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High Fantasy

The setting of the stereotypical High (or "epic") Fantasy, a collection of tropes, often boiled down from The Lord of the Rings, which has been the foundation for many a series of doorstoppers.

Basically, the Dark Lord, thought defeated millennia past, has returned to his Dark Tower in the Dark Land, gathering around him evil hordes. The free lands have only one hope, a small band of lost heirs, princes, and simple village folk gathered together by a mysterious wandering wizard. However, it's not essential to stick so closely to the model.

Most core elements of high fantasy can be found in seminal literature from the 19th and early 20th century, but it was Tolkien that codified the genre.

Often flanderized as Medieval European Fantasy, though alternatives exist.

The core elements of High Fantasy are:

Other common elements include:

The boundary between High Fantasy and Low Fantasy is probably impossible to pin down, but the Deverry and Deryni series are near the borderline, and may straddle it. In both, the protagonists are involved in high-level power politics, with the fate of their nation in the balance, but Deverry has superhuman evils which the Deryni series lacks. Another borderline series would be the violent, low-magic A Song of Ice and Fire, which is on an epic scale, in a pseudo-medieval setting, with the looming menace of the Others, but lacks a Dark Lord (so far). The Discworld novels as a whole are another problematic case; they are generally considered Low Fantasy, but several of them tick all the boxes on the core elements noted above and epic-level plots (like Thief of Time) happen just as frequently as street-level ones (like The Truth).

Novels which are unambiguously Low Fantasy include Eisenstein's Sorcerer's Son, about a family quarrel among wizards devoid of wider implications, Barbara Hambly's Stranger at the Wedding, where the threat is confined to a single merchant family, and Maskerade, whose villain, a normal human, has no greater ambition than to run an opera house. Not to be confused with Demythtification, which is a myth or legend reimagined as Historical Fiction.

The sci-fi version of High Fantasy is Space Opera, but not vice versa. The quintessential Space Opera doesn't necessarily include a Dark Lord equivalent, but if a Space Opera does, as with Star Wars or Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, it is High Fantasy in space.

Contrast Heroic Fantasy, a.k.a. Sword and Sorcery.

Heroic or High Fantasy of Chinese cultural origin is known as Wuxia.

For other "epic" genres, compare Sword And Sandals and Space Opera.


Examples include:

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  • ElvenQuest parodies the High Fantasy setting. The Chosen One (a dog in our world but a human in his) must band together with an Elf, Warrior Princess and Dwarf to find the mystical Sword of Asnagar and defeat the cunning and oddly genre-savvy Lord Darkness.
  • Negativland once created a hysterical parody of trailers for High Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy films, using dozens of snippets from Don LaFontaine narrations. It's on Moribund Music of the 70s.

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  • Tales of the Big Bad Wolf appears to be a fairy tale based series but incorporates elements of high fantasy including elves, bards, at least one system of magic, and magical objects and beasts.

    Western Animation 


Heroic FantasyLiterature GenresHistorical Fantasy
Heroic FantasySpeculative FictionHistorical Fantasy
DragonlanceImageSource/Tabletop GamesEberron

alternative title(s): Epic Fantasy
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