Thursday, April 26, 2012

Speculative Fiction Tropes: The Warrior Caste

Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on the Warrior Caste.

Ever since the first man raised the first stone and realized he could beat someone over the head with it to get what he wanted, a certain reverence has been held for those who choose to take up their arms and willingly embrace battle.

It should come as no surprise that this sense of awe has carried over into fiction. Not only do we writers tend to place the spotlight on warriors and soldiers in our work, we often seek to personify that reverence. We imbue many of our characters with qualities historically associated with war and combat. We may even go so far as creating an entire caste of warriors. Sometimes, an entire race.

Of course, the idea of entire groups of people bred for battle is hardly fiction. Like many tropes, this one has firm roots in history. Before we reached the technological heights of today, that allow the warriors among us to dole death with an Xbox controller, human beings themselves were often weaponized, raised from childhood to serve warfare. From the famed Spartiates of ancient Greece to the Hindu Kshatriyas, there have been warrior castes in cultures the world over. War is one of humankind's oldest endeavors. Our methods may have changed over the centuries, but we've never stopped trying to be awesome at it.

In fiction, warrior races have served many roles, from sympathetic protagonists to feared villains.

One of my favorite examples is the Dothraki from George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. Inspired by the Mongolian horde that carved a path of bloodshed and conquest across Asia and Eastern Europe in the 13th century, these nomadic "horse lords" live for the hunt. As Daenerys Targaryen grows to love the Dothraki Khal she's been forced to marry, the reader begins to gain insight into their culture and history. They go from savage brutes to proud warriors in the space of one book.

This is one trope that I have definitely used in my own work. I don't want to go into it too deeply, as it would be getting into the real meat of the novel I spent most of last year working on (and plan on returning to sometime in the future), but the protagonist and several other characters in the story are members of what could easily be called a warrior caste, by no choice of their own. It's one of the central themes of the book.

As cliche as "proud warrior race" characters can often be, they still convey a sense of adventure that I love. They appeal to the child in me who used to swing sticks around like pretend swords in the backyard. That child is still alive and well, and can't get enough of these kinds of stories. Unfortunately, the swords I play with these days are made of steel, and therefore must remain on my office wall for the safety of the fragile objects around me.

Recommended Reading:
Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Recommended Viewing:
Game of Thrones
Babylon 5
Star Trek

Recommended Gaming:
Dragon Age
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Mass Effect


  1. Warriors are the muscles in the body of speculative fiction! (ugh, sorry for the metaphor) They are tremendous fun to read. I can't imagine a good story without some fighting and organized warfare.

    I've initially included a warrior cast in my WIP too, but ended up turning them into slaves. They still fight to the death, but not because they want to.

    Hm... you know what, your post just gave me a nifty idea to flesh out their culture. Thanks!

    *scuttles off to make notes*

    1. You're welcome . . . I'll expect my own acknowledgment page in the finished product. *cough*

      I agree, warriors tend to do all of the heavy lifting! Who doesn't love a good battle? The bigger, the better! I was just thinking of this the other day, while watching Game of Thrones. The only thing I've been disappointed about with the television adaptation (which is otherwise AWESOME) is that they've had to cut out all of the large scale battles for budgetary reasons. Even though the political intrigue and religious conflict is the heart of the series, those were some of the most exciting moments from the novels!

      I digress. As always, thanks for reading!

  2. I love the idea of the warrior. So gruff and ready for action. The great thing about the warrior is that "warrior" is not synonymous with "hero:" you can have some seriously beastly warrior bad guys on your hands if you don't watch out! (Actually, in many cases in fiction I actually prefer the warrior bad guy ;)!!)

    1. Absolutely! The tension and drama can be awesome with a brutish warrior chasing your protagonist around, especially if the protag is not a warrior and still has to find a way to overcome the badguy.

  3. Hey, very cool post. Reminds me of how, in Animal Farm, Napoleon took the little pups away from their moms to breed as scary attack dogs for his growing fascist horde.

    1. That's actually a great example. I think I'm due for a reread of Animal Farm, it's been years.

      Thanks, Catherine!


Thanks for reading!