High fantasy

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High fantasy or epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, [1] defined either by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, or plot. [2] The term "high fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance" (originally given at the New England Round Table of Children's Librarians in October 1969). [2]

Fantasy Genre of literature, film, television and other artforms

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became literature and drama. From the twentieth century it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels and video games.

Epic poetry lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily detailing heroic deeds

An epic poem, epic, epos, or epopee is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the moral universe that their descendants, the poet and his audience, must understand to understand themselves as a people or nation.

The setting is both the time and geographic location within a narrative, either nonfiction or fiction. A literary element, the setting helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may include culture, historical period, geography, and hour. Along with the plot, character, theme, and style, setting is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.



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 in the primary or real world, or a rational and familiar fictional world with the inclusion of magical elements. [3] [4] [5] [6]

Low fantasy subgenre of fantasy fiction defined by a "mundane" setting

Low fantasy or intrusion fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy fiction where magical events intrude on an otherwise normal world, i.e. real world. It thus contrasts with high fantasy stories, which take place in a fictional world with its own set of rules and physical laws.

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] Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is another example of a high fantasy series. [8]

William Morris Textile designer, novelist, and socialist activist (1834–1896)

William Morris was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he played a significant role propagating the early socialist movement in Britain.

<i>The Well at the Worlds End</i> book by William Morris

The Well at the World's End is a high fantasy novel by the British artist, poet, and author William Morris. It was first published in 1896 and has been reprinted a number of times since, most notably in two parts as the 20th and 21st volumes of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, in August and September 1970.

Tolkien's legendarium is the body of J. R. R. Tolkien's mythopoeic writing that forms the background to his The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien worked and re-worked the components of his legendarium throughout his adult life, a period of more than 50 years; the earliest drafts, published in The Book of Lost Tales (1983), date to 1916, with poems, paintings and nomenclature related to it going back to 1914.

Many high fantasy stories are told from the viewpoint of one main hero.[ citation needed ] Often, much of the plot revolves around his or her heritage or mysterious nature. In many novels the hero is an orphan or unusual sibling, often with an extraordinary talent for magic or combat. He or she begins the story young, if not as an actual child. [9] In other works the hero is a completely developed individual with a unique character and spirit.

Hero person who displays characteristics of heroism

A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) is a real person or a main fictional character of a literary work who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength; the original hero type of classical epics did such things for the sake of glory and honor. On the other hand are post-classical and modern heroes, who perform great deeds or selfless acts for the common good instead of the classical goal of wealth, pride and fame. The antonym of a hero is a villain.

Orphan child whose parents are dead or have abandoned them permanently

An orphan is someone whose parents have died, are unknown, or have permanently abandoned them.

The hero often begins as a childlike figure, but matures rapidly, experiencing a considerable gain in fighting/problem-solving abilities along the way. [10] The plot of the story often depicts the hero's fight against the evil forces as a bildungsroman .

In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, in which character change is extremely important.

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. [11]


Good versus evil is a common theme in high fantasy, and the character of evil is often an important theme in a work of high fantasy, [12] as in The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, the importance of the concepts of good and evil can be regarded as the distinguishing mark between high fantasy and sword and sorcery. [13] 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]

There is often some evil that must be defeated, sometimes, a mysterious Dark Lord, often obsessed with taking over the world and killing the main hero. The evil character is sometimes an evil wizard or sorcerer, or sometimes a kind of god or demon. The antagonist usually commands a large army or a group of highly feared servants, and the protagonists appear outmatched.

Game settings

Role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons with campaign settings like Greyhawk by Gary Gygax, 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

Fantasy film 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.

Sword and sorcery 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. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters. Sword and sorcery commonly overlaps with heroic fantasy.

Fantasy world a world in a fantasy setting

A fantasy world is an author-conceived world created in 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 ; a fictional Earth set in the remote past or future ; or an entirely independent world set in another part of the universe.

Paladine is a fictional major deity from the Dragonlance fantasy series of novels and role playing games, originally published by TSR, Inc. and later by Sovereign Press under the d20 Open Gaming License developed by Wizards of the Coast.

<i>The Sword of Shannara</i> 1977 Book by Terry Brooks

The Sword of Shannara is a 1977 epic fantasy novel by American writer Terry Brooks. It is the first book of the Original Shannara Trilogy, followed by The Elfstones of Shannara and The Wishsong of Shannara. Brooks was heavily influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and began writing The Sword of Shannara in 1967. It took him seven years to complete, as he was writing the novel while attending law school. Ballantine Books used it to launch the company's new subsidiary Del Rey Books. Its success boosted the commercial expansion of the fantasy genre.

Fantasy literature

Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. It is a story that children and adults can read.

Fantasy tropes

Fantasy tropes are a specific type of literary tropes that occur in fantasy fiction. Worldbuilding, plot, and characterization have many common conventions. 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.


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

<i>Dragonlance Adventures</i> book by Tracy Hickman

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.

Elves in fiction class of elves appearing in a work of fiction without claim to truth

In many works of modern fantasy, elves are depicted as a race or species of pointy-eared humanoid beings.

History of fantasy aspect of history

Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its beginning. The modern genre is distinguished from tales and folklore, that contain fantastic elements, firstly by the acknowledged fictitious nature of the work, and secondly 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.

<i>The Legend of Huma</i> 1988 fantasy novel

The Legend of Huma is a fantasy novel by American writer Richard A. Knaak, the first in the Heroes Sextet of Dragonlance novels. It was based on characters and settings from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance Chronicles series. Published in 1988, it was the first Dragonlance book not dealing with the original companions.

Magician (fantasy) magicians appering in fantasy fiction

A magician also known as a mage, warlock, witch, wizard, enchanter/enchantress, or sorcerer/sorceress, 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.

Early history of fantasy

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.

An epic is traditionally a genre of poetry, known as epic poetry. In modern terms, epic is often extended to describing other art forms, such as epic theatre, films, music, novels, television series, and video games, wherein the story has a theme of grandeur and heroism, just as in epic poetry. Scholars argue that the epic has long since become "disembedded" from its origins in oral poetry, appearing in successive narrative media throughout history.

Outline of fantasy Overview of and topical guide to fantasy

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

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire media franchise:


  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. Gunn, James E. (2013). Paratexts: Introductions to science fiction and fantasy. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 123. ISBN   9780810891227. Stephen R. Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane is a High Fantasy that is often compared with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings ... but Donaldson's approach to his Secondary World, the Land, differs in remarkable ways
  9. Michael Moorcock. Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy. p. 84. ISBN   1-932265-07-4.
  10. Casey Lieb, "Unlikely Heroes and their role in Fantasy Literature"
  11. 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
  12. Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, p 120, ISBN   0-618-25759-4
  13. Joseph A. McCullough V, "The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery"
  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. "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." Snow, Cason. "Dragons in the stacks: an introduction to role-playing games and their value to libraries." Collection Building 27.2 (2008): 63-70.
  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.