Sub-genre of the Week: High Fantasy
Last week, I talked about Magical Realism. This week’s sub-genre is the venerable and ever-popular high fantasy. This is what most people imagine when they hear the word “fantasy”, and many, many writers and readers cut their teeth in the speculative fiction genre on this variant. It’s old, but still enjoyable, and many of the older works in this genre are still wonderful reads today.
High Fantasy is a medieval fantasy genre most often but not always set in pseudo-Europe. It generally involves a larger-than-life hero on an epic quest, and a strong magical component. It is distinguished from epic fantasy by the common focus of good vs. evil and the always heroic protagonist. It is always set in a secondary fantasy world as opposed to taking place in the real world during historical times.
Most people would argue that high fantasy began with Tolkien in the early to mid fifties, although other early works such as Eric Rücker Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros is also often considered one of the first high fantasies. It developed through various Tolkien-inspired series into the broad, diverse genre it is now in the 70s.
Common Tropes and Conventions
High Fantasy most often involves quest plots, Tolkien-esque non-human races such as elves and dwarves and orcs, hero protagonists. There is also quite often heightened language and an overall heightened tone, reminiscent of mythology, from where it draws a great deal of its material. The faux-medieval setting is also a very common convention.
High Fantasy most frequently crosses over with epic and heroic fantasy. In fact, it could be argued that they aren’t really distinct genres at all. So while I’ll make distinctions and argue that certain books are actually not in the genre it may first appear, plenty of people will disagree with me. However, epic fantasy often has anti-heroes and a grittier tone.
Besides novels, there are many high fantasy movies, anime, manga, and television shows. The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the best well known movie franchise.
High Fantasy always has and probably always will sell well.
Goodreads list of High Fantasy
Check in next time for a discussion of Mundane SF.