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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.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy IV, VI and XII.
    • XII is a borderline case. It meets most of the requirements except the scale. There's some power politics and the looming threat of a war between two great powers, but it's limited to threatening one small kingdom/city-state caught between them rather than any serious threat to the world at large regardless of who wins. The over-arching quest is more about preventing the city of Dalmasca from being turned into a battleground of two rival empires, neither of which represent the Good Guys, than attempting to defeat the Evil Overlord (who turns out to be a Knight Templar Anti-Villain). At no point is The End of the World as We Know It even on the table in the main plot.
    • There are, however, side-quests where the player can go looking for trouble and pick fights with some very powerful demigods that tried to take over Heaven itself in ages past.
  • Fire Emblem is this mixed in with Low Fantasy elements (e.g the worlds are mostly populated by humans, most of the battles are fought between humans though Dragons may be involved somehow), several characters that can you recruit may even be Punch Clock Heroes, and the series seems to lean towards the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, though some of the games can also lean towards the idealistic side as well). Plus, it must be noted that the Jugdral Series is very dark in tone.
  • Kingdom Hearts is divided into many small worlds, mostly imaginary, or based on Disney films.
  • The Legend of Zelda mixes this with Heroic Fantasy (although it's been getting more Steam Punk as of late).
  • Oracle Of Tao is a Rpg Maker game with heavy fantasy elements. Oddly enough, it has some modern objects, like cellphones and ATMs, but it is assumed they run on magic.
  • Overlord takes all the tropes of this genre and runs away with them.
  • Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song thrusts you into the world of Mardias, where the inhabitants struggle against the return of evil lord Saruin, his army of monsters and his evil cults. Due to the game's open-ended nature, the world and its nations are rather detailed with lores about multiple fairytales, lords and heroes, many of which you end up interacting with. The player runs on a Karma Meter, but it merely determines a path that eventually leads to the same endgame, an epic Lord of the Ring style war against Saruin where ally nations help you party sneak into Big Bad;s lair and defeat him. Even Saruin's own siblings don't like him, which is saying something.

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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 


Alternative Title(s):

Epic Fantasy