Genres (Part 1): Fantasy

Part 1: Fantasy

What comes to mind when you hear fantasy?

Magicians? Elves? Dragons?

The underlying theme in most fantasy stories is some magic or supernatural phenomena that cannot be explained by science fiction or fact and is often, but not necessarily, set in an alternate world.  Sometimes there’s magic and more often than not the key players will be heroic types thrown against ‘evil forces’.

There are several key features that define the different sub-genres in fantasy novels and a list of the different definitions is given at the end of this post.  But first I’ll try to give some examples of how the term ‘genre’ could be redefined  (feel free to disagree).

The Farseer trilogy, by Robin Hobb

1) The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb  – High fantasy with magic and political intrigue (summarised by the image on the left).

Key elements: Alternate world, mythological creatures (dragons), intrigue (based in royal court), magic (i.e. telepathy), alchemy (poisons), with a splash of heroic.

2) Lord of the Rings, by J.R. Tolkein – Epic high fantasy with arcane and medievalist features.

Key elements:  Alternate world, mythological creatures (elves, hobbits, orcs…), magic (i.e Saruman and Gandalf), war, an ancient evil.

3) The Sword of Truth series, by Terry Goodkind  – Epic high fantasy with arcane and heroic features.

Key elements:  Alternate world, mythological creatures (dragons), magic, war, heroic, political.

4) The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan – Epic high fantasy with arcane and heroic features.

Key elements: Alternate world, magic, war, ancient evil, heroic.

5) The Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett – Comic Fantasy with…

Key elements: Alternate world, mythological creatures (witches, ogres, magicians, DEATH), humour.

6) A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), by G.R.R. Martin –  Epic high fantasy with medieval/political features.

Key elements: Alternate world, mythological creatures (dragons), war, political intrigue.

Each of these series could be represented by a bubble diagram similar to the example given for the Farseer trilogy above.  In this example the Farseer series would fall first into the high fantasy and then the political intrigue ‘box’ followed by magic, alchemy and heroics.  The potential for crossover between genres could then simply be covered by an additional bubble.

Do you think this could this work?


Fantasy sub-genres:

Setting 1:

High fantasy – Set in parallel world – as per Tolkein or C.S. Lewis.

Low fantasy – Set apart from typical fantasy elements and not always based in an entirely fictional setting.
For example The Green Mile by Stephen King gave a fantasy angle to a contemporary setting.

Setting 2 (typically applies to low fantasy):

Contemporary – Modern setting often involving places well-known to authors.
e.g. The Dresden files by Jim Butcher.

Urban – Set in a modern (city) environment.
e.g. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Historic – Set prior to the 20th century.  This can include gaslamp,steampunkcelticwuxia (martial arts), medieval, or prehistoric.

Steampunk – Fantasy set in a world where steam power is still used, akin to the Victorian era.

Gaslamp – Set in a Victorian/Edwardian setting (but veering away from steampunk).


Arcane – Use of magic.

Arcanepunk – Science and magic coexist.

Heroic – Typically sword and sorcery.  Often the aim is to fight some evil…

Comic – Humourous tone.
e.g. Discworld by Terry Pratchett.

Children’s/Juvenile – Aimed at children.
e.g. Harry Potter and Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark materials’.

Medievalist – Sword fighting, horses, knights and wars.
e.g. Lord of the Rings.

Political – Scheming, assassination, royal courts.
e.g. Game of Thrones.

Supernatural – Ghosts, magic, superhumans, demons, gods, miracles…

Paranormal – Involving otherworldly beings such as vampires, werewolves, angels demons, time travel.  Can also describe psychic abilities.
e.g. Carrie by Stephen King.

Fairytale/Mythological – Building on mythlore or fairytales.
e.g. The Bitterbynde trilogy by Cecelia-Dart Thornton

If you hadn’t read the previous post you can find it here.


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