Created By: bluepenguin on June 21, 2011 Last Edited By: Arivne on July 1, 2011
Troped

Gaslamp Fantasy

Historical fiction about an alternate 1800s, with magic!

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Gaslamp fantasy, also called gaslight fantasy, is Steampunk's less science-loving cousin. It's a subgenre of fantasy with a setting that is clearly recognizable as the real-world 19th or very early 20th century. That's the Regency period and the Victorian and Edwardian eras, if the work's set in England, which it usually, though not necessarily, is (Victorian London is especially popular). It may be identical to the real world with a Masquerade, or it may be a full-on Alternate History where magic exists openly and has affected the course of events. Gaslamp fantasy often draws on Gothic Horror Tropes, and is sometimes seen as a sort of Reconstruction or revival of the genre.

The key difference between gaslamp fantasy and Steampunk is that Steampunk focuses on alternate developments in technology (and need not have any magic at all), while gaslamp fantasy focuses on supernatural elements (and need not have any technology that didn't actually exist). Of course, there is overlap.

The term was coined to describe the comic Girl Genius, but has since come into wider use, and is sometimes retroactively applied to the more fantastical works of Gothic Horror.

For similar genres with more modern settings, see Urban Fantasy and Gothic Punk.

Examples:

Film

Literature
  • The Parasol Protectorate
  • Sorcery And Cecilia and its sequels, by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, are epistolary novels set in a Regency England where magic is part of everyday life.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is about the last two practicing magicians in Georgian England (also, fairies).
  • The Native Star is fantasy set in America in the 1800s.
  • The Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card is America-based 1800s fantasy as well.
  • Shades of Milk and Honey
  • The Gemma Doyle trilogy centers around a group of young Victorian ladies who get caught up in a secret magical conspiracy.
  • Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series is about mages in Post-Victorian England. The stories are loosely based on Fairy Tales.
  • The Lord Darcy stories are technically set in the 1960s, but due to magic, society and technology seem to be stuck in the Edwardian era.
  • Infernal Devices is set an alternate Victorian London that contains elements of a Masquerade: things such as magic, demons, werewolves, vampires, etc. wander around in the open - but only people with The Sight can see them.

Tabletop RPG

Video Games

Web Comics
  • Girl Genius is steampunk combined with fantasy. Most of the weird stuff can be explained by technology, but not everything. The magic includes stuff like the Heterodyne fountain (which is an apparently natural fountain the waters of which make the drinker a mad genius, with varying degrees of both aspects), Geisterdamen (ghost-like beings), Jägermonsters (non-human beings with suphuman lifespans who can be either previous humans who drank "the Jägerdraught", or born of them), and a few instances of human souls inhabiting constructs (Castle Heterodyne, Anevka) and possibly even completely artifical souls (the Muses).

Web Original
  • Echo Bazaar is set in a Victorian London ruled by a shadowy cabal of nonhuman entities and full of things like devils, golems, and talking rats.
Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • June 21, 2011
    peccantis
    See also Diesel Punk.
  • June 22, 2011
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Castle Falkenstein. Set during the Victorian era. Has magicians, the Faerie, dwarves, dragons etc.
  • June 22, 2011
    Discar
    You should probably add the redirect Gaslight Fantasy, which I have also heard used.
  • June 22, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    Literature

    So, is Girl Genius an example or not?

    I've also seen works based on the same sort of premise but set in 19th century American instead of 19th century London - are they this trope or a different one? (The examples springing to mind are The Native Star and the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card).
  • June 22, 2011
    Speedball
    I'm pretty sure this is the genre the Thief games take place in.
  • June 22, 2011
    bluepenguin
    re Gaslight Fantasy: Yes, that was the plan. I just made Gaslamp the main title because that was the original wording.

    re Girl Genius: I couldn't say, I've never read it. It is technically the Trope Namer, but it seems a bit different from the works the name has come to be used for.

    re works set in America: Yes, those count too. I did say "often but not necessarily England".
  • June 22, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
  • June 22, 2011
    randomsurfer
    I'd suggest against Gaslight Fantasy simpily because we already have a work called Gaslight and a trope based on it called Gaslighting. But I don't feel strongly about it.

    The very first DC Elseworlds story was Gotham by Gaslight: basically Batman in the 1880s (and some think that he's Jack The Ripper).
  • June 22, 2011
    bluepenguin
    ^ The similarity to Gaslighting is a concern, but Gaslight Fantasy is a pre-existing name that's used interchangeably with Gaslamp Fantasy elsewhere. And it'd only be a redirect.
  • June 23, 2011
    peccantis
    Girl Genius is steampunk combined with fantasy. Most of the weird stuff can be explained by technology, but not everything. The magic includes stuff like the Heterodyne fountain (which is an apparently natural fountain the waters of which make the drinker a mad genius, with varying degrees of both), Geisterdamen (ghost-like beings), Jägermonsters (non-human beings with suphuman lifespans who can be either previous humans who drank "the Jägerdraught", or born of them), and a few instances of human souls inhabiting constructs (Castle Heterodyne, Anevka) and possibly even completely artifical souls (the Muses).
  • June 23, 2011
    tmarcl
    Bram Stoker's Dracula
  • June 23, 2011
    Hadashi
    Arcanum Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura. Might help make a good alt title (it's a game).
  • June 23, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Infernal Devices series is definitely gaslight fantasy.
  • June 23, 2011
    bluepenguin
    I'm unsure whether to count things like Dracula, because technically they predate the creation of the subgenre by a century or so, but they are considered a major inspiration for it and, as the description says, are sometimes lumped in with it.
  • June 23, 2011
    c0ry
    Removed The Bartimaeus Trilogy from the list because it is, at the earliest, alternate recent history; if I recall, Gladstone, who died at the dusk of the nineteenth century, has been dead for nearly a century now, so it is not of the era targeted by this trope.

    There may have been some confusion because in the trilogy, Britain still holds the original thirteen states of the USA as colonies, but this is due to a difference of history, and is not contemporary to the period in which the real Britain held those colonies.
  • June 23, 2011
    tmarcl
    ^^I think you're right (and I apologize for not reading more carefully). You're referring to the specific modern genre, not just to all fantasy works that take place in 19th century. While books like Dracula certainly take place in the 19th century, they're closer in ideal to the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries or even Stephen King. That is, they're more "supernatural happenings taking place *now*" than they are a re-imagining of the past.

    However, the movie Van Helsing should qualify. :) (As an aside, where can I find out how to do links and such for this board?)
  • June 23, 2011
    MetaFour
    I would say Girl Genius is right on the spot where Gaslamp Fantasy meets Steampunk. The magic elements of the setting are downplayed, but the science is so soft that it may as well be magic. And it is the series that gave us the line "Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!"
  • June 23, 2011
    bluepenguin
    ^^ I think Text Formatting Rules may be what you're looking for.

    ^ Okay, I'll add it, then. I did say they could overlap.
  • June 24, 2011
    peccantis
    ^ in case you didn't notice, there's an elaborated example text for Girl Genius a few comments upwards.
  • June 24, 2011
    bluepenguin
    Ah, so there is. I updated the OP to include it, though it is a bit long.
  • June 25, 2011
    shimaspawn
  • June 25, 2011
    DaibhidC
    Would the Lord Darcy stories count? Technically they're set in the 1960s, but the advance of magic means that mundane tech has "stalled" at around the Edwardian era.
  • June 25, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    I think it would. In Steampunk, for instance, the actual date doesn't matter, just that the mannerisms are suitably Victorian/Edwardian feeling. I don't see why it would be different for Gaslamp Fantasy.
  • June 26, 2011
    bluepenguin
    Yeah, I'd say it looks like it has all the trappings of the appropriate period, so it still fits even if technically they're set later.
  • June 26, 2011
    shimaspawn
    Exact dates are the least important bit of this trope. If everything else fits, it fits.
  • June 26, 2011
    ayjazz
    Would the Wizarding World in Harry Potter count? For the most part, the feel of the books seem vagely 18/19th century, with a few Magitek items here and there.
  • June 26, 2011
    bluepenguin
    I'm on the fence about Harry Potter. On the one hand, the wizarding world is enough of a throwback that it doesn't really feel like regular Urban Fantasy. On the other hand, there is a 1990s "real world" out there, even if the characters interact with it only in a limited fashion. I don't know. What do you guys think?
  • June 27, 2011
    ayjazz
    Well, I don't think you could say the series is entirely Gaslight, but the elements are definitely there in the series.
  • June 27, 2011
    TBeholder
    Isn't 'Victoriana RPG'' there too?
  • June 27, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Harry Potter isn't Gaslamp Fantasy, it's not supposed to be Victorian, and it's almost more portal fantasy than urban fantasy, since the magical stuff and the real world stuff are so separate as to be almost completely different worlds. It's just a high fantasy set in modern day.
  • June 29, 2011
    bluepenguin
    Okay, I want to get this thing launched soon. Any objections? Anything further to add?
  • June 30, 2011
    peccantis
    It still has mostly X Just X entries that need to be fleshed out lest they be removed by the first editor to meet this page after launch. Stuff like where they're set, by date and by context, whether they contain steampunk elements as well or are purely fantasy, how prominent the magic is, etc, would be interesting to know.

    And if you'd be so kind and add aspects after the drinker a mad genius, with varying degrees of both.
  • June 30, 2011
    Windsong12
    Elaboration on The Infernal Devices entry: It's set an alternate Victorian London that contains elements of a Masquerade: things such as magic, demons, werewolves, vampires, etc. wander around in the open - but only people with The Sight can see them.
  • June 30, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    Ack, bracketing error, my fault. The Alvin Maker series is by Orson Scott Card. The Native Star and its sequel are by M. K. Hobson. Both are set in 19th century alternate America.
  • June 30, 2011
    bluepenguin
    Okay, I elaborated on the examples I'm personally familiar with. Anyone who can help with the ones I'm not would be much appreciated.
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