Question: "High" concepts in Fantasy

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at
Thu Feb 27 20:01:49 EST 2003

--- Robyn Starkey <rohina at> wrote:
> Melissa said:
> >For my part, I've never found "low" very useful,
> probably because it sounds
> >negative to me.  Though oddly I don't have the
> opposite reaction to "high,"
> >so who knows what that means.
> I think this is because of how it is used with
> humour and other literary 
> concepts. "Low" means fart jokes. So, by extension,
> surely low fantasy is 
> early Terry Pratchett.
I think it is because people starting calling some
particular type of fantasy "high fantasy", without
ever really agreeing on a common definition, where a
term like "hard science fiction" or "space opera" for
sf both have consensus definitions (even if people do
disagree on exactly which books are encompassed by
that definition). High Fantasy is more a case of
whatever I really like is High Fantasy, and lesser
stuff isn't. The closest I've ever seen to a consensus
defintion is the "entirely set in a secondary world"
one but it's not really all that good. It means that
LOTR and Eddings are high but the very similar "Thomas
Covenant" books aren't even though i would argue that
these books should rate as "higher" fantasy that
eddings. HMMMM - this concept of "height" for fantasy
sounds interesting, maybe would could develop some
objective measure for exactly how high a fantasy book
is. For Christian that could simply involve a tape
measure and the spine of the book - any book "higher"
than 2cm he simply ignores :)
I rather like Melissa's (I think) defintion of High
Fantasy being about epic battles of Good V Evil, but
again it excludes some very important works, while
including lesser ones. The global vs. personal import
of the story is also useful, but again perhaps not
quite there.
Low Fantasy is, of course, the oposite of whatever we
call high fantasy, so unless we have an agreed
definition of high fantasy, low fantasy means nothing.
I used it for one specific definition (books not
entirely set in a secondary world - or more
specifically books set in both a secondary world and
our world, like narnia. But even this is not really
adequate upon reflection - that means that eddison's
"worm ouroboros" is Low, but I think that whatever
defintion of high we have should include that book.
Its not Good V. evil either so that one doesn't work.
perhaps an interesting exercise may be to nominate
some books we would regard as high fantasy and some
similer titles that aren't high;

eg LOTR = high, Feist's magician = not high
Narnia - not high, worm -high

Jon have to stop now, I have a class

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