Question: "High" concepts in Fantasy

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at
Sat Mar 1 20:41:09 EST 2003

--- Jenwa Hsung <jenwahsung at> wrote:
> --- Jon Noble <jon_p_noble at> wrote:
> > 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. 
> I'm confused, because I don't think there's a "like"
> factor implied in High Fantasy.  I think if I were
> to
> use the term, it would be more likely that I was
> trying to identify books I'm *less* inclined to
> read. 

I'm still inclined to think that people who try to
define exactly what High Fantasy is are trying to
include their own favourites in that definition, or
perhaps if they favour Urban type fantasy, what they
least like. There have been a few suggestions as to
how to measure the "height" of a fantasy book here, so
I will add my own proposal;

Secondary Worldliness
set in our world = 1 point
set in a world nearly ours = 2 points
set in a variant of ours (eg alternate history = 3 pts
our world and a secondary world = 4 points
set in a secondary world entirely = 5 points
secondary world with maps = 6 points
seconday world + maps + made up language = 7 points
bonus points for extra maps and languages

Scale of the story
a family affair = 1 point
set only in a local community = 2 points
events affect a whole country = 3 points
events affect the world = 5 points
events affect the universe = 6 points
and if time is also at threat = 7 points

Good v. evil
everyone is very nice = 1 point
bad animals/beings follow own incination (eg
a villian, but still human (eg criminal mastermind) =
non human/undead villian = 4
Hitler/Saddam Hussein type megalomaniac  = 5
true evil darklord = 6
The very antithesis of evrything nice = 7

Significance of magic to story
Hardly noticed = 1 point
incidental = 2 points
down to
Everyone has magic and its vital = 5 points

Bonus points
each cliche from Tough Guide = 1 point (but no extra
points for the same cliche repeated)
Every 500 pages or part thereof = 1 point

Add all points together, anything with more than 20
points is High Fantasy, Less than 5 points is Low
Fantasy, Anything inbetween is probably worth reading


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