Fantasy is where I feel most at home. I used to consider myself a fantasy fan, but as I dug into the genres I realized how ignorant I am. High fantasy? Low fantasy? Dark fantasy? What?
High Fantasy (sometimes called Epic Fantasy)
You may have been a high fantasy fan all your life and never known it. “One ring to rule them all…” If you know what that’s from (*hint* Lord of the Rings) then you’ve read or watched high fantasy (and hopefully liked it!)
As with most subgenres, high fantasy is a little tough to fully break down. The definition either gets too specific or too vague, but two common elements of high fantasy are an imaginary world and a battle of good versus evil (aka. epic theme.) That may sound like average fantasy to you, but what sets high fantasy apart is the fact it must be set in a fantasy world — a world completely fictional with its own rules, laws, setting, etc. There can be some hopping between normal worlds, though this is debatable.
High fantasy will also often have a large cast of characters (Game of Thrones, anyone?), some magical elements (Gandalf!), and races of non-human creatures (beware the trolls.) Here are some examples of High Fantasy books:
- Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Blood of Kings Trilogy, by Jill Williamson
- Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
- Wheel of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
- Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
This is where it can get confusing with portal fantasy or alternate universes. I’ll get to those genres next time, but for now keep it simple and know that low fantasy is set in a rational world with much less magic (if any) than in high fantasy. Non-rational things will start happening, thus making it low fantasy.
The term “low” is mostly referring to the amount of fantasy present in the story. It does not demean the story or quality of the story in any way. Low fantasies can be based off the idea that there are things hidden in our world that aren’t known about, like werewolves or vampires. The real world must, at some point, interact with these elements.
Some examples of low fantasy are:
- Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
- Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers
- The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
- Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit
Throw a little fantasy and horror in a blender. Voila! You’ve got dark fantasy. Some people will call it flat-out horror and others will call it fantasy with a little horror in it. Everyone draws their line in different places. I’m not going to try drawing my own.
Dark fantasy can include stories about demonic creatures, mummies, vampires, etc. Once you start seeing supernatural activity with a dark or brooding atmosphere, you’re entering the realm of what is generally known to be dark fantasy. (source)
Dark fantasy is all about the atmosphere. Here are some examples:
- Never to Live, by Just B. Jordan is considered dark fantasy
- The Vampire Chronicles, by Anne Rice
Which of these three fantasy genres do you tend to gravitate to most? Either answer me on Twitter or in the comments!