High and Low Fantasy

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The high and low fantasy genres appear to be polar opposites. Appear. But is it really that cut and dry? Can there be crossovers between the two genres? First, to get a better idea of the genres, here’s a quote from Wikipedia, by way of Goodreads:

Low fantasy contrasts with the sub-genre of High fantasy. Low fantasy is characterized by being set in the real (“Primary”) world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements. The opposite, high fantasy, is set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“Secondary”) world with its own, albeit internally-consistent, rules that separate it from the real world. Low fantasy can be described as non-rational events occurring in a rational setting. It is important to note that the use of the word “low” is not an indication of quality but of the relative level of “fantasy” contained within a particular work of fiction.

It should also be noted that high fantasy, also known as epic fantasy, usually concerns the fight between good and evil. Low fantasy, not so much.

Seems cut and dry. In high fantasy, you have elves, wizards, orcs and some kind of magic totem that must be salvaged or destroyed. In low fantasy, you’ve a got a real world setting, serious social issues, and encounters with the supernatural.

Then we come to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice”, on which HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series is based. At very first glance, it may seem like standard high fantasy. Then, as you read the first book, you are in an alternate, yet familiar, medieval world with lots of politics, backstabbing, sex and political, backstabbing sex. Good and evil are relative terms. There are strong fantasy elements, like dragons and the reanimated dead, but they are not the driving force of the story.

This is low fantasy. Yet, as I did research for this blog post, I often found “A Song of Fire and Ice” listed as high fantasy.  On Goodreads, the books in the series are listed in both categories. I also came upon forums where the series’ genre was debated. Could it be that “A Song of Fire and Ice” is a crossover that bridges the gap between the two genres? Possibly.

Of course, most readers don’t care about such details. They just want to read a good story. However, those who love a tale of elven knights, warrior maidens and quests to save the Silver Realm may not care to read a series with complex politics and a conflicted protagonist, set in a real world only sprinkled with magic. And visa-versa. This is why genre classifications really are important.

Popular authors of high fantasy include Katherine Kerr, Robert Jordan and Patricia McKillip.

Popular authors of low fantasy include Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Susan Cooper.

I couldn’t find any free-for-now low fantasy, but I can recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and Deerskin by Robin McKinley.

The Weight of Blood  The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish
When half-bloods Harruq and Qurrah Tun pledged their lives to the death prophet Velixar, they sought only escape from their squalid beginnings. Instead, they become his greatest disciples, charged with leading his army of undead. While they prepare, Harruq trains with an elf named Aurelia, to whom he owes his life. She is a window into a better world, but as war spreads between the races their friendship takes a dire turn.

Sword Bearer (Volume 1)  Sword Bearer (Return of the Dragons) by Teddy Jacobs
Locked in his room in the castle, young Anders yearns for adventure. Until the day he opens a magic portal and a girl bursts into his locked room with a chemical warlock hot on her trail. And adventure finds him. An adventure full of danger, full of blood, fire, demons and evil. To face it, he’ll need the sword given him by his blademaster, need the ancient words his grandfather gave him on his deathbed. Need the song that runs in his own blood, in his veins. A sword will be reforged, magic words discovered, battles fought, friends made and lost, secrets revealed. And blood will be spilled.

The Book of Deacon (Volume 1)  The Book of Deacon by Joseph Lallo
Myranda is a young woman more interested in staying alive than being a hero. Orphaned by a continent-spanning war that has gone on for decades too long and shunned for failing to support it, she has been on the move since she was only a child. One can hardly blame her when she thinks that the chance discovery of a fallen soldier’s priceless cargo is the moment that will change her life. No one could predict just how great that change would be. It will lead her through an adventure of rebels and generals, of wizards and warriors, and of beasts both noble and monstrous. Each step of the way will take her closer to the truth of her potential, of the war, and of the fate of her world.

The Flame Weaver  The Flame Weaver by Tania Elicker
On the far side of the mountains, where the light still shines, people muddle through their everyday lives oblivious to the approaching doom. But as the darkness grows nearer, a young man named Kazen is awakened to a secret past. With the help of his uncle, a powerful wizard, Kazen discovers a magic within him he never knew he had. A rare conjurer of fire, Kazen learns he may be the only one able to turn back the tide of darkness. But time is running out, for once the living shadow passes over the mountains, its evil will be unstoppable.

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Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

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3 thoughts on “High and Low Fantasy

  1. Interesting topic, now I’m wondering whether my work in progress is high or low fantasy ! It takes place in an entirely self contained fictional world with humans and other fantastical species like gnomes, however anything fantasy or magic oriented is revealed to be the result of science and technology. …Medium fantasy? >.<

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