Contemporary fantasy

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Contemporary fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy set in the present day. It is perhaps most popular for its subgenre, urban fantasy. Several authors note that in contemporary fantasy, magical or fantastic elements are separate or secret from the mundane world.


Definition and overview

The term are used to describe stories set in the putative real world (often referred to as consensus reality ) in contemporary times, in which magic and magical creatures exist but are not commonly seen or understood as such, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds.

Frances Sinclair, determining what to call fantasy set in our known world, contrasts contemporary fantasy with magical realism. She notes that in contemporary fantasy magical elements are often kept secret from most people, and notes the amount of young adult fantasy in the subgenre. In contrast, Sinclair points out that in magical realism "the impossible can occur without comment", and the relationship between reader and narrator may be stronger. [1]

Brian Stableford attempts to narrowly define the genre, excluding portal fantasy and fantasy "in which the magical entity is a blatant anomaly". [2] He arrives at a definition of fantasy set in the mundane world, often including an "elaborate secret history". He notes that much contemporary fantasy is set in rural settings, but also notes the subgenre of urban fantasy, and that both children's fiction and literary fiction often fall within this genre. [2]

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy similarly suggests that the mundane and fantastic are contrasted within the genre. The Encyclopedia's definition includes "portal fantasy in which transition between the two realms occurs regularly", as well as several other subgenres; it cites Peter S. Beagle's Lila the Werewolf as a classic of the type. It also notes that in many contemporary fantasies, the fantastic "colonizes" the mundane home. [3] Greg Bechtel agrees with the Encyclopedia, saying the sub-genre "explicitly depicts the collision of the contemporary world with a world of magic and spirits". [4] He notes the distinction between this genre and magical realism, crediting Greer Watson, [5] but says that there can be overlap. [4]

Grzegorz Trebicki describes "contemporary" fantasy works "set in our 'primary' world, in which the textual reality has been enriched by various fantastical elements, usually borrowed from particular mythologies or folk traditions". [6] He says that such works are usually driven by genre conventions other than mythical archetypes.

The term has also been equated with "Paranormal Fantasy", due to the frequency of "paranormal characters (werewolves, vampires, wizards, fairies, etc.)" [7]

A broad definition

Camille Bacon-Smith uses the term to describe fantasy stories set in the time they were written, and provides H.P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife as examples. She states that "contemporary fantasy belongs to the Gothic tradition of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher'", noting also that "contemporary fantasy has been a part of the genre since its beginning". [8] . She notes that the genre was less popular by the 1960s, considering it supplanted by New Wave and Celtic Twilight books. Bacon-Smith credits Terri Windling's 1986 introduction of Borderland as a key event in improving interest in the genre, also noting the earlier influence of Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire which she says has a "contemporary background". [8]


In his preface to That Hideous Strength , one of the earlier works falling within this subgenre, C.S. Lewis explained why, when writing a tale about "magicians, devils, pantomime animals and planetary angels", he chose to start it with a detailed depiction of narrow-minded academic politics at a provincial English university and the schemes of crooked real estate developers:

I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method, because the cottages, castles, woodcutters and petty kings with which a fairy tale opens have become for us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who first made and enjoyed the tales. [9]

The same is true for many later works in the genre, which often begin with a seemingly normal scene of modern daily life to then disclose supernatural and magical beings and events hidden behind the scenes.[ citation needed ]

In an analysis of religion in modern fantasy, Sylvia Kelso notes a "market shift" from high fantasy toward contemporary fantasy, also explaining that "paranormal" subgenres have branched from contemporary fantasy, especially ones centered on vampires and werewolves. Kelso notes that contemporary fantasy is more willing to draw on religious themes than high fantasy. This has been influenced by its openness to vampires and other traditionally evil supernatural beings, which encourages writers to use Christianity to create villains such as demons. However, other books and series draw on other religions and traditions. [10]

Relationship with other subgenres

Novels in which modern characters travel into other worlds, and all the magical action takes place there (except for the portal required to transport them), are not considered contemporary fantasy. Also, contemporary fantasy is generally distinguished from horror fiction that mixes contemporary settings and fantastic elements by the overall tone, emphasizing joy or wonder rather than fear or dread.

The contemporary fantasy and low fantasy genres can overlap as both are set in the real world. There are differences, however. Low fantasies are set in the real world but not necessarily in the modern age, in which case they would not be contemporary fantasy.

There is a considerable overlap between contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy. [3]


Examples are grouped by author, ordered by initial publication year in the genre.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy film</span> Film genre

Fantasy films are films that belong to the fantasy genre with fantastic themes, usually magic, supernatural events, mythology, folklore, or exotic fantasy worlds. The genre is considered a form of speculative fiction alongside science fiction films and horror films, although the genres do overlap. Fantasy films often have an element of magic, myth, wonder, escapism, and the extraordinary.

Magic realism or magical realism is a style of literary fiction and art. It paints a realistic view of the world while also adding magical elements, often blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Magic realism often refers to literature in particular, with magical or supernatural phenomena presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting, commonly found in novels and dramatic performances. Despite including certain magic elements, it is generally considered to be a different genre from fantasy because magical realism uses a substantial amount of realistic detail and employs magical elements to make a point about reality, while fantasy stories are often separated from reality. Magical realism is often seen as an amalgamation of real and magical elements that produces a more inclusive writing form than either literary realism or fantasy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Speculative fiction</span> Genre of fiction including science fiction, horror and fantasy

Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre of fiction that encompasses all the subgenres that depart from realism, or strictly imitating everyday reality, instead presenting fantastical, supernatural, futuristic, or other imaginative realms. This catch-all genre includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, magical realism, superhero fiction, alternate history, utopia and dystopia, fairy tales, steampunk, cyberpunk, weird fiction, and some apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. The term has been used for works of literature, film, television, drama, video games, radio, and their hybrids.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy world</span> Imaginary world created for fictional media

A fantasy world or fictional world is a world created for fictional media, such as literature, film or games. Typical fantasy worlds feature magical abilities. Some worlds may be a parallel world connected to Earth via magical portals or items ; an imaginary universe hidden within ours ; a fictional Earth set in the remote past or future ; an alternative version of our History ; or an entirely independent world set in another part of the universe.

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, placing supernatural elements in an approximation of a contemporary urban setting. The combination provides the writer with a platform for classic fantasy tropes, quixotic plot-elements, and unusual characters—without demanding the creation of an entire imaginary world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historical fantasy</span> Genre of fiction

Historical fantasy is a category of fantasy and genre of historical fiction that incorporates fantastic elements into a more "realistic" narrative. There is much crossover with other subgenres of fantasy; those classed as Arthurian, Celtic, or Dark Ages could just as easily be placed in historical fantasy. Stories fitting this classification generally take place prior to the 20th century.

Low fantasy, or intrusion fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy fiction in which magical events intrude on an otherwise-normal world. The term thus contrasts with high fantasy stories, which take place in fictional worlds that have their own sets of rules and physical laws.

Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literary, artistic, and cinematic works that incorporate disturbing and frightening themes. It often combines fantasy with elements of horror, possessing a dark and gloomy tone or an atmosphere of horror and dread.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terri Windling</span> American writer and editor

Terri Windling is an American editor, artist, essayist, and the author of books for both children and adults. She has won nine World Fantasy Awards, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, and her collection The Armless Maiden appeared on the short-list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paranormal romance</span> Subgenre of romantic fiction and speculative fiction

Paranormal romance is a subgenre of both romantic fiction and speculative fiction. Paranormal romance focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, from the speculative fiction genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Paranormal romance range from traditional romances with a paranormal setting to stories with a science fiction or fantasy-based plot with a romantic subplot included. Romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other entities of a fantastic or otherworldly nature are common.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of fantasy</span>

Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its beginning. The modern genre is distinguished from tales and folklore which contain fantastic elements, first by the acknowledged fictitious nature of the work, and second by the naming of an author. Works in which the marvels were not necessarily believed, or only half-believed, such as the European romances of chivalry and the tales of the Arabian Nights, slowly evolved into works with such traits. Authors like George MacDonald (1824–1905) created the first explicitly fantastic works.

Mythic fiction is literature that draws from the tropes, themes, and symbolism of myth, legend, folklore, and fairy tales. It is usually set in the real world and deals with realistic issues, but a mythic atmosphere prevails; however, not all mythic fiction is fantasy, and the fantastic component is not always blatant. Mythic fiction ranges from retellings of fairy tales to stories based on myths to those loosely inspired by myth and legend, using their motifs to create new stories.

Fantasy television is a genre of television programming featuring elements of the fantastic, often including magic, supernatural forces, or exotic fantasy worlds. Fantasy television programs are often based on tales from mythology and folklore, or are adapted from fantasy stories in other media. The boundaries of fantasy television often overlap with science fiction and horror but also realistic fiction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mundane science fiction</span> Science fiction subgenre limited to near-future tech

Mundane science fiction (MSF) is a niche literary movement within science fiction that developed in the early 2000s, with principles codified by the "Mundane Manifesto" in 2004, signed by author Geoff Ryman and "The Clarion West 2004 Class". The movement proposes "mundane science fiction" as its own subgenre of science fiction, typically characterized by its setting on Earth or within the Solar System; a lack of interstellar travel, intergalactic travel or human contact with extraterrestrials; and a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written or a plausible extension of existing technology. There is debate over the boundaries of MSF and over which works can be considered canonical. Rudy Rucker has noted MSF's similarities to hard science fiction and Ritch Calvin has pointed out MSF's similarities to cyberpunk. Some commentators have identified science fiction films and television series which embody the MSF ethos of near-future realism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Early history of fantasy</span>

Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its beginning, though the idea of a distinct genre, in the modern sense, is less than two centuries old.

Contemporary romance is a subgenre of contemporary and romance novels. This era of romance novels that were published after 1945 and the Second World War. Contemporary romance is generally set contemporaneously with the time of its writing. The largest of the romance novel subgenres, contemporary romance novels usually reflect the mores of their time. Heroines in the contemporary romances written prior to 1970 usually quit working when they married or had children, while those novels written after 1970 usually have, and keep, a career. As contemporary romance novels have grown to contain more complex plotting and more realistic characters, the line between this subgenre and the genre of women's fiction has blurred.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy</span> Genre of speculative fiction

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction involving magical elements, typically set in a fictional universe and usually inspired by mythology or folklore. The term "fantasy" can also be used to describe a "work of this genre", usually literary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of fantasy</span> Overview of and topical guide to fantasy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fantasy:


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