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aka: Epic 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
as Medieval European Fantasy
, though alternatives exist
The core elements of High Fantasy are:
- Setting - A world other than ours. It may have a nominal connection with present day Earth, such as being our remote past or future, but this plays no role in the plot. Mythopoeia is often put into play to define the very metaphysics of the world. Nevertheless it often resembles medieval Europe, and is often peopled by People of Hair Color.
- Scale - Epic. Power politics, wars, the death of nations, gods walking the earth, and the real threat of The End of the World as We Know It. This is what distinguishes High Fantasy from Heroic Fantasy.
- Great evil - An enemy which is near enough Evil incarnate or fundamentally abhorrent
- Methods - Victory is not achieved through force of arms, the main feature distinguishing High Fantasy from Heroic Fantasy. If Aragorn had killed Sauron in hand-to-hand combat, that would have been Heroic Fantasy. In short, a Supporting Leader or the Reluctant Hero will be offered up instead of the rough-hewn barbarian of, say, Conan the Barbarian or Beowulf.
Other common elements include:
The boundary between High Fantasy and Low Fantasy
is probably impossible to pin down, but the Deverry
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
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Anime & Manga
- Bone, though with a sense of humor throughout.
- Many Franco-Belgian Comics belong to High Fantasy, with a twist: the plot seems classical at the beginning, but at the end, the Big Bad is never the one we believed: Légendes des Contrées Oubliées, La Quête de l'Oiseau du Temps, L'épée de cristal, Les brumes d'Asceltis. Others are Low Fantasy or Heroic Fantasy with some elements of High Fantasy: Thorgal, Le Roi Cyclope, Lanfeust, Les Lumieres De L Amalou, Black Moon Chronicles, Complainte des landes perdues, ...
- The Mighty Thor.
- The Belgariad - takes every single trope in the genre, laughs at them, then builds around ten books (and two epics) with them.
- The Elenium - by the same author, and does pretty much the same thing. Only in six slightly longer (and darker) books. But still two epics. Think Ghostbusters set in 14th century Europe, with magic, except the Five-Man Band busts Gods instead of ghosts.
- Bran Hambric, which has the feeling of Urban Fantasy in a fictional world.
- "Chronicle Of The Unhewn Throne" by Brian Staveley
- Chronicles of the Kencyrath fits most of the elements, though it's very tightly focused on the heroine and her immediate friends and family despite the world-shaking events going on, and at least as far as supernatural forces are concerned it's more Black and Grey Morality than Black and White Morality.
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
- The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper is set in our world, but tied into a distant, mythological and Celtic past, and otherwise fits the trope to a tee. The hero's uncle is even suggested to be Merlin.
- The Dark Tower by Stephen King borders the line between High Fantasy and Urban Fantasy in a Western setting.
- Deltora Quest
- Laurence Yep's Dragon Series, which has an eastern dragon as the protagonist, trying to restore her former home.
- Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends
- The Duel of Sorcery Trilogy fits on some details, but is more Low Fantasy in other respects.
- Foundation by Isaac Asimov has some elements of high fantasy, like Star Wars. Also C. J. Cherryh's Morgaine, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern and Catherine Asaro's Skolian Saga. Some Sci-Fi may also feature a VR high fantasy world e.g. Enders Game, The Diamond Age.
- Greenwater and the world setting for Zodiacs by Thrythlind are aimed at this.
- Inheritance Cycle
- King of the Water Roads
- The Lord of the Rings - Inspired a slew of imitators and created the genre as we know it.
- The Malazan Book of the Fallen
- Memory Sorrow And Thorn
- The Mirror Of Her Dreams
- Mistborn: The Original Trilogy , and many other works by Brandon Sanderson, especially The Stormlight Archive, which Sanderson has described as his love letter to the genre.
- The Old Kingdom series is somewhat unusual, as its premise revolves around necromancy and the undead. The first book also starts out more in Heroic Fantasy territory but moves into High by the endnote , while books two and three are firmly High Fantasy from the get go.
- The Chroniclesof Prydain are High Fantasy for children.
- The Riftwar Cycle
- The Seventh Tower
- A Song of Ice and Fire begins on the Low Fantasy side of the line, but because The Magic Comes Back slowly over the course of the series, it gets progressively closer to High Fantasy with each novel in the series.
- Sword of Truth possesses all the core elements, although the author would rather not have his work lumped into the fantasy section, thank you very much.
- Tales of the Sundered Lands
- Watership Down
- The Wayfarer Redemption
- The Wheel of Time
- The Witcher
- A Wizard in Rhyme
- Gnome Saga by Kenny Soward and published by Ragnarok Publications is a Dungeons and Dragons-esque trilogy highlighting that often-overlooked race of mad inventors.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: A rare Urban Fantasy version but fits nonetheless.
- The first two episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: A long time ago, the land of Equestria was ruled by two godlike alicorn sisters who controlled the cycle of day and night. But the younger sister, responsible for the night, became jealous and resentful and turned into the evil Nightmare Moon, refusing to lower the moon to make way for the day. The elder sister was forced to banish her into the moon, where she has remained ever since. But a thousand years later, When the Planets Align, she escapes and threatens to shroud the land in eternal darkness once more. Now it's up to a group of cute but surprisingly badass ponies to travel through the ancient Everfree Forest to find the Elements of Harmony, the only thing that can stop Nightmare Moon.
- While the majority of the series is an Aesop-driven ensemble comedy in a fantasy setting, the two-part season premieres and finales are consistently driven by High Fantasy tropes. Attempted takeovers of Equestria by Evil Overlords sealed away for a minimum of one thousand years alongside armies of Evil Minions run rampant, only to be undone each time by the forces of love and friendship. This has started to creep into the "normal" episodes as well; "Hearth's Warming Eve," for instance, deals with the nation's founding amidst prejudice-driven political struggles and ethereal winter spirits feeding on their hatred, and "It's About Time" offhandedly establishes that Ponyville is located within walking distance of the gates of Tartarus.
- The Pirates of Dark Water.