A trope, essentially, is an idea or concept – whether that’s a joke, a situation or a plot twist – that’s recognisable as something that’s been used elsewhere.
The reason I’ve started doing this series is that, although tropes are often interpreted as clichés, it’s possible to breathe new life into familiar ideas, whether by using them in a fresh way or subverting them.
An Epic Hail is a message for help or assistance made on a ridiculously over the top scale. The most obvious example is probably the Bat Signal – the police installing a massive searchlight on top of police headquarters in order to get in touch with their officially approved vigilante probably isn’t the smartest use of resources. Doctor Who has used this trope repeatedly in it’s modern era, the most obvious example being Rose Tyler sending the message ‘Bad Wolf’ back in time to herself, so she’d be prepared for the final showdown. (Doctor Who really is quite silly when you lay the plot out like that, isn’t it?)
Interestingly, this seems to be a trope that’s been used more notably in real life than in fiction – the use of high burning torches along the coast of medieval England to signify an incoming invasion being one notable example, and Paul Revere’s mission to rally the American troops being another.
Basically, an ‘epic hail’ is a message to allies sent on a huge scale.
Rian Jonson pushed his horse, almost as exhausted as he was, through the last leg of the journey. He had ridden overnight, on three horses in total, but had finally reached his destination. Very slowly he was approaching the metallic mesh fence.
Using all his willpower to keep his eyelids up, he read the shapes on the sign next to the gap in the fence. There was a left-sided semi-circle, a mountain peak with a line connecting it’s two sides, two joint peaks, and a vertical line with a small right-sided semi-circle attached to its top half.
Rian, like most people of his era, was illiterate, but recognised those shapes as representing a military base. He knew the shapes of his own name, and a few key words, but little more. In that regard, he was an average man of his time.
Rian displayed his metal star – the symbol of official authority – to the guards as he made his way inside. He explained his mission to the Operator, and handed over the list of co-ordinates. Though he didn’t know the shapes of words, he knew numbers. Longitude and latitude were vital skills for a Messenger.
The Operator typed the numbers into his keyboard, carried out a long list of other activities, then the missiles were ready to go. They would be the symbol for ambassadors from the surviving towns, many miles apart, to come together.
The noise was deafening as the gigantic Peacebringer missiles shook the ground, violently tearing themselves away from their support as they climbed into the air. Rian read the shapes on its side – a vertical line, a left-sided half circle, two right-sided half-circles attached to a vertical line, and two joining peaks.
After centuries of nuclear fallout, it would be the message that the suffering would be over, that it was time to bring society back together.
An ‘epic hail’ is nothing to do with an ‘epic fail’, other than being a pun, of sorts.
You can read more about this trope on TVTropes.