“Write the kind of story you want to read.” There’s lots of variations on this quote and it’s good advice no matter who gave it.
There’s one story element, one trope, one meme — whatever you want to call it — that comes up again and again in the stories I love, and I only recently even noticed it. If you want me to like a story, you can make me pretty much love it if… it includes an ancient evil that was once defeated but has returned for a new battle.
Take a look at some of my favorite stories and see how, in a way, they’re all this same story:
My favorite book, The Lord of the Rings: Isildur defeated Sauron when he cut the One Ring off of the dark lord’s finger, but years later, Sauron returns for a final battle.
Another favorite book of mine, the Harry Potter series: Voldemort is defeated when the Avada Kedavra curse he intends for Harry rebounds against him, but years later, he returns for a final battle.
In another favorite, It by Stephen King, the titular “It” is a cosmically powerful space alien that the Losers’ Club defeats in 1958, but years later, it returns for a final battle.
My favorite video game series, Phantasy Star: the entire series is about the demonic Dark Force, a personification of evil defeated at the end of the first game, but every 1000 years later, it returns for another battle.
Another video game I adore, Wild Arms: Mother and her Metal Demons nearly destroyed Filgaia, but 1000 years later, they return for a final battle.
My all-time favorite TV show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: the Prophets of the Celestial Temple expelled the Pagh-Wraiths a long time ago (or maybe it was today, or maybe it’s still to come sometime in the future — the Prophets and linear time don’t mesh so well). Later (with that whole linear time caveat still in place), their Emissaries engage in a final battle.
Another favorite movie of mine, It’s a Wonderful Life: George’s father did battle with Mr. Potter until it killed him, and for a long time Potter remained holed up in his bank, defeated and licking his wounds, but now it’s Christmas Eve and war hero Harry Bailey is coming home and Potter has returned for a final… OK, so this one doesn’t really fit the theme.
Transformers, original 1980s cartoon mythology: after crashing on Earth, the Autobots and the Decepticons both lay in hibernation for four million years before awakening. That makes Megatron an ancient evil… back… for a final battle (cue up “You’ve got the touch!”)
I also recently read a really awesome book called The Stars Were Right by KM Alexander. It’s a murder mystery set in a gritty and cool urban fantasy world, but it really drove way up my alley as soon as I realized it was also about… wait for it… an ancient evil that was once defeated but is now returning for a final battle.
So not every story I love has this theme in common, but it sure comes up a lot. I guess it’s no surprise then that Yesterday’s Demons involves an evil that was defeated but, two hundred years later, returns for a final battle. Heck, I love this theme so much, I even put it in the title of the book.
Is there a certain trope or meme or plot device or McGuffin in stories that you just can’t get enough of? Tell me about it in the comments.
Full disclosure: KM is a member of my writing group but he did not pay me in any way to plug The Stars Were Right, he just wrote a really great book that you should read.