I've done a lot of browsing lately over at TV Tropes, and it's interesting to see how many different ways all sorts of incredibly common tropes get used. Possibly the biggest eye-opener is how much really good fiction uses the exact same worn out old cliches everything else does, proving that it's not the package, it's what you do with it.
In the same vein, Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland takes apart the fantasy cliches everyone has seen - but an awful lot of those self-same cliches can be found in the great books. Terry Pratchett - you can stop rolling your eyes, they gather far too much dust that way - has sold ridiculous numbers of books that use (and usually skewer) any number of the cliches. Interesting Times has a wonderful collection of them, including the barbarian horde, the inscrutable oriental, the innocent abroad ('innocent' in this case should be taken with a grain of salt, since we're taking about Rincewind) and much, much more. What Jingo does to political machinations, the ugly cross-dressing male, and any excuse for a war has to be seen to be believed.
What stories have you enjoyed that used one of the old standards in a fresh and interesting way? And on the flip side, what are some examples of recycling the cliches and beating out whatever life they still have?
p.s. Tolkein does not count. He pretty much pioneered the multi-racial group of mismatched questers battling existential evil.