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High Fantasy

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The setting of the stereotypical High (or "epic") Fantasy, a collection of tropes, often boiled down from The Lord of the Rings (and Tolkien's Legendarium in general) 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 Dark Forces. 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, who will have to brave a long quest through strange lands inhabited by dangerous monsters and peculiar peoples in order to save the world.

In former times, High Fantasy did not follow this formula. William Morris ' Well at the World's End doesn't have this, nor do the dreamers' tales of Lord Dunsany, or his The King of Elfland's Daughter, which are very High Fantasy indeed. Neither George MacDonald nor H. P. Lovecraft in his Dreamland cycle have such a storyline. Some more modern works usually classed as High Fantasy, like Hope Mirrlees' Lud-in-the-Mist and Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea, still don't. Also, there's sometimes a very fine line between what is defined as High Fantasy vs. Heroic Fantasy, with some works kind of in the middle, like E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros or The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. And it's still not essential to stick so closely to the model, but many of today's fantasy writers still use many or most of the above elements, perhaps feeling that you don't mess with what works.


Many core elements of this type of high fantasy can be found in seminal literature from the 19th and early 20th century, but it was Tolkien that codified the genre, although he called The Lord of the Rings "heroic romance".

Often a 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.
  • Magic: Magic and fantastical elements are often to the fore in High Fantasy, and tend to play major roles in stories, worldbuilding and conflicts. While this isn't a strictly a crucial element — you can and do get High Fantasy works with subdued or minimal magic and Low Fantasy works with quite a lot of it — High Fantasy is distinguished by typically portraying its fantastical elements in a more positive and glamorous light, quite unlike the bestial monsters, shifty sorcerers and Power at a Price style of magic found in Low and Heroic Fantasy.
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  • 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.
  • Morality: The good guys are good and the bad guys are evil, with fairly minimal overlap. Even in cases where moral ambiguity or flexibility exists, there's still a fairly clear divide between good and evil — generally speaking, antiheroes and -villains still tend to fall mainly one one side or the other — as opposed to the Grey-and-Gray Morality more common in Low Fantasy.
  • Great evil: An enemy which is near enough Evil incarnate or fundamentally abhorrent, whose machinations and plots serve as the main push of the conflict. Their victory would be, in no ambiguous terms, a terrible thing for everybody else. This is in contrast to Low Fantasy, which tends to favor human-versus-human conflicts, and Heroic Fantasy, which favors pitting the heroes against successions of mostly unconnected human and bestial foes.
  • Methods: Victory is not achieved through force of arms, the main feature distinguishing High Fantasy from Heroic Fantasy. It is also not achieved through wide-ranging strategy, logistics and political and military conflicts, which is generally the case in Low Fantasy. Victory will also be complete and with few loose ends or sour notes; this is shared with Heroic Fantasy, but Low Fantasy tends to favor more ambiguous and incomplete endings. Essentially, if Aragorn had killed Sauron in hand-to-hand combat, that would have been Heroic Fantasy, and if Gondor had beaten Mordor by having more allies, better strategy and a better army, that would have been Low Fantasy. Instead, victory is achieved through the efforts of a small number of characters acting against great odds, and 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 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 Demythification, 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 & Sandal and Space Opera.

Examples include:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Bone, though with a sense of humor throughout.

    Films — Animation 
  • Sleeping Beauty features a villain who is extremely powerful and more fearsome than the typical Disney fare. The heroes have to confront and defeat her directly - when she turns into a dragon in the climax.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Crystal is set in an alien version of medieval Europe. The plot revolves around a young Gelfling trying to repair the eponymous crystal to stop the evil Skeksis from ruling the world forever.
  • In the Name of the King features a lost heir, orc knock-offs, an evil wizard, and other conventional high fantasy tropes.
  • In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds transports a special forces soldier into a high fantasy world, or at least as high fantasy as the budget will allow.
  • In the Name of the King 3: Last Mission transports an assassin into a high fantasy world that's really just a few castles around Bulgaria.
  • Krull
  • The Beastmaster
  • Unsurprisingly, the live-action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
  • Sucker Punch has one fantasy sequence set in a world inspired by High Fantasy. The girls have to raid a castle that's full of an Orc-like army and take fire from a dragon. The film is set in the 1960s when Lord of the Rings first became popular in the United States. Presumably the girls were fans.
  • Willow was the most notable High Fantasy film before the boom in the early 2000s. A dwarf farmer has to protect a special baby from an evil queen who's trying to take over the world.
  • Your Highness is set in a parody High Fantasy world.
  • Mythica: A series of five films in which a young wizard and her companions try to prevent an Evil Wizard from re-assembling an Artefact of Doom with which he intends to Take Over the World.
    • Mythica: A Quest for Heroes (2014)
    • Mythica: The Darkspore (2015)
    • Mythica: The Necromancer (2015)
    • Mythica: The Iron Crown (2016)
    • Mythica: The Godslayer (2016)
  • Baahubali



  • 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.
    Long ago, when the world was young, there existed [garbled sound] symbol of right. There also lived the Resourcer, [[thunderclap]], the embodiment of evil. And between, as prize to the victor, lay the whole world...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer often occupies this league of the fantasy spectrum, though it encompasses Heroic Fantasy more often and Low Fantasy about as often. Episodes of full-bore High Fantasy from Warhammer's rich tapestry generally involve world-threatening catastrophes, and include the Great Wars Against Chaos (both the war of 2306 and the previous incursions, going back to the original war in the time of Aenarion), the Sundering of the Elves and the conquests of Nagash (who provides one of Warhammer's many iconic Dark Lord type characters). In aesthetic terms the elder races of Warhammer (the Dwarfs and the three kindreds of Elves) tend to present the most high fantasy aspect, drawing heavily on Tolkien and boasting histories replete with great world-spanning deeds of significance. The Bretonnians are perhaps the most classically Medieval Fantasy race, however, and embody most strongly the "knights in shining armour" aspect of the genre (albeit with a fair helping of cynicism and actual medieval weirdness at times).
    • Warhammer Fantasy's sequel setting, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar takes the High Fantasy elements of the original Warhammer and takes it way, way Higher than it already was, to the point where the setting almost encompasses an all new type of "Mythical Fantasy" genre. Due to the fact that the Age of Sigmar world isn't as put-together as traditional fantasy settings, it appears as what many fantasy settings' "mythical/golden age" is like, with gods walking the land and strange and nonsensical rules being bent by mortals, as in mythologies like the Norse or the Greek.

    Video Games 
  • BGTSCC Often each year's metaplot ending effects the world for a long time after, with permanent changes to the server. One example is the Amn/Gate war, changing Beregost's ownership from Baldur's Gate to Amn.
  • Baldur's Gate and its related BioWare games are all about this.
  • Most Final Fantasy games are High Fantasy to a degree, including 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 Hero}]es, and the series seems to lean towards the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. 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 is mostly this but it also borders on Heroic Fantasy at times.
  • 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.
  • For The Elder Scrolls series, the individual games are more in line with Heroic Fantasies - your Player Character needs to save the world from a malevolent Big Bad seeking to take it over or end it outright, while you get to have some fun exploring the Wide Open Sandbox game world. However, when you take a step back and look at the series as a whole, as well as dig deep into the rich backstory, you can easily seem more of the High Fantasy elements. Overarching "Good vs. Evil" themes emerge, while in other instances, these waters are muddied, with many of the aforementioned Big Bads having Well-Intentioned Extremist slants and the like. Essentially, the Elder Scrolls universe is a High Fantasy setting, and each main series game is a Heroic Fantasy story told within that universe.
  • The later entries of the Soul Series after the Genre Shift away from Historical Fantasy. It takes place on Earth during the 16th Century and real historical figures are referenced, but apart from that, the series has lizard men, a golem, a Gorgeous Greek Paladin empowered by an ancient god, a Ghost Pirate, two vampires, a demon-hunting kunoichi, an immortal Scary Black Man, an English alchemist lady with a Whip Sword, a teenage priestess who can control the wind, various bits of Clock Punk like Yoshimitsu's arm and most of Wolfkrone, costumes that are not historically period accurate in any way (seriously, it's utterly hilarious how Seong Mi-na traverses half the world three times while wearing hardly anything and nobody else once ever calls attention to this), and a conflict between two magic swords that everyone is fighting over that drives the main plot. That still isn't naming everything.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 


    Web Original 
  • Deeper Up the Tower is full to the brim with wild magic, elves, weird beasts trapped in jars, curses, statues coming to life, gods, quests, relics, the works and then some!
  • Smirvlak's Stone is loaded with all sorts of fantasy races, takes place during medieval times, and shows off different forms of magic and backstories involving demons and gods.
  • 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


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