Question: "High" concepts in Fantasy

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Thu Feb 27 06:13:56 EST 2003

Ian, starting an interesting thread:

> What's the definition of "high fantasy"? What are some examples? Is
> there a parallel "low" fantasy?

The way it was explained to me, by my brother (who is no more a lit. crit.
person than I am) is that "high" fantasy is about world-shaking events -
characters might go on a major quest, and probably end up Saving The World.  Low
fantasy is much more local or personal.

There was no implication that "high" and "low" had any fundamental relationship
to a scale of good and bad, or even trendy and unfashionable, although I do
_observe_ a correlation with the latter.  My brother at the time said he
preferred low fantasy; I don't have much of a preference.

I can see that this definition might have split off from the "entirely in
fantasy universe" definition; I find the latter somewhat unsatisfactory - for
example it would make "The Horse and his Boy" the only high fantasy in the
Narnia series, when I think it's about as low-fantasy as Narnia gets!

My brother and I actually came up with a two-dimensional model of fantasy
subgenre.  On axis is the "height" - how important the events of the book are to
the world - and on the other is how important magic is in daily life in the
setting (so at one end of the scale would be Fire and Hemlock; at the other,
Magicians of Caprona).

There is a strong correlation between this second axis and how far the fantasy
universe is removed from ours (how far ayewards it is?) but it is not perfect -
the Dalemark books are set entirely in the fantasy universe (and are quite high
by my definition too) but magic is not very important in daily life there.  I'm
sure there are examples the other way - some urban fantasy, perhaps.

Just my half-groat's worth...


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