Saturday 16 June 2012

F is for Fantasy

Over the years I have seen some curious books sitting in the fantasy section of bookshops which has prompted me to think about the literary definition of fantasy.

I've always thought of fantasy as involving elements of magic, supernatural powers, invented worlds, mythical creatures like dragons, vampires and elves combined with a sense of history (usually medieval) and otherworldliness. Do fairytales fit into this genre? Or are they a separate genre in their own right?

When I googled fantasy I quickly found that there was no straight answer.

The first confusion was between fantasy and high fantasy.

High fantasy is usually described as one consisting of a made-up, parallel world. I associate this type of fantasy with special languages, intricate maps and fantastical characters. Think Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien and Narnia by CS Lewis.

Sword and Sorcery fantasy is another sub-genre that pops up regularly. Lord of the Rings fits into this category as well as Harry Potter.

Wikipedia has really thrown me though.
Here is a list of possible fantasy sub-genres...
comic, dark, contemporary, heroic, magical, mythic, paranormal, superhero, fantasy of manners, low, hard, historical, wuxia and urban!!

High fantasy is then further divided into Primary world, Portal or World-within-a-World. Primary worlds do not really exist (Discworld), Portals take the characters from the real world into the fantasy world (Narnia, The Dark Tower, Alice in Wonderland) while worlds within exist in a real world but are somehow separated from them (like Hogwarts and His Dark Materials).

Wuxia? Really?
Ahhhhh, this is sword and sorcery fantasy Chinese style - martial arts, chilvary, retribution and righteousness!

Fairytales and fables are on their own under 'non-fiction'. Although a lot of fantasy writers claim fairytales as early inspirations...closely followed by Tolkien.

Below are some examples of what you can find in the various sub-genres...
Comic Fantasy: Discworld
Dark: Anne Rice
Contemporary: Neil Gaiman, The Master and Margarita, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson
Heroic: Star Wars
Fantasy of Manners: Mervyn Peake 
Paranormal: Twilight
Hard: George R R Martin
Low: The Indian in the Cupboard, The Borrowers
Historical: (also known as sword and sandal) Juliet Marillier, Naomi Novik
Urban: Gone by Michael Grant, Anita Blake series, Evernight

And just for fun, I've included several covers of Lord of the Rings.

A-Z Blog Hop


  1. So it's not that I don't like fantasy. I just don't like paranormal and dark fantasy. Cool!

    1. I wish blogger had a 'like' button, cause that was pretty much my thought by the time I had got the end of my little research project :-)

  2. I've always heard that fantasy has impossible things: creatures, places, people with supernatural abilities, and other such things that don't and can't exist. Even superhero stories would qualify, though we don't view them that way. It's pretty cool to see all of the different types of fantasy subgenres that are out there!

    1. Thanks Chris.
      I felt I had to research this a little as I was about to start yet another blog post with "I don't usually enjoy fantasy...but I loved..."
      Obviously I do read and enjoy quite a bit of fantasy. The sub-genres helped me realise which types I like and which ones I don't.
      I can now happily read stacks more historical, low, contemporary, urban and fantasy of manners.

  3. Wuxia the fuxia??!!?!!??!
    That was quite a list! But I found this post very informative and also realise why I like some fantasy but am completely left cold by most of it.


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