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Heroic Fantasy

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Circles and rings, dragons and kings
Weaving a charm and a spell
Blessed by the night, holy and bright
Called by the toll of the bell!

Black Sabbath, Neon Knights
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The exploits of mighty-thewed, sword-wielding heroes and their thiefly, wizardly and/or priestly companions, as they spend their days smiting evil, fighting monsters, recovering treasures and quaffing ale.

One of the three typical settings for fantasy literature. High Fantasy usually focuses on the epic struggle between absolute good and absolute evil, and the characters are thrust in the midst. Low Fantasy portrays the struggle of characters to achieve their own personal goals, ranging from questionable to decidedly unsavory.

Heroic Fantasy sits somewhere in between. It tends to be distinguishable from High Fantasy by its scale—the problems are generally those of the heroes, not the world. Kingdoms and societies are portrayed mainly to the extent the heroes have an impact on them. On the other hand, it's distinct from Low Fantasy as well in that the heroes are actually heroic and their goals are morally sound or, at the very least, not overtly objectionable. An Anti-Hero in this setting is more likely to be a Lovable Rogue than a Well-Intentioned Extremist.

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The setting differs as well: it is neither fragile and in need of saving, nor a Crapsack World with wickedness Inherent in the System — rather, it's an ambiguous place, characterized more than anything by being an Adventure-Friendly World, with much untamed wilderness to travel through, quests to undertake and dungeons to delve. Therefore, the heroes are very likely to encounter magic and fantastic elements, assuming they aren't prevalent in the setting to begin with.

The first story of this type is often considered to be Lord Dunsany's "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth" from 1908, but it is 1929's "The Shadow Kingdom" by Robert E. Howard that is responsible for kick-starting the genre proper. Howard himself would later go on to codify the genre with his Conan the Barbarian tales.

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Heavily influenced by The Hero's Journey, the Arthurian cycle, the Conan the Barbarian stories and movies, the game Dungeons & Dragons, and Classical Myth.

Sometimes set in a world that looks an awful lot like medieval Europe, although it can range all the way back to a "forgotten prehistory" such as in Conan the Barbarian, or be set in the more concrete history of our world, such as the "classical antiquity" period (ancient Greece, Rome, etc.) or even earlier (ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc.) as found in Xena: Warrior Princess which merrily mixes the settings up. Stories set in the ancient past are sometimes called "Sword and Sandal" and can overlap with Historical Fantasy. May involve Mythopoeia, the further in the past it goes.

Sometimes it can be found in the future, often in After the End setting; sometimes it comes close to Planetary Romance. Also often features Medieval Stasis.

Often lumped together with Sword and Sorcery, a genre coined by Fritz Leiber. Unkind souls have described Heroic Fantasy as nothing but an upmarket term for Sword & Sorcery, though Leiber deliberately created it to set his stories and similar works by other writers apart from the general field of Heroic Fantasy.

Good live-action film and television heroic fantasies can be counted on the fingers of one hand (generally starting with the Conan the Barbarian movie). Dying is easy. Fantasy is hard! On the other hand, roughly half of all RPGs ever written fall under this genre, if not more.

See also Two-Fisted Tales, Pulp Magazine. Contrast Sword and Sandal.

For heroic and epic fantasy applied to non-Medieval European Fantasy settings, see Wuxia (fantasy of Chinese cultural origin), as well as Dungeonpunk (which is which is what happens when you take the general attitude of heroic fantasy and remove the Medieval Stasis in favor of Magitek).

Nor to be confused with Demythification, which is Mythology reimagined as Historical Fiction.

Perhaps you would be interested in writing one yourself?


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Arguably Berserk goes from Low Fantasy to a heroic but dark fantasy at the end of the Golden Age arc where all the demons start coming out and become the main source of conflict.
    • Or it was Heroic Fantasy all along without the characters noticing. After all Zodd the Immortal didn't exactly keep his existence a secret.
  • Black Clover. The setting we're introduced to is relatively peaceful, thanks to the Wizard King, and everyone in the series has a degree of magical abilities, and our hero's primary goal is to become the next Wizard King, so it qualifies as such.
  • Bikini Warriors: Which involves a group of heroines with typical fantasy roles, and go on an epic quest together, while clad in bikinis.
  • Crimson Spell combines Heroic Fantasy with the Yaoi Genre.
  • Delicious in Dungeon, which is the story of a group of heroes Dungeon Crawling to save the lead's lost little sister.
  • Doraemon: Nobita's Three Visionary Swordsmen sees Nobita and friends being reborn as their Alternate Self in a medieval kingdom, Yumemiru, and fighting hordes and hordes of chaotic monsters reminiscent of the works of J.R.R> Tolkien and Robert E. Howard.
  • Dragon Ball early on in the series, before its Genre Shift to high-powered Space Opera.
  • Fairy Tail focuses on the eponymous guild of wizard adventurers and the various quests they undertake for fun and profit. As the stakes get higher, however, it graduates into High Fantasy around the point the long-thought-dead Black Wizard Zeref and the Black Dragon of the Apocalypse Acnologia start entering the plot.
  • Frieren: Beyond Journey's End plays in a time after the heroes defeated the Demon King. The world is largely at peace and the protagonist's journey is a journey to learn more about herself and rectify past regrets and mistakes.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist started as this, though it quickly veered into High Fantasy territory. The 2003 anime version, on the other hand, stuck with Heroic Fantasy.
  • Hunter × Hunter
  • Legend of Lemnear
  • One Piece
  • Queen's Blade. The heroines rarely have magic on their side while the villains do and often the only way to win a fight is through sword battles. While there is a grand plot involving the fate of the land, the heroines are largely unaware of it and just want to fulfill their personal desires.
  • Rune Soldier Louie is a comedic Heroic Fantasy spin-off of the high fantasy Record of Lodoss War.
  • Senyuu.. A series with heroes, demons, swords and magic. Actually, more like a parody, but despite loads of gags and jokes remains heroic.
  • The Tower of Druaga, based off of the video game of the same name.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Quite averted in With Strings Attached, which is partially set on a continent that was once a place of Heroic Fantasy. However, by the time the four find themselves there, the skahs warriors have long since wiped out any threats, and are going crazy with boredom because they have nothing to do and refuse to become civilians. A major goal of some of the secondary characters is finding a way to restock the continent with monsters, since the gods refuse to do it.
    • Played much more straight on Jim Hunter's world, but that's because it was built by a gamer.

    Film - Animation 
  • As a lot of film critics have noted, Shrek and its original sequel might have been written as self-conscious affectionate parodies of "fairy tale movies" but both movies use and celebrate heroic fantasy tropes so whole-heartedly that they both feel more like straight "fairy tale movies"/ heroic fantasy with lots of humour and character development. While the protagonists are fundamentally good people with a clear moral high ground over the villains, the plots tend to focus on smaller, more personal conflicts.
    • The first movie revolves around Shrek trying to rescue a princess purely to get the fairy tale refugees off his land, only to fall in love with said princess and have to overcome his insecurities before she marries the evil Lord Farquaad.
    • Shrek 2 revolves around Shrek struggling to impress his in-laws and save his marriage while the evil Fairy Godmother tries to force Princess Fiona into being with Prince Charming; although things would probably be bad for Far Far Away if the Fairy Godmother took complete control of the kingdom, the film emphasizes the threat to Shrek and Fiona's relationship.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Gleahan and the Knaves of Industry: The movie contains no legitimate fantasy elements, but it hits all the beats of a Heroic Fantasy story. Gleahan definitely thinks he's in one of these, though.
  • A New Hope is essentially this, only set in a Science Fiction setting, rather than Fantasy. There's an evil empire led by a Sorcerous Overlord clad in all black, a young farmboy who studies the ways of magic/the Force under a wise old master from a now extinct order of wizards, and there's even an emphasis on swordfighting.

    Light Novel 
  • Goblin Slayer slowly becomes this trope: despite its R-Rated Opening, the titular character refuses to "play by the rules" and slowly becomes a more typical fantasy hero (even when that's not what he's pursuing), thanks to the aid of True Companions who are slowly helping him regain his humanity. While the setting does establish adventuring as a Grimdark, dirty affair - a medieval fantasy world that has its share of horrors - there also exists friendship, honor, hope and love; all the more reason that these ideals are certainly worth fighting for.
  • Sword Art Online Though the narrative is driven by technology and is set in Next Sunday A.D., at its heart Sword Art Online is still fundamentally a fantasy of heroic warriors (and later, wizards) crusading across mythical lands, fighting for justice, honor and making the world a better place with swords and spells in their hands, courage and love in their hearts.

    Literature 
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, Kull and Bran Mak Morn. To a large extent Howard invented the modern incarnation of this trope.
  • Many of the older Discworld novels were comedic deconstructions/parodies of this genre, as are a few of the more recent ones. A very loose rule of thumb for the Discworld books: If the main character is Rincewind or Susan, it's probably going to be heroic or high fantasy; if it's Vimesy, the Watch, Moist, or Death, you are probably looking at low fantasy, the elderly barbarians are usually heroic fantasy, and if it's the witches then it's probably either going to be low or heroic fantasy. Pratchett seems to have started out creating straight parodies of heroic and high fantasy, and then gotten bored halfway through and slowly began integrating and exploring low fantasy settings more and more. Fans are divided as to whether the earlier (and punchier) heroic fantasy parodies are better or worse than the later ( and more thoughtful and elaborate/longer) low-fantasy-with-an-emphasis-on-social-themes-and-character-based-comedies.
  • The Exile's Violin: A hero armed with mystical weapons that fights a power mad Evil Sorcerer doesn't sound like the kind of thing that would happen in a Steampunk detective story but it happens and checks off the other markers such as personal trouble and grey morality.
  • Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road is a Reconstruction of these types of stories.
  • Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series has quite a few stories in this tone. The most notable is the Vows and Honor series, about a swordswoman/sorceress mercenary pair who travel the world looking for work and battling evil, almost always because it pays or because a magic sword is compelling them to rescue women. In her Oathblood introduction, Lackey specifically noted that she made the Vows and Honor stories to play with the tropes of heroic fantasy: the leads are both women, one of them is celibate, and Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs more often than not on their adventures. Oathbreakers winds up with more High Fantasy leanings than the rest of the trilogy, as it's more explicitly supernatural, good and evil are more clearly delineated, Kethry gets a major power upgrade, and they bring down an evil king so they can set up a better one.
  • Interestingly, The Hobbit is generally closer to heroic fantasy than the high fantasy associated with Tolkien. While the party's journey to reclaim Erebor had significance to the Dwarves as a people, and their mission to get rid of Smaug is significant to Dale as a town, the basic focus is on the Dwarves and Bilbo and their fun adventure. Nothing that happens seems to be of world-historical importance except, at most, as a squabble over some treasure. (The Lord of the Rings shows in retrospect that the journey was more important than it seemed, but even Tolkien didn't know that when he wrote it).
  • Charles R. Saunders's Imaro.
  • Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (a Deconstruction geared towards showing just how screwy the genre's politics can get).
  • C.L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry, the first major female character in Heroic Fantasy. Her husband Henry Kuttner was no slouch in the genre, with works like Elak of Atlantis, Valley of Flame and The Dark World..
  • Karl Edward Wagner's Kane.
  • Patrick Rothfuss's The Kingkiller Chronicle (although the protagonist is leaning toward Anti-Hero territory and may get worse in the upcoming book 3).
  • The Kingdoms DisdainSeries by Paul! Lang.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen, especially during Karsa Orlong's storylines.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon is either a Darker and Edgier or Deconstructed Trope version (or possibly Distaff Counterpart) of the King Arthur story.
  • Moribito by Nahoko Uehashi.
  • The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.
  • Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series.
  • The Lineage of Tellus starts off as this before the problems shift from the heroes to the world, wherein it becomes High Fantasy.
  • The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, for which The Epic of Gilgamesh may or may not have been an inspiration.
  • Lord Dunsany's "The Sword of Welleran" and "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth", as well as a few other short stories here and there.
  • Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe. While the fate of the kingdom of Tortall is on the line in the Song of the Lioness and the Immortals quartets, the focus throughout remains on the coming-of-age of Pierce's heroines. Later books have lower stakes, but all have a good down-to-earth feel, and fairly nuanced morality.
  • Talion: Revenant: The book's genre. It centers around Nolan's quest to stop a bandit leader, and later protect a king.
  • The Barbarian and the Sorceress by Patrick Thornton.
  • Guardians of the Flame: In the series, some gamers playing what is basically Dungeons & Dragons are transported into a fantasy world, and become their characters. At first it focuses simply on them trying to survive and return home. In later books they get drawn into a crusade to abolish slavery, then form one state/take over a couple others, but it still focuses on the deeds and struggles of the heroes.
  • The Reluctant King by L. Sprague de Camp.
  • Deeper Up the Tower: Ultimately, a subversion of heroic fantasy.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses: The first book mostly falls into this category, although for the remainder of the series it shifts into High Fantasy. Feyre is a Pragmatic Hero whose main goal is initially to protect her family and survive, including trying to find a way out of a magically-binding contract with a faerie lord who tricked her in the hopes she could break a curse that has befallen his court. After she falls in love with him she goes to save him from an evil faerie queen, whom she learns is a threat to the whole world. Feyre is also a Badass Normal who mostly relies on her wits and hunting skills to overcome obstacles; in the second book she gains powers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Witcher (2019): At least in the first season. It has an epic fantasy setting but the plotlines are more self-contained with smaller-scale conflicts. Geralt travels around slaying monsters (supernatural or human); he gets paid for it (and has nothing much else to do) but he's a good person who often gets personally invested. Yennefer is a rogue sorceress whose main loyalty is to herself, although she has bouts of heroism and eventually comes around to helping the other mages fight an evil empire. Ciri is the one whose story most fits the High Fantasy mould: a princess with rare magic powers on the run from the evil empire that has taken over her country, seeking the person who can protect and train her; that said, for the most part she's just trying to survive and doesn't meet up with Geralt until the final minutes of Season 1.

    Music 
  • Black Sabbath stands as the modern musical Ur-Example for this in their early batch of songs such as ''The Wizard''. They weren't alone, considering Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull were greatly inspired by Tolkien.
  • Ronnie James Dio is the one who truly brought this to prominence, as Dio was a massive fantasy nerd and part of bands whose whole shtick revolved around muscular barbarians slaying dragons. This was most evident with his band Elf and his later solo work. See ''Holy Diver''.

    Pinball 
  • Varkon has a shirtless adventurer confronting the monstrous Varkon on the other side of a magic stone gate.

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons. Though the game system is flexible enough that the enterprising DM can apply it to almost any fantasy subgenre, as printed it tends toward Heroic Fantasy.
    • During 2nd Edition, the "heroic" aspect was an Enforced Trope: Due to concerns about the then-recent Satanic Panic, editorial policy was to ensure that all official modules were about heroes doing good in the world, and support for evil or anti-heroic PCs was dropped as much as possible (for example, the assassin class was taken out).
    • The Dark Sun setting specifically aims to emulate old pulp stories and is heavily influenced by John Carter of Mars, as well as Conan the Barbarian.
  • Exalted is what you get when you combine this with the tropes of wuxia, ancient myth, and a dash of shonen anime style to taste.
  • As does On Mighty Thews, which even comes with a list of substitutions to make things more pulpy.
  • Warhammer generally occupies this league of the fantasy landscape, though it is diverse enough to encompass both High Fantasy (the wars of Aenarion against the Daemons, the Great War Against Chaos) and Low Fantasy (the traditional WFRP millieu, involving cultists and ne'er-do-wells stabbing each other in the dark alleys of Altdorf) as well. Being a wargame, the "heroes" in Warhammer tend to be great military commanders and the conflicts wide-ranging wars, rather than bands of adventurers and their skirmishes, though there are plenty of the latter at work also (Gotrek and Felix, pretty much everyone from the Warhammer Quest spin-off).
  • HeroQuest is MB Games' adaptation of Warhammer in the style of an oldschool Dungeon Crawler.
  • The Chronicles of Aeres deliberately aims to invoke this feeling, admittedly with some of the "Good versus Evil" elements of High Fantasy. Aeres is a world of Wilderkind, Draconic Humanoids and Standard Fantasy Races who stand united after the recent collapse of three terrible foes — the magic-hating pro-human Imperium, the orc & goblin hordes of Olohgim the Witch Lord, and the draconvir armies of the Vulgraks who served the Dragon of Darkness — and must now try to piece civilization back together from the ruins.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age. While the first game has a "unite the people to fight an army of evil" main plot, the side plots that make up the biggest chunk of the game follow the genre pretty straight. The second game focuses completely on a single protagonist rising in power within the hierarchy of one city, with the main factions being Templar (sword) and Mage (spell).
  • The Dragon Quest series, taking inspiration from earlier CRPG titles like Wizardry and developed a distinctive Western Fantasy-inspired world through the lens of famed Japanese media creators.
  • The Elder Scrolls is one of the most prominent video game examples in modern media, at least from the perspective of each individual game. Taking a broader look at the series in its entirety (as well as digging deep into the rich backstory), and its High Fantasy elements come into greater focus.
  • The Fable series.
  • God of War plays it pretty straight, though starting with the second game the scope of the events becomes considerably bigger, as it grows into a full blown war among the gods.
  • Lucifer Ring have the player assuming a warrior in a Medieval-fantasy world fighting various forces of chaos, including dragons and demons, to prevent an Evil Sorceror from awakening a powerful demon.
  • Monster Hunter is mostly this as well. The levels of mysticism are very slight (down to the special mode of the Longsword in Tri and its derivatives), but everything else is totally straight: minimal overarching plot, for the most part it's just a world where people make a living slaying or capturing giant monsters for the chance at building more weaponry with which to slay or capture tougher giant monsters.
  • Octopath Traveler initially seems a Low Fantasy tale, since while magic and monsters both exist in the game's world, they have little bearing on the story. Moreover, each character's specific quest tends to be very personal (e.g., revenge or solving the mystery behind a missing object) rather than epic in scale. At the end of the game, though, it takes a sharp turn towards Heroic Fantasy upon revealing that much of the game's events were masterminded in part by an evil cultist attempting to bring about the resurrection of the Dark God Galdera, and the final battle of the game takes place in a portal to the netherworld while the party do battle with the Dark God himself.
  • Skies of Arcadia is a Reconstruction of this setting, with Schizo Tech and Ocean Punk thrown in for flavour. Much of the world is equivalent to the real world 15th/16th Century, but there's also fantastical creatures, adventurers and explorers, myths, and widespread use of magic and magical weaponry. Not to mention the Sky Pirates, of course.
  • The Witcher: A lone monster hunter hunting a sorcerer who stole the alchemical secrets from the witchers.
  • In ye olde dnd game, you play a warrior, wizard, or priest charged with rescuing a precious orb from the clutches of an evil dragon who is defended by a horde of demons, ghosts, and other vile monsters.

    Web Animation 
  • Tales of Alethrion
    • The series is set in a magical and weird world where people travel and discover for the sake of it, where strange monsters are fought by heroes for glory and where high-tech cities coincide with tribal hovels. Though later shorts expanded on the setting, it can't be said to have been made more solid for it - if anything, it's just been expanded with more characters and more places for them to travel to.
    • Only a single story has been about saving the world, and it that case, it was still more concerned with the relation between the evil creature and Alethrion himself who accidentally created it from his own rampant greed.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 


 
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Alternative Title(s): Medieval Fantasy, Swords And Sorcery

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Excalibur

A 1981 Heroic Fantasy film directed by John Boorman, an epic, Cult Classic retelling of the Arthurian myths.

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