"Fantasy isn't just a jolly escape: It's an escape, but into something far more extreme than reality, or normality. It's where things are more beautiful and more wondrous and more terrifying. You move into a world of conflicting extremes."
"Fantasy is the metaphor through which we discover ourselves."
Fantasy: it's stuff with magic in it, not counting Psychic Powers
, or Magic from Technology
, or anything meant to frighten
, or Magical Realism
, or anything strongly religious, or the technology behind the magic is Magitek
, or — where did that clean-cut definition go?
While the core of the fantasy genre is clear enough, there is no succinct definition that encompasses it all. The boundary with Science Fiction
is notoriously ambiguous
and the boundary with horror is often no less fuzzy. Religiously inspired works, like the Left Behind
series, can have a basic good versus evil plotline that would fit well in High Fantasy
, but few would place it there. And so on.
Often placed outside the Fantasy genre, or not marketed as such:
Almost always marketed as Fantasy:
- Comic Fantasy, which includes parodies, fractured fairy tales, and anything that doesn't take itself, its setting, or its tropes too seriously
- Dark Fantasy, which is fantasy Darker and Edgier.
- Gaslamp Fantasy, fantasy with an Alternate History 19th-century setting (or reasonable approximation thereof).
- Fantastic Noir, a mixture of the Film Noir detective story with the more colorful aspects of fantasy and Science Fiction.
- Heroic Fantasy, (also called Sword and Sorcery): Trope Codifier is the Conan stories.
- High Fantasy, (also called Epic Fantasy): Trope Codifier is The Lord of the Rings (but there were many precursors).
- Historical Fantasy - a version of the history of our world, but with significant fantasy elements added.
- Low Fantasy - anything not set in our world which isn't one of the others.
- Magical Land - virtually a sub-genre in itself, and common in works for children. This overlaps with Modern Fantasy.
- Mythopoeia is also an established variant.
- Science Fantasy, which overlaps with other sub-genres, as well as Science Fiction
- Urban Fantasy - confusingly, has two meanings:
- a) A story which takes place in our world, or a recognizable Alternate History version of it
- b) Takes place in a major city in a fantastic world.
Common features of genre fantasy include:
A secondary world
: A world whose connection with our present day world ranges from nominal to non-existent. It could be the remote past or future, or simply a-historical. The inhabitants can be anything from human only, through the standard elves, dwarves and orcs, to a complete Fantasy Kitchen Sink
. See Standard Fantasy Setting
for the, er, standard fantasy setting.
Appeal to a pastoral ideal
: Much genre fantasy, of all genres, appeals to the pastoral ideal, one reason for the pseudo-medieval settings. Even urban fantasies will quite often depict cities as blots on the landscape, whose denizens are blinded to what really matters by material ephemera. There are some fantasies, however, which either deliberately take the opposite stance or present a more balanced worldview.
Magic and Powers
: Functional Magic
is almost always present, though its role in the world can vary widely. It might be either respected, feared, persecuted, or simply not believed in. It's frequency varies from the stuff of legend, through to rare but available to the well connected, up to a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Magitek
usually lies at the extreme end of this scale. It may be taught through a master and apprentice system
, or in a magical university
, when it can be taught at all. When wizards are immortal, they don't need to train successors, and may not be able to.
However, even magic itself isn't a required element, as novels such as Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint
, K.J. Parker's Devices & Desires
or Ricardo Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon
which feature no magic whatsoever but take place in an alternate, pseudo-historical world, are still classified as fantasy. This is due in part to their widespread use of other tropes associated with fantasy, particularly Low Fantasy
is an interesting case, because while it contains no supernatural elements in itself, one of its sequels, The Fall of the Kings
, is largely concerned with The Magic Comes Back