A-Z of Fantasy series, inspired by the letter B (what else?)!

Although several fantasy B words resonate with me, that which calls strongest to me today is BARD. Perhaps it’s the siren call of song winding through my senses after an evening singing with the Soulsongsters. Or maybe it’s a hangover from my first D&D character, Silver the Bard, who only survived two sessions.

Bard: A poet, traditionally one reciting epics and associated with a particular oral tradition. (Synonyms: poet – minstrel – singer – songster)

Bards can be found all through fantasy, the more interesting ones often performing songs for a night’s lodging… or using their gifts to infiltrate a king’s hall for a spot of spying. Most fantasy worlds rely heavily on oral traditions, so it follows naturally that bards play a significant role. They have the responsibility and desire to document major events, as well as the thrill of connecting with an audience through their music or voice.

I have a story idea involving a bard bouncing around my head actually. One day I might get around to writing it.

Memorable fantasy bards (or minstrels) that come to my mind are Collan from Melanie Rawn’s The Ruins of Ambrai, Starling from Robin Hobb’s Farseer books, Seregil from Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner books, and Ammar from Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan.

Honourable B word mentions go to:

  • Beasts — all manner of which can be found in fantasy
  • Berries — a food trope probably bordering on cliche, but why should berries be mocked when our characters do have to forage and find something to eat?
  • Bastards — definitely a fantasy cliche these days, especially if he/she turns out to be heir to the throne
  • Battles — The cornerstone of most epic fantasy, from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire). The sword in ‘Sword and Sorcery’…
  • Bow (and arrow) — One of the most prevalent weapons in fantasy, and who’d want to live without them?
  • Brashen from Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders books and Bilbo from Tolkien are my iconic B characters

And finally, a couple of other fantasy B words synonymous with fantasy and its characters in particular.

Brave: Ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

Burden: A load, especially a heavy one.

I think it’s fair to say the above definitions are the understatements of the year when it comes to true fantasy epics. Just think Frodo Baggins…

Thus ends my tribute to the letter B in fantasy. I look forward to hearing all your suggestions in the comments for B words I might have missed.


Image credit: Killersmemo on DeviantArt. Licenced under Creative Commons.

24 thoughts on “B is for Bard

  1. For what it’s worth, back in the (way olde) day, a burden was the verse part of a Medieval carol, usually performed by two voices (your bards) and alternating with a chorus sung by all.
    Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but I think I just brought your post around full circle. 😉


      1. Actually I came up with it right away. I’ve always liked the word “behemoth” 🙂

        And sure, a dragon would work. Maybe the Balrog, too. And I suspect the Watcher in the Water is quite behemothy.


    1. Ah, Rabia, you are quite correct. I’m not sure how I missed that one. Just about all fantasy heroines are Beauties, are they not? Although, perhaps the genre is starting to evolve past that now…


      1. I grew up on the Conan stories as written by the creator in the 30’s, and they’re still a favorite today. The new movie disappointed me. While the first of the two Schwarzenegger films isn’t very true to the source material, it’s pretty good as a swords & sorcery film and I think it holds up pretty well. Too bad the second Schwarzenegger film wasn’t as good.

        I’m curious to read your review of the recent film, but couldn’t find it by searching your blog. Is it posted somewhere?


        1. It’s a fair review. I don’t think it works as a swords & sorcery film, and it certainly doesn’t work as a Conan film. Although, if one wanted to look for “inner complexities” in a character, Conan isn’t the best choice. Swords & sorcery is less about complex characters and more about swift action and exotic locations–bejeweled and decadent empires, lush jungles haunted by ancient horrors, ruined temples where primitive gods were once worshiped, and gleaming towers where sorcerers practice their dangerous art in secret.

          It doesn’t typically offer much in the way of introspection or layered plot, but it’s good if you’re in the mood for tales of bold action and haunted mystery. Part of Conan’s enduring popularity stems from his huge impact on fantasy fiction–swords & sorcery fiction in particular–and also because the style in which Robert E. Howard wrote the stories was very vivid and suited them well. It also helps that Conan wore a number of hats throughout his career–thief, mercenary, pirate, even king.

          Anyway, if you’re ever interested in checking any of the original stories out, I believe there are a number of them in the public domain, particularly in Australia. But if you do, I should caution you that they sometimes read as a product of their time–for example, female characters are often not much more than rescue objects. Since I like strong women who kick butt, it’s something I have to overlook, but for the most part, they’re still stories I enjoy tremendous. They certainly held an irresistible magic for me when I was 9 🙂


      2. Swords & Sorcery sounds a lot like D&D 😀

        Yeah, I figured Conan books wouldn’t exactly pass the Bechdel test… But I’m glad you can still enjoy them, given the impact they had on you as a kid. There’s nothing worse than re-reading an old favourite and failing to see what you saw in it! As for me, I daresay I should read one just so I can say I have and reserve judgement….

        I don’t see why they couldn’t have reinterpreted Conan and given it depth and complexity… but that might have a ended up a movie for a completely different audience.


        1. Funny you should mention D&D. Conan was one of the things that influenced the original game 🙂

          If you ever happen to feel like trying a story or two, here are a couple of the more iconic ones…

          The Tower of the Elephant: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600831.txt

          Rogues in the House: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600781.txt

          Gutenberg Australia also has HTML versions if you prefer. I couldn’t find a place that had them as an ebook for free.

          If you read either of them, I’d be curious to hear your opinion.


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