Urban fantasy(was Charles DeLint (OT))

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Thu Apr 5 08:54:45 EDT 2001

Jacob, refining his definition:

> An Urban Fantasy (my definition, not necessarily shared by anyone else)
> story has these characters, but it gives them some situations that are *not*
> encompassed by the urban setting.  Urban Fantasy stories are, to me,
> high-contrast stories about bright, redeeming, or magical characters in
> urban, depressing settings.  Picture a patch of bright flowers blooming in a
> gutter...
>>Closer to home, is Fire and Hemlock "urban fantasy"?  For that matter, is
>>Hexwood?  Time City is, even almost by my definition, though...
> Not in my opinion.  Neither one has the depressing faceless masses that I
> define as Urban.  In fact, both Fire and Hemlock and Hexwood are, if
> anything, Suburban Fantasy--the characters live in a defined, residential
> neighborhood and know who their neighbors are in personal terms.  Obviously,
> I'm taking the dimmest view of Urban and that's why I'm glad you called me
> on the "technological" phrase.

Good.  I'm glad you didn't try and justify "technological" :-)

Why do you take such a negative view of "urban"?  This has happened to me with
some words in the past - a word has negative connotations for me; as I learn
more about the context, I find less and less to be negative about, but instead
of throwing off the negative connotations, the word takes for me a narrower and
narrower definition...

To answer your other question first, "how depend?  And what do I mean by
Urban?", to me "Urban" means "in or of a city".  No more, no less.  I don't much
like cities, but I don't attach "depressing faceless masses" or "dark and
gloomy" connotations to them.

To me, urban fantasy is fantasy that must be set in a city in order to work.  I
can't define it more clearly than that, except by example:

In "Our Lady of Darkness" by Fritz Leiber, a system of magic had been developed,
"Megapolisomancy", in which the magician used the shape of the city and the
positions of buildings to put spells on people.  <SPOILER> The magician had
planned a spell, but the building didn't get built; Many years later, both the
magician and the victim being long dead, a suitable building is erected, and the
hero, now living in the victim's former apartment, nearly gets done for.
Fortunately he finds some of the magician's old papers and breaks the spell just
in time.  </SPOILER>

There is also potential urban fantasy in Bristolia - here we have a whole
fantasy world that maps in some sense to one of our cities.  One could easily
imagine a story in which things done in one affect the other (Downtown again?).
Even something as simple as a citizen of the fantasy world discovers that ke can
walk half way around the world in a couple of hours by entering Bristol in
Clifton, walking down to the river and across to Bedminster, and then returning
to kir own world.


Anita's example of Wilkins' Tooth I think fails both my definition and Jacob's,
I think.

It is Suburban in Jacob's sense - most of the kids know each other; they all go
to one or two schools; they know all the gang members personally (and it is the
only gang locally).  All the parents know who Biddy is, etc.

It is also not urban fantasy in my and Paul's sense - there is nothing about the
way the fantastical elements work that is at all connected with an urban

I would think a better example is Archer's Goon.  Here the town is something of
a self-sufficient entity.  The fantastical concept - the seven uebermenschen
running the town - relies on this: they can take the town over with minimal
interaction with the outside world, and they can run it without leaving it.  To
me this wouldn't work if the town were small (village) - it couldn't be
self-sufficient - or if the area covered were more than one town - confinement
would be less obvious; "farming" the towns' life would be more difficult to

I'm not sure whether this meets Jacob's criterion, but I think it meets mine.


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