In a past life I was a sylph.
October 30, 2007 8:09 PM   Subscribe

How common a trope is reincarnation within the fantasy genre? [spoilers inside]

For reference, the only book series I've seen this used in is Katherine Kerr's Deverry Cycle. I'm looking for answers particularly regarding mass market type paperback fantasy series (Sword of Truth, Game of Thrones, Mercedes Lackey etc.) and interesting oddities like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

If there are works more along the lines of speculative fiction/magical realism and what have you, I'd like to hear about those too.

Oh, would you look at the time? It's almost NaNoWriMo'clock.
posted by dorothy humbird to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
 
Actually, it's been years since I've read it, but I think Mercedes Lackey's Last Herald series touches it. MetaMail me if you want more spoiler-y details.
posted by diamondsky at 8:23 PM on October 30, 2007


how common? Very.

Lord of the rings, Narnia, Dr. Who, Stephen Brust's Talots books have an element in it, sometimes pops up in Pratchett' s work, Dilvish the Damned.... very very common.
There can even be said to be different subtypes of reincarnation, spiritual vs reincarnation through machine/mechanical means, hell even zombie stories are a reincarnation of sorts.
posted by edgeways at 8:24 PM on October 30, 2007


iirc Gaiman's AMerican Gods also deals with it as well
posted by edgeways at 8:26 PM on October 30, 2007


As far as reincarnation in speculative fiction/magical realism, Cloud Atlas is a good recent example.
posted by cog_nate at 8:28 PM on October 30, 2007


Wulfgar in R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt stories (The Spine of the World IIRC)

Catelyn Stark (reanimated? perhaps) in George RR Martin A Storm of Swords.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:31 PM on October 30, 2007


Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser speculate that they are, essentially, each the reincarnation of half of a mighty hero from long ago.
posted by inkyz at 8:37 PM on October 30, 2007


The Years of Rice and Salt reincarnates its central characters repeatedly over a period of eight hundred years.

Absolutely kickass book, btw.
posted by rdc at 9:48 PM on October 30, 2007


The Wheel of Time series by the recently deceased Robert Jordan has quite a bit of reincarnation worked into the plot, if I'm recalling correctly.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:11 PM on October 30, 2007


Yeah, the main character in Wheel of Time is a reincarnation of someone who is either permanently insane (in all incarnations) or just went insane last time around. The sanity / insanity is unclear, but the reincarnation aspect is very clear. There is also a sane character who was also reincarnated and lucid enough to talk about it.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 10:32 PM on October 30, 2007


In any fantasy books that derive from D&D or similar RPGs, the assumption is always there that reincarnation is a possibility for almost anyone who dies. It may need to be made to happen, rather than happen naturally, but it can be done.

In general though only important people will reincarnate as anything like their previous selves. One of the tropes of this genre of fantasy is that only certain people really matter, or do anything significant in the world: player-characters, rather than non-player-characters; named parts, rather than bit parts.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:44 PM on October 30, 2007


Don't overlook To Your Scattered Bodies Go.
posted by trondant at 12:15 AM on October 31, 2007


Mercedes Lackey's Burning Water touched on it--but hedged about with "I don't know if we're regressing you to a past life or if we're accessing ancestral memories or a world consciousness or whatever, but let's use this to move the plot forward."
posted by anaelith at 5:34 AM on October 31, 2007


I recommend The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod. It deals with the concept of technological reincarnation in a very interesting way. It's book one of a series, and I haven't read the rest, but based on the Stone Canal, I would bet that they are good reads as well.
posted by otolith at 6:17 AM on October 31, 2007


Most of Michael Moorcock's protagonists are incarnations of the same "Eternal Champion".
posted by squidlarkin at 7:12 AM on October 31, 2007


The TV Tropes Wiki has a page on reincarnation.
posted by WCityMike at 7:19 AM on October 31, 2007


Good examples, everyone!
I suppose I should clarify by stating that I'm more specifically interested in works that deal with reincarnation as a constant rather than case-by-case instantiation - i.e. every soul is recycled, not just one special hero for hero-ing purposes, and the population of the world may or may not be aware of it. But, all of these answers are useful, so keep 'em comin'... unless I've used up the mefi fantasy nerd contingent already.
posted by dorothy humbird at 7:48 AM on October 31, 2007


Well, Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series has reincarnation and re-animation with the character of Guinevere re-appearing in the form of Jennifer. Arthur appears as well in each place as needed but is killed to appear again when called upon by need.

In the realm of comic books you have Camelot 3000 where many of the characters are reincarnated.

Reincarnation is a very common theme in fantasy.
posted by jadepearl at 9:00 AM on October 31, 2007


Well, it's more SF than fantasy, but H. Beam Piper's Last Enemy deals with some of the implications on an alternate timeline where reincarnation is a proven fact.
posted by fings at 10:30 AM on October 31, 2007


> I suppose I should clarify by stating that I'm more specifically interested in works that deal with reincarnation as a constant rather than case-by-case instantiation - i.e. every soul is recycled, not just one special hero for hero-ing purposes, and the population of the world may or may not be aware of it.

What Dreams May Come (film, book). The film may tangentially mention reincarnation, but I'm thinking of its alternate ending (on the DVD), which essentially is how the book ends — which I think directly is what you're asking for.
posted by WCityMike at 11:04 AM on October 31, 2007


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