List of fantasy subgenres
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The fantasy genre has spawned many new subgenres with no clear counterparts in the myths or folklore upon which the tradition of fantasy storytelling is based, although inspiration from mythology and folklore remains a consistent theme. Since the rise of popular fantasy fiction in the twentieth century, the fantasy genre is often subdivided into a number of branches. However, like all discussions of genre, there are very few definitions of any of the subgenres that can be called 'definitive' to cover every and only work of that subgenre. These new subgenres are frequently extended back to include earlier works.
Although many forms of alternate history are classified as science fiction, alternate histories where magic works or fantastic creatures abound are classified as fantasy.
Bangsian fantasy is named for John Kendrick Bangs, whose late 19th- and early 20th-century Associated Shades series of novels deals with the afterlives of various famous people. Frequently used are the Underworld/Limbo/Purgatory ("neutral"), Elysium/Nirvana/Heaven ("good"), and Erebus/Gehenna/Hell ("bad").
- Heroes in Hell, C. J. Cherryh and Janet Morris (1986)
- God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, Kurt Vonnegut (1999)
- Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri (1321)
This sub-genre parodies the above ideas as well as ideas outside the genre, sometimes in a postmodern manner. A peculiarly early example of this genre is the aforementioned Gulliver's Travels. It might also include the so-called "worst fantasy story ever published" The Eye of Argon.
Although many of these works qualify, by setting, as high fantasy, comic fantasy can theoretically overlap with any of the other subgenres.
- Bored of the Rings, Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney (1969)
- A Spell for Chameleon, Piers Anthony (1977)
- The Discworld Series, Terry Pratchett (1983-)
- Harry Potter
- The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
- His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman
- The Newford Series, Charles de Lint
Most contemporary fantasy takes place in an urban setting, leading the designation urban fantasy. The term is rarely used for stories taking place in the cities of imaginary lands.
Dark fantasy in this context refers to stories that focus on elements usually found in the horror genre but which take place in a setting more alike sword and sorcery or high fantasy. Dark fantasy includes "grittier" fantasy, conducted in settings which represent the brutality of the medieval period more realisticallyTemplate:Fact than the traditionally idealized representations of conventional fantasy, generally with a dash of supernatural horror. It may or may not take place in its own fantasy world.
Fairytale fantasy is distinguished from other subgenres by the works' heavy use of motifs, and often plots, from folklore. They sometimes ignore the standards of world-building common to fantasy as blithely as the tales from which they derive, though not always; stories that use a high fantasy, contemporary, or historical setting, with the world-building thus entailed, may also be considered part of those genres.
- George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
- Robin McKinley's Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (1978)
- Tanith Lee's Red As Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer (1983)
- The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
- The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander
- The Worm Ouroboros, E. R. Eddison
The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil in a fantasy world, parallel to ours. The moral concepts in such tales take on objective and absolute status, and are not relative to the one making the judgement. There tends to be few shades of grey; the heroes are unambiguously good and the villains are unambiguously evil.
The moral tone and high stakes — usually world-shaking — separates this genre from sword and sorcery, while the degree to which the world is not based on a real-world history separates it from historical fantasy.
- The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien
- The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan
- Riftwar Saga, Raymond E. Feist
Historical fantasy takes two distinct forms. One encompasses stories set in the historical past but with fantasy elements introduced, much as contemporary fantasy is set in the present. The other is set in a created fantasy world that closely parallels our own, with recognisable analogs for countries, historical events or historical personages.
- The Russian Stories, C. J. Cherryh
- The Sarantine Mosaic, Guy Gavriel Kay (1998–2000)
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke (2004)
Within the genre, further subgenres arise when a given historical era is popular. For instance, many fantasy settings have been in, or inspired by, Dark Age Celtic cultures, thus having lead to the name of "Celtic fantasy."
Fantasy Steampunk is another subgenre of historical fantasy, being set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras, although certain technological features must also be present to label it as steampunk, and some works in this genre are alternate history.
Wǔxiá (Traditional Chinese: 武俠, Simplified Chinese: 武侠, Mandarin IPA: wuɕiɑ, Cantonese Pinyin: mów hàb), literally meaning "martial (arts) heroes", is a sub-genre of the quasi-fantasy and martial arts genre in literature, television and cinema. Wǔxiá figures prominently in the popular culture of Chinese-speaking areas, and the most important writers have devoted followings.
The wǔxiá genre is a blend of the philosophy of xiá (俠, "honor code", "an ethical person", "a hero"), and China's long history in wǔshù ("kung fu" (pronounced gong fu, despite popular misconceptions) or "martial arts"). A martial artist who follows the code of xiá is called a swordsman, or xiákè (俠客/侠客, literally "chivalrous guest"). Japan's samurai bushidō traditions, England's knight chivalry traditions, and America's gunslinger Western traditions all share some aspects with China's swordsman xiá traditions. The swordsman, however, need not serve a lord or hold any military power and they are not required to be from an aristocratic class.
The characteristics of stories being set in prehistoric times and describe the lives of prehistoric people.
Fantasies may be intended specifically for a juvenile audience. This subgenre usually overlaps with others.
Low fantasy is not a proper subgenre as such, but a catch-all term employed to describe works of fantasy literature described in an antagonistic relationship with the more well-defined high fantasy genre. As such, it can indicate fantasy that tries not to emphasise magic; fantasy set in the real world; fantasy that contains realism and a more cynical worldview; and Dark fantasy -- among others.
Fantasy of manners
Fantasy of manners, sometimes called "mannerpunk", is the fantasy genre's arena for the comedy of manners. Its worlds involve elaborately complex social hierarchies, and its plots revolve around its characters' interactions within those hierarchies in the traditions of Jane Austen or Anthony Hope.
Many fantasy of manners could, by the setting, be classified as alternate history, high fantasy, or historical fantasy. The subgenre is marked out by tone and plot, and the centrality of etiquette to the characters' negiotations.
- See mythic fiction.
The plots of romantic fantasies centre upon a romantic relationship between the protagonists, and the plots or settings include fantastical elements. Romantic fantasy has been published both as fantasy and as romance.
Although this subgenre can overlap with almost every other fantasy subgenre, since its distinguishing traits are not the fantastical elements or setting that distinguish the others, most romantic fantasy shares setting elements that go beyond the focus on romantic relationships. Romantic fantasy novels usually feature valiant female warriors and in most of these books, female soldiers and mercenaries are either accepted and common in enlightened realms, or gain acceptance in the course of the story.
- The Door into Fire, Diane Duane (1979)
- Arrows of the Queen, Mercedes Lackey (1987)
- Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce (1992)
Fantasy and science fiction jointly share the subgenre called science fantasy, which has many of the trappings of science fiction, such as space travel and laser guns, but also contains significant elements that bear more resemblance to magic than science or in some other way draw more from fantasy than from science fiction. One of the best known examples of science fantasy is the Star Wars series of films, set aboard spaceships and on alien planets but featuring swashbuckling knights, princesses in distress, a dark sorcerer who has enslaved the galaxy, a mystical source of magical power called the Force, and even an opening line that is a variant of "Once upon a time": A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
- Star Wars
- Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series
- The Dune series by Frank Herbert
- Stephen King's Dark Tower Series
Sword and Planet
A subgenre of science fantasy, it focuses on swashbuckling adventures on other planets and features very little of the scientific rigor that would classify it as science fiction proper.
Dying Earth fiction
A subgenre of science fantasy, distinguished by its setting in the far-distant future.
Superhero fantasy began in American comic books, evolving into a combination of science fantasy and contemporary fantasy. That is, it is a genre that is typically set in the contemporary world in where all fantastic concepts from extraterrestrials and futuristic technology to magic and classic mythological beings potentially co-exist. The feature characters, however, are costumed heroes often endowed with fantastic abilities, skills or equipment.
- Lois & Clark: A Superman Novel (1996), C. J. Cherryh
- Wild Cards, George R. R. Martin (editor)
- Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light
Sword and sorcery
Inspired primarily by the works of Robert E. Howard, especially Conan the Barbarian, sword and sorcery is more concerned with immediate physical threats and action than high fantasy, distinguishing the two genres. Further, sword and sorcery, in contrast to high fantasy, tends to portray amoral protagonists and/or worlds--there are rarely objective values, or any sort of cosmic justice. Even when the protagonists act morally and do incidental good deeds along the way, the usual protagonist's motivation is self-interest.
- Conan the Barbarian series, Robert E. Howard
- Elric series, Michael Moorcock
- Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, Fritz Leiber