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Troping the Riff- The Ancient Menace

The signs are all there. Time the prophecies warned us about is coming. Darkness comes and the end of all things is at hand. It has returned. The ancient enemy. Or at least that’s what they tell me. Because in today’s Troping the Riff we tackle perhaps the oldest trope in storytelling: The Ancient Menace.
The Ancient Menace is a storytelling trope that dates back as far as the earliest mythologies. It is an evil that was present either before or at the creation of the world or at least before the current civilization came to be. This great and powerful evil was either stopped somehow by being trapped or tricked or it went away of its own accord either to explore other realms or hibernate. In any case, the threat it represents has laid dormant for millennia. The heroes, usually led by a Chosen One, must either prevent it from returning or find a way to defeat it once it does. Because The Ancient Menace is considered so incredibly powerful often times the plan to defeat it revolves around striking at it before it has regained its full strength.
The Ancient menace in the earliest mythologies the Ancient Menace was often linked to either a Primordial force that had been banished by the God who was credited with creating the earth or it was associated with a societies underworld/deceiver figure. While the Ancient Menace was a standard figure in ancient tales it did fall out of favor around the time of the Roman Empire and did not return to prominence (outside religious texts) until the twentieth century.
That is when Tolkien (a fan of ancient mythology) reintroduced the trope to the masses with Sauron the unseen villain of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Becoming the standard by which all works of fantasy are judged it is no surprise that so many over the works to follow would introduce a similar figure to menace their narratives. The Shannara Chronicles, The Wheel of Time Series, and even George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice all feature a war against an ancient enemy whose return was foretold and who threatens to destroy all that is.
The concept is not just used in fantasy novels. On the television show Babylon 5 the Shadows were a highly advanced alien race who came out of hibernation every thousand years to start a great war in which tens of billions may die. And on the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy often fought ancient evils most notably The Master in the first season and the First Evil in the seventh.
The Ancient Menace trope has been subverted quite successfully on many occasions as well. In the Mistborn series, one ancient evil is defeated only to be revealed to be the one being holding back an even greater threat. In the Doctor Who episode “The Pandorica Opens” the Doctor is lured into a trap with the rumor of an ancient evil within only to find that the trap is for him and that he is what as seen as an ancient evil. And finally in the cartoon Samurai Jack rather than the ancient evil returning it is actually the hero Jack who returns to defeat the ancient menace after being thrown forward in time by thousands upon thousands of years.
Certainly, there are more examples out there but I think you get the point after all its not as if you want to sit here reading this post for thousands upon thousands of years. Prophecy says we will see each other again when the ancient enemy returns but personally I’m hoping for sooner. Until next time!

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