Writing a novel

High fantasy, low fantasy: How tall is this genre, anyway?

While I query one novel, I’ve resuscitated an old fantasy one that needed a good polish (then I read it, and realised it needed a heck of a lot more than a good polish). I’m also halfway through A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and loving it. So, I’m pretty much elbow deep in fantasy at the moment, but I didn’t really know the genre. (Is Shamed.)

And this genre has been sliced into so many subgenres it should probably be dead by now. There are 2 umbrella-type categories:

  1. High fantasy
  2. Low fantasy
Fantasy Castle originally made by RL Fantasy Design Studio, LE Medlock
Fantasy Castle originally made by RL Fantasy Design Studio

High fantasy

Wikipedia has things to say about this genre. Many things.

Firstly, it’s set entirely in a secondary world, with different rules. Or it could be a secondary world accessed via portal from a primary world. Or it’s a world-within-a-world.

Things that most sources agree on:

  • Often epic
  • Often good versus evil
  • High level of ‘fantasy’ elements – e.g. magic, elves, short people with hairy feet

The defining example being THE LORD OF THE RINGS, of course. Many hairy-footed peeps.

Low fantasy

Now, Wikipedia is supremely helpful by saying low fantasy is either set in a secondary world, a secondary world accessed via a portal from the primary world, or a world-within-a-world. That’s very helpful, Wiki, thanks.

  • Low refers to the level of ‘fantasy’ elements (not the quality of work)
  • The fantasy elements are generally not accepted as the norm
  • Urban fantasy exists in here

One of my favourite books is an example – THE DARK IS RISING, by Susan Cooper.

So, these subgenres seem pretty flexible to me. For the most part, it seems the whole high/low thing refers to the level of fantasy-type stuff. The further and further you get from the real world, the higher the escalator goes. I think my novel is somewhere near the top, but it’s not penthouse material. More work is required.

(It’s the basement levels you’ve gotta watch out for. Who know what’s lurking down there.)

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