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WORLD OF FANTASY

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Have you ever dreamed of a world where you had no troubles? Where everyone found their soulmate and lived happily ever after? What if you never had to answer to the boss that lived to make your life miserable? Escapism is what makes fantasy so fantastic. Visit a magical realm, go to outer space, or stay on Earth and get introduced to new creatures.  Take a break from reality.

 Since the beginning of mankind, fables, fairy tales, folklore, and myths have been told around the world. Long ago some were told to teach lessons that still prevail today. Recognize this one?

A SHEPHERD-BOY, who watched a flock of sheep near a village, brought out the villagers three or four times by crying out, “Wolf! Wolf!” and when his neighbors came to help him, laughed at them for their pains. The Wolf, however, did truly come at last. The Shepherd-boy, now really alarmed, shouted in an agony of terror: “Pray, do come and help me; the Wolf is killing the sheep;” but no one paid any heed to his cries, nor rendered any assistance. The Wolf, having no cause of fear, at his leisure lacerated or destroyed the whole flock.

There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth. 

patrick. (2021, December 26). The Shepherd’s Boy and the Wolf (Aesop’s fables) by Aesop – fairytalenight.com. Fairytale Nights. https://www.fairytalenight.com/2021/09/19/the-shepherds-boy-and-the-wolf-aesops-fables-by-aesop-2/

 

And you thought time out was bad!

 

History of Fantasy

Now known as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, it was originally penned by Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. 

dark mysterious forest with old trees

Some of these fables were meant to impart history. But told over, and over, from generation to generation–sometimes across international borders–the truth was often lost. Among the stories remembered most are One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, and Journey to the West. But the Greco-Roman, Norse, and Egyptian fables became the most recognizable and popular internationally.

During the 1800s The Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Anderson introduced us to many popular stories. Thankfully, their dark tales used to teach harsh lessons were transformed into the beloved stories known today. The brilliant filmmaker, Walt Disney, and his talented artists, brought many of these tales to life through animation well ahead of its time. Who can forget Cinderella, with her cruel step-mother and step-sisters, finding her Prince Charming all because she lost a glass slipper? The Little Mermaid, and many more brought laughter to children throughout the world.

In fantasy novels, the term “suspended disbelief,” is necessary to enjoy the creativity of the author’s imagination. Whether set on the real world whose inhabitants encounter supernatural creatures, or in entirely new worlds where what we consider beings aliens to this world the norm, doesn’t matter. Anything and everything can fall under the fantastic genre of fantasy. But fantasy has many sub-genres,

Subgenres of Fantasy

High Fantasy/Epic Fantasy

Book Cover: Lord of the RingsPerhaps the most traditional sub-genre, high fantasy or epic fantasy takes place in an entirely fictional fantasy world. The stories are often lengthy and epic, involving multiple characters and large-scale quests where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of the heroes. Some people use the term epic fantasy to specifically refer to more lengthy or large-scale high fantasies, however many (myself included) use the terms epic and high interchangeably.

Typical Elements: lengthy journeys, dragons, magicians, assassins, legendary swords, royalty, medieval societies, battles, a hero or heroine of humble origins, exotic names, a map on the inside cover.

Examples: The Lord of the RingsThe HobbitA Wizard of EarthseaThe Final EmpireAssassin’s ApprenticeThe Lies of Locke LamoraThe Ill-Made MuteThe Name of the WindA Game of ThronesThe Fifth SeasonThe Emperor’s BladesSix of CrowsTigana

Low Fantasy

Book Cover: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneA fantasy that takes place in the real world, or something very like the real world, and includes magical or supernatural elements (“low” does not mean this is a lesser or poorer form of fantasy!). Characters often discover secret magical forces or supernatural creatures within their supposedly normal surrounds.

Typical Elements: supernatural creatures, hidden magical spaces, real-world mythological influences, characters discovering the existence of supernatural forces.

Examples: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneNeverwhereShiverStorm FrontArtemis FowlWar for the OaksCity of BonesTwilight

 

Portal Fantasy

Book Cover: The Chronicles of NarniaA fantasy where characters travel from the real world into a fictional fantasy world, often through a portal or gateway. They are usually swept up in the problems and politics of the fantasy world and become important to the course of history there, then return to the real world greatly changed by their experience.

Typical Elements: Magical portals, magical objects, evil kings or queens, problematic family relationships in the real world, time discrepancy between the two worlds.

Examples: The Chronicles of NarniaStardustPeter PanAlice in WonderlandThe Subtle KnifeThe Neverending StoryMythago WoodDaughter of Smoke and BoneThe Autumn CastleA Darker Shade of Magic

Urban Fantasy/Contemporary Fantasy

Book Cover: Storm FrontUrban fantasy can be tricky to define as it has been used in many different ways, often interchangeably with other fantasy sub-genre terms such as low fantasy and paranormal fantasy. While it generally describes a fantasy set in an urban environment or society, it has also become synonymous with contemporary fantasy – a fantasy set in the present day real world.

Thus an urban fantasy is generally understood to be a low fantasy set in a real-world, modern, urban society (or something closely resembling one). Many urban fantasies are also paranormal fantasies or paranormal romances.

Typical Elements: cities, secret supernatural underworld, hidden passageways, modern weaponry, interference from human institutions (e.g. police, lawyers), contemporary slang, colloquial language, pop culture references.

Paranormal/Paranormal Romance

 

Book Cover: Twilight

paranormal novel or film is a low fantasy (i.e. set in the real world) in which supernatural creatures or talents exist and are a key focus of the story. This is often seen as a blend of the fantasy and Gothic/Horror genres.

paranormal romance is a paranormal novel or film where romance is a key focus of the plot. It is usually, but not always, a romance between a supernatural being and a human.

Typical Elements: vampires, fairies, werewolves, angels, demons, witches, zombies, ghosts, psychics, love triangles, supernatural love interest, sex, female protagonist. 

Examples: TwilightThe Scorpio RacesVampire AcademyShiverAngelfallFallenWarm BodiesHalfway to the Grave

Fantasy Romance/High Fantasy Romance

Book Cover: Gracelingfantasy romance is a high fantasy (i.e. set in a fictional world) in which romance is a core element.

Some people use the term to refer to any fantasy story with a romantic plot. However, because low fantasy with romance is usually dubbed paranormal romance, the term fantasy romance tends to be reserved for high fantasy romances. I often call it high or epic fantasy romance to make it clear what I’m referring to.

Typical Elements: medieval societies, royalty, politics, warrior-like female characters, romance, sex, magic, betrayal, cruelty.

Examples: GracelingKushiel’s DartLord of the Fading LandsDaughter of the BloodThrone of GlassBoundShadow and BoneDaughter of the ForestA Poison StudyStrange the Dreamer

 

Young Adult Fantasy (YA Fantasy)

 

Book Cover: Vampire AcademyA fantasy that is primarily aimed or marketed at a young adult (teenage) readership, usually with young adult protagonists.

Typical Elements: orphans, young adult characters discovering hidden powers/skills, coming of age dilemmas, first romances, high school or school-like settings, adult mentors. 

Examples: Vampire AcademyDaughter of Smoke and BoneThe Scorpio RacesSabrielAngelfallTwilightGracelingThrone of GlassSix of Crows

Science Fantasy

Book Cover: The Knife of Never Letting GoA blend of science fiction and fantasy, where advanced technology and the supernatural both come into play, or tropes from both genres are used. Often fantastical and impossible things occur under a thin guise of scientific credibility.

Steampunk sometimes falls into this category, though it is generally regarded as a sub-genre of science fiction.

Typical Elements: fantastical planets and alien races, magical technology, grand divine or supernatural forces at work, victorian era influences.

Examples: DragonflightCinderThe Knife of Never Letting GoBlightbornPerdido Street StationShadows of the SelfSenlin AscendsThe Fifth Season

Grimdark/Dark Fantasy

Book Cover: The Lies of Locke Lamorahigh fantasy with a gritty or grim setting, often focussing on characters with less-than-impeccable morals, anti-heroes, or on criminal underworlds within fantasy societies. This sub-genre provides a contrast to more traditional fantasy worlds and their moral heroes, quaint medieval villages and resplendent cities.

Typical Elements: thieves, assassins, torturers, organised crime, filthy cities, torture, murder, rape, violence, corrupt rulers, anti-heroes.

Examples: Prince of ThornsThe Lies of Locke LamoraThe Blade ItselfA Game of ThronesDaughter of the BloodPerdido Street StationThe Black Company

Fantasy sub-genres descriptions and examples courtesy of Nicola @Thoughts On Fantasy. https://thoughtsonfantasy.com/2015/12/07/17-common-fantasy-sub-genres/ 

Historic depictions of Cinderella.

Children's Fantasy

Book Cover: Neverending Storychildren’s fantasy (sometimes called a juvenile fantasy) is one primarily aimed at children, usually with child protagonists. Sometimes novels are considered to be both YA fantasies and children’s fantasies, particularly if they appeal to an age group that bridges late childhood and the early teenage years. Interestingly, portal fantasies are also often juvenile fantasies (something I learned through putting together this list!).

Typical Elements: orphans, unhappy children, cruel or absent parents, princes, princesses, monsters (both friendly and unfriendly), fairy-tale influences, secret portals, tests. 

Examples: The Neverending StoryAlice in WonderlandThe Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Chronicles of Narnia, Peter PanHowl’s Moving CastleMatildaCoralineThe Northern LightsArtemis Fowl

Fairy Tale Retellings

Book Cover: Daughter of the Forestfairy tale retelling, sometimes called a “modern fairy tale” is a fantasy that is based on or inspired by a fairy tale, or draws heavily on fairy tale tropes.

Fairy tale retellings are distinct from actual fairy or folk tales in that they are contemporary, novel-length or series-length stories with complex plots and characters. For more on the difference between a fantasy and a fairy tale, see the discussion of fairy tales below.

Typical Elements: curses that need to be broken, witches, wild forests, princes and princesses, evil queens or kings, monsters, wolves, romance.

Examples: Daughter of the ForestUprootedThe Wrath and the DawnCinderElla EnchantedBeautyBeastlyThe Bear and the NightingaleEver After [Film], Maleficent [Film], Frozen [Film], Tangled [Film]

Swords and Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy

Book Cover: Conan the BarbarianHeroic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery are terms used to refer to high fantasy stories that focus primarily on “swashbuckling heroes”, swordplay, exciting battles and violent conflicts.

The term sword and sorcery was originally coined to describe (and often still refers to) the kinds of tales that appeared in the fantasy and science fiction magazines of the 30s and 40s, specifically those in the style of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

Typical Elements: mighty heroes, damsels in distress, battles, magic, swordplay, romance, moral ambiguity, action, conflict.

Examples: Conan the BarbarianElric of MelnibonéSwords and DeviltryJirel of JoiryLegend > for more see this BestFantasyBooks.com article

Medieval Fantasy / Arthurian Fantasy

 

Book Cover: The Mists of Avalon

 

A medieval fantasy is one with a setting strongly inspired by medieval society, or set during the medieval period. These stories often draw heavily on myths and legends from this period of history.

Arthurian fantasy is a subset of medieval fantasy that focusses on the legend of King Arthur or its elements, involving characters like Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, Uther, Mordred etc.

Typical Elements: Royalty, arranged marriages, patriarchal societies, battles, dragons, wizards, quests, knights, legendary swords.

Examples: The Mists of AvalonThe Once and Future KingA Game of ThronesAssassin’s Apprentice

Historical Fantasy

Book Cover: His Majesty's DragonA fantasy set in a historical period of the real world. These stories often offer an alternative version of history where magic and/or supernatural creatures exist and place a strong emphasis on historical accuracy (with regards to the elements that aren’t supernatural). They essentially blend the historical fiction and fantasy genres.

Typical Elements: Dragons, magicians, mythological influences, key battles/events in history, time travel.

Examples: His Majesty’s DragonJonathan Strange & Mr NorrellDaughter of the ForestOutlanderThe Mists of AvalonThe Golem and the Djinni

Comic Fantasy

Book Cover: The Colour of MagicComic fantasy, also sometimes referred to as comedic fantasy, is a blend of fantasy and comedy, where the prime purpose is to amuse the reader and the tone is humorous. Typical fantasy elements and conventions are often satirised or subverted.

Typical Elements: Ridiculous or pathetic characters, quirky settings, absurd magical rules and creatures, subverted fantasy clichés, witty writing. 

Examples: The Colour of Magic [and all the Discworld Novels], Dark Lord of DerkholmMagic Kingdom For Sale/SoldA Spell for ChameleonWarm Bodies

Grimdark Fantasy

Book Cover: The Lies of Locke Lamorahigh fantasy with a gritty or grim setting, often focussing on characters with less-than-impeccable morals, anti-heroes, or on criminal underworlds within fantasy societies. This sub-genre provides a contrast to more traditional fantasy worlds and their moral heroes, quaint medieval villages and resplendent cities.

Typical Elements: thieves, assassins, torturers, organised crime, filthy cities, torture, murder, rape, violence, corrupt rulers, anti-heroes.

Examples: Prince of ThornsThe Lies of Locke LamoraThe Blade ItselfA Game of ThronesDaughter of the BloodPerdido Street StationThe Black Company

Gothic Fantasy/Dark Fantasy

Book Cover: SabrielGothic fantasy is a blend of fantasy and horror, where elements of the latter (such as ghosts, the undead, haunted castles and monsters) form a key focus of the story or set its tone. It often aims to unsettle, chill or horrify the reader as well as to entertain.

Gothic fantasy is sometimes referred to as dark fantasy, however the term dark fantasy is a little ambiguous as it is also occasionally used to refer to grimdark fantasy.

Typical Elements: Ghosts, graveyards, crypts, tombs, zombies, monsters, necromancers, ruins, haunted castles, abandoned buildings.

Examples: SabrielGrimoireThe Graveyard BookCoralinePerdido Street StationSomething Wicked This Way Comes

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