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Red Herring – 3 instances of red herring in fantasy fiction

Red Herring

A red herring is something that hoodwinks or deludes from a relevant or salient question. It may be either a logical false notion or a literary ploy that leads readers or audiences astray. The basic idea is to throw off the scent and create suspense and drama. 

Red herring is a key motif of mysteries and crime thrillers wherein a deception is created via false clues. The readers begin to follow the trail of breadcrumbs only to discover it is a diversion from the actual direction. The art of distraction keeps the reader’s attention sharp as they travel through the suspense, trying to guess the plot.

The word has its origins in a technique for training hunting dogs. Dogs feed on scents, and while on a hunt they tend to get distracted by other smells. So to keep them focused on a singular scent, a fish (typically  pickled herrings or sardines) is used to train their sense of smell. Fish has a rather sharp and distinct odor and helps the dog to remember the focus.

One of the most popular red herring from mystery novels is the butler who is often the prime suspect. Writers like Agatha Christy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were masters at weaving red herring in their plots. In his first book, Doyle uses a red herring very effectively to throw the scent off the trail. The murderer scribbles the word Rache on the wall which is a German word for revenge. This leads the police and the readers to assume the killer is German.

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But I want to talk about three instances of red herring in fantasy fiction books that I love to read and re-read. And this is one genre I would have never expected to find red herrings.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

The story begins with a deadly wizard breaking out of the dreaded prison that he was locked in. Sirius Black is a mass murderer convicted for life but he manages to escape and panic ensues in the country. It is widely believed that he is out to kill Harry Potter and he was the one who betrayed his parents to Lord Voldemort. The entire plot moves forward on this premise with every character adding to this myth. But it turns out that he is actually trying to save Harry while exposing Peter Pettigrew who is the real villain. Peter was actually hiding out disguised as a common rat and at the same place where Harry went to school.

The second one was Snape who on the surface hated Harry and had even joined forces with Draco Malfoy. But in reality he was a double spy who had risked his life to save Harry all the time.

Also read my review of the Harry Potter series

Star Wars by George Lucas

The biggest red herring in this popular fantasy meets science fiction is the death of Annakin Skywalker by Darth Vader. This fact was disclosed by Obi Wan Kenobi which had made it absolutely believable. But the truth was that Annakin had been turned over to the dark side by the emperor. He was now known as Darth Vader and leashed terror on all as the strongest power in the galaxy.

 Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

GOT has been immortalized with its TV adaptation and became a rage in no time. This immensely popular fantasy tale begins with Viserys attempting to get the whole world under his reign. But he is soon killed and later its his sister Daenerys who rises to power and rules the world. In fact every book has a twist in the tale and every character and event is studded with red herrings.

I hope this post enthralled you too and changed your opinion of only finding red herring in mystery books. Fantasy fiction has been using this technique since ages and very successfully too.

Do you have a favorite book where red herring has been used to perfection? Do share the names in the comments below. Don’t forget to drop in your links if you are stopping from AtoZ challenge.

Coming up next S for Suspense!!!

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For the uninitiated, AtoZ challenge is a blogging challenge wherein one has to write on every alphabet from A to Z and post on all days of April, except Sundays. Usually its better to devise a theme as it makes it easy to write the posts. Plus readers have a reason to stay hooked too.

I am participating in this years challenge with Life Of Leo with a shared theme of quirky bookish words. Both of us are interpreting the words as per our reading tastes.

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6 thoughts on “Red Herring – 3 instances of red herring in fantasy fiction

  1. Thank you for explaining the meaning of red herring, Shalz. I haven’t read any of the books you shared, but the next time I am in the mood for a Harry Potter, I will surely pick up the one you have mentioned here to spot the ‘red herring’.

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