High fantasy

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High fantasy, or epic fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy [1] defined by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, or plot. [2] High fantasy is set in an alternative, fictional ("secondary") world, rather than the "real" or "primary" world. [2] This secondary world is usually internally consistent, but its rules differ from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterized by being set on Earth, the primary or real world, or a rational and familiar fictional world with the inclusion of magical elements. [3] [4] [5] [6]



The romances of William Morris, such as The Well at the World's End , set in an imaginary medieval world, are sometimes regarded as the first examples of high fantasy. [7] The works of J. R. R. Tolkien—especially The Lord of the Rings —are regarded as archetypal works of high fantasy. [7] The term "high fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance", which was originally given at the New England Round Table of Children's Librarians in October 1969. [2]

The Well at the World's End (1896) by William Morris is an early example of high fantasy fiction. The Well at the World's End MET DP322256.jpg
The Well at the World's End (1896) by William Morris is an early example of high fantasy fiction.

Many high fantasy stories are told from the viewpoint of one main hero. Often, much of the plot revolves around their heritage or mysterious nature, along with a world-threatening problem. In many novels the hero is an orphan or unusual sibling, and frequently portrayed with an extraordinary talent for magic or combat. They begin the story young, if not as an actual child, or are portrayed as being very weak and/or useless. [8]

The hero often begins as a childlike figure, but matures rapidly, experiencing a considerable gain in fighting/problem-solving abilities along the way.[ citation needed ]

The progress of the story leads to the character's learning the nature of the unknown forces against them, that they constitute a force with great power and malevolence. The villains in such stories are usually completely evil and unrelatable. [9]

"High fantasy" often serves as a broad term to include a number of different flavors of the fantasy genre, including heroic fantasy, epic fantasy, mythic fantasy, dark fantasy, and wuxia. [10] It typically is not considered to include the sword and sorcery genre. [11]


High fantasy has often been defined by its themes and messages. [12] Good versus evil is a common one in high fantasy, and defining the character of evil is often an important theme in a work of high fantasy, [13] as in The Lord of the Rings. The importance of the concept of good and evil can be regarded as the distinguishing mark between high fantasy and sword and sorcery. [11] In many works of high fantasy, this conflict marks a deep concern with moral issues; in other works, the conflict is a power struggle, with, for instance, wizards behaving irresponsibly whether they are "good" or "evil". [14]

Game settings

Role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons with campaign settings like Dragonlance [15] by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis and Forgotten Realms by Ed Greenwood [16] are a common basis for many fantasy books and many other authors continue to contribute to the settings. [17]

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. Prevalent elements include fairies, angels, mermaids, witches, centaurs, monsters, wizards, unicorns, dragons, talking animals, ogres, elves, trolls, white magic, gnomes, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons, dwarves, giants, goblins, anthropomorphic or magical objects, prehistoric creatures, familiars, curses and other enchantments, worlds involving magic, and the Middle Ages.

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

Sword and sorcery (S&S) is a subgenre of fantasy characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent adventures. Elements of romance, magic, and the supernatural are also often present. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters. Sword and sorcery commonly overlaps with heroic fantasy.

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

A fantasy world is a world created for/from fictional media, such as literature, film or games. Typical fantasy worlds involve magic or magical abilities, nonexistent technology and, sometimes, either a historical or futuristic theme. 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.

Dragonlance is a shared universe created by Laura and Tracy Hickman, and expanded by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis under the direction of TSR, Inc. into a series of fantasy novels. The Hickmans conceived Dragonlance while driving in their car on the way to TSR for a job interview. Tracy Hickman met his future writing partner Margaret Weis at TSR, and they gathered a group of associates to play the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The adventures during that game inspired a series of gaming modules, a series of novels, licensed products such as board games, and lead miniature figures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Campaign setting</span> Fictional environment setting for a role-playing game

A campaign setting is usually a fictional world which serves as a setting for a role-playing game or wargame campaign. A campaign is a series of individual adventures, and a campaign setting is the world in which such adventures and campaigns take place. Usually a campaign setting is designed for a specific game or a specific genre of game. There are numerous campaign settings available both in print and online. In addition to published campaign settings available for purchase, many game masters create their own settings, often referred to as "homebrew" settings or worlds.

<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.

Heroic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which events occur in a world where magic is prevalent and modern technology is nonexistent. The setting may be entirely fictitious in nature or based upon Earth with some additions. Unlike dark fiction, it provides a setting in which "all men are strong, all women beautiful, all life adventurous, and all problems simple". This means that adventures based in heroic fantasy are unlikely to mention any wider problems that cannot be fixed by a quest. Characters within heroic fantasy are likely to be underdogs of humble origin who are placed in situations forcing them to act in a heroic manner, past what is expected of them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy tropes</span> Type of literary tropes that occur in fantasy fiction

Fantasy tropes are a specific type of literary tropes that occur in fantasy fiction. Worldbuilding, plot, and characterization have many common conventions, many of them having ultimately originated in myth and folklore. J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium for example, was inspired from a variety of different sources including Germanic, Finnish, Greek, Celtic and Slavic myths. Literary fantasy works operate using these tropes, while others use them in a revisionist manner, making the tropes over for various reasons such as for comic effect, and to create something fresh.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Takhisis</span> Fictional character

Takhisis is a fictional character from the Dragonlance universe. She is depicted as the main goddess of evil in the setting and head of the Dark Pantheon.

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

<i>Dragonlance Adventures</i>

Dragonlance Adventures is a 128-page hardcover book for the Dragonlance campaign setting for the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game.

<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 created the first explicitly fantastic works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Magician (fantasy)</span> Magicians appearing in fantasy fiction

A magician, also known as an enchanter/enchantress, mage, magic-user, archmage,sorcerer/sorceress, spell-caster, warlock, witch, or wizard, priest or priestess, is someone who uses or practices magic derived from supernatural, occult, or arcane sources. Magicians are common figures in works of fantasy, such as fantasy literature and role-playing games, and enjoy a rich history in mythology, legends, fiction, and folklore.

Epic is a genre of narrative defined by heroic or legendary adventures presented in a long format. Originating in the form of epic poetry, the genre also now applies to epic theatre, epic films, music, novels, stage play, television series, and video games. Scholars argue that 'the epic' has long since become "disembedded" from its origins in oral poetry.

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

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction involving magical elements, typically set in a fictional universe and sometimes inspired by mythology and folklore. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became fantasy literature and drama. From the twentieth century, it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels, books, manga, animations and video games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy cartography</span> Study and creation of maps of imagined places

Fantasy cartography,fictional map-making, or geofiction is a type of map design that visually presents an imaginary world or concept, or represents a real-world geography in a fantastic style. Fantasy cartography usually manifests from worldbuilding and often corresponds to narratives within the fantasy and science fiction genres. Stefan Ekman says that, "a [regular] map re-presents what is already there; a fictional map is often primary – to create the map means, largely, to create the world of the map."

<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:

This is a complete list of works by American science fiction and fantasy author Margaret Weis.


  1. "Defining the Genre: High Fantasy". fandomania. 11 May 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2016. High Fantasy is probably one of the most recognizable subgenres of Fantasy.
  2. 1 2 3 Brian Stableford, The A to Z of Fantasy Literature, (p. 198), Scarecrow Press, Plymouth. 2005. ISBN   0-8108-6829-6
  3. Buss, Kathleen; Karnowski, Lee (2000). Reading and Writing Literary Genres . International Reading Assoc. p.  114. ISBN   978-0-87207-257-2.
  4. Perry, Phyllis Jean (2003). Teaching Fantasy Novels. Libraries Unlimited. p. vi. ISBN   978-1-56308-987-9.
  5. Gamble, Nikki; Yates, Sally (2008). Exploring Children's Literature. SAGE Publications Ltd. pp. 102–103. ISBN   978-1-4129-3013-0.
  6. C.W. Sullivan has a slightly more complex definition in "High Fantasy", chapter 24 of the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature by Peter Hunt and Sheila G. Bannister Ray (Routledge, 1996 and 2004), chapter 24.
  7. 1 2 Dozois, Gardner (1997). "Preface". Modern Classics of Fantasy . New York: St. Martin's Press. pp.  xvi–xvii. ISBN   031215173X.
  8. Michael Moorcock (2004). Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy. p. 84. ISBN   1-932265-07-4.
  9. Patricia A. McKillip, "Writing High Fantasy", p 53, Philip Martin, ed., The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest, ISBN   0-87116-195-8
  10. Crawford, Jeremy; Perkins, Christopher; Wyatt, James, eds. (December 2014). Dungeon Master's Guide. Washington, United States: Wizards of the Coast. pp. 38–41. ISBN   978-0-7869-6562-5.
  11. 1 2 Joseph A. McCullough V, "The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery"
  12. Wolfgang, Baur (2012). "How Real is Your World? On History and Setting". In Silverstein, Janna (ed.). Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Kobold Press. p. 27.
  13. Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, p 120, ISBN   0-618-25759-4
  14. Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Question I Get Asked Most Often" p 274, The Wave in the Mind, ISBN   1-59030-006-8
  15. "Dragonlance homepage". Archived from the original on 4 March 2006. Retrieved 2 March 2006.
  16. Snow, Cason (2008). "Dragons in the stacks: an introduction to role-playing games and their value to libraries". Collection Building. 27 (2): 63–70. doi:10.1108/01604950810870218. For Dungeons and Dragons, both TSR and WotC produced additional settings that can be used with the core rules, two of the most popular being the magic-punk Eberron ... and the high fantasy Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.
  17. "Most role-playing games draw upon a universe based in high fantasy; this literary genre, half-way between traditional fantasy ..." Squedin, S., & Papillon, S. (2008). U.S. Patent Application 12/198,391.