“The Power of Friendship!” as symbolized in Yu-Gi-Oh’s famous hand smiley face.

So yesterday I watched a YouTube video about a common trope in fiction (you can check it out HERE), which is (say it in your heads with a big, echo-y voice) “The Power of Friendship!” Now, if you aren’t familiar with the trope and you didn’t have time to watch the video, “The Power of Friendship” is a trope in which the bonds of friends is so powerful, it becomes a power in and of itself, capable of cosmic-like acts such as giving heroes power ups, stopping psychic mind readings, snapping people out of brainwashed states, and occasionally even defying gods. This power shows up in a ton of popular media, including a ton of anime and manga (the Fairy Tail series  practically is nicknamed “The Power of Friendship” manga).

Now the video I linked to goes into much more detail about the various intricacies of this trope (go watch it if you do have the time, the channel that produced it is awesome), but I wanted to focus on one particular aspect of “The Power of Friendship” trope that the video didn’t go into: how it surfaces in the horror genre. Or rather, how it doesn’t surface in the horror genre. At least, not all that much.

So if you didn’t watch the video (and you’re missing out!), the trope works like this: you have friends, and those friends can help you out of a bad situation, whether that be isolation or a powerful demon overlord is about to destroy the Earth and your power alone is not enough to destroy the demon’s power. It can be a metaphorical power to help a character out during a bad patch, like the former situation, or it can be a literal power and the equivalent of taking one of those mushrooms in a Mario game, like the latter situation. Thus, “The Power of Friendship!” And you can kind of see why it shows up so much: we all wish we have that power, or believe our relationships are that powerful.

But horror doesn’t feature this power as much as other genres, and there’s a reason for that. Horror is horror. It incorporates the darker aspects of the world around us and sometimes amplifies them for maximum effect. And in real life, friendships aren’t as powerful and as lovely as in fiction. In the stories, friendship is powerful and unyielding. It can overcome all sorts of obstacles, and the more you try to destroy it, the more it bounces back and kicks bad guys in the ass. But in reality, friendships grow, cool, and break all the time. It can take only a little bit to destroy a friendship, and a lot to repair it once it’s broken. Horror writers not only recognize that, but incorporate that into their stories. And it’s such a well-known fact about life, writers don’t draw attention to it, because it’s so well known among readers.

That’s not to say that “The Power of Friendship!” doesn’t show up in horror fiction at all. For example, Stephen King’s It pretty much says that the friendship of the seven main characters is what allows them to fight the malevolent entity in their town.* It just doesn’t say it as loudly as other media does, and also tells the reader that the characters’ friendship, while powerful, can be broken or is less effective if they aren’t all in sync or allow their fear to divide them. This is what leads to that one infamous scene in the novel, and is also shown in the new movie after the first fight with It.

Weirdly enough, the power of love or family is shown more than the power of friendship in horror, and I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because love and family, unlike friendship, has a more powerful evolutionary purpose, and therefore is given more power in fiction in general. If you’re willing to do more to save your perfect partner for creating offspring or the lives of your offspring, it’s going to show up more in stories than the grouping of creatures of the same species to ensure survival.** Hell, a lot more of my stories revolve around romance and family than friendship. One of my stories even involves a friendship gone bad, but that’s about it.

If “The Power of Friendship!” can be portrayed as it was in It, you can include it in horror stories more effectively.

That doesn’t mean we can’t include “The Power of Friendship” in horror stories. It can be used, but it’s more effective if used as it was in It: not overstated and a bit more realistic.  Showing a friendship form, grow, and overcome obstacles in a story, without drawing too much attention to it and showing how fragile the friendship can be under certain pressures, will work fine for the horror audience. If you go for overblown storytelling and basically say, “The Power of Friendship can overcome anything,” it will take the audience out of the story. Let the friendship’s strength demonstrate itself, rather than shoving it in through dialogue or just outright stating it. In other words, show, don’t tell.

While still not that common a trope in horror, “The Power of Friendship” can be part of horror. It may require being handled differently than in other genres, and with a bit more realism (weird for “realism” to show up in horror, but there you go), but it’s not impossible. You just need the right touch, and “The Power of Friendship” can best even shapeshifting entities that take the form of clowns.

That’s all, Followers of Fear. I’m in a bit of a blogging mood right now, so expect more posts from me soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*There’s also some sort of power up thanks to a turtle from another universe, but let’s not get into it, shall we.

**Best explanation I can come up with given my aromantic nature and already jaded worldview.

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Comments
  1. I think Stranger Things does an excellent job of showing the power of friendship. I think most stories focus on family because the writer thinks there’s more at stake if you lose your husband/wife/kid. The writer probably assumes there will be a wider audience who will read/watch it. Personally, I love the friendship trope. It’s not done often enough. I’m tired of all the “will he be reunited with his wife/child” theme. Every time I see that, I don’t even pick the story up.

    • I hadn’t thought of Stranger Things (which shames me, now that I think about it). And that show does a very good job of portraying the power of friendship without being silly or over the top. The even portray the difficulties of friendship very well in the first season. I guess it took a few lessons from Stephen King.

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