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Flavors of Fantasy... - Michael M Jones

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October 14th, 2008

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06:13 pm - Flavors of Fantasy...
No, not a new VH1 reality show. A fascinating discussion over on Tor.com in which we go off on a tangent to define the different sorts of fantasy.

My comment:
My understanding is that it sort of goes like this:

High/epic Fantasy: Tolkein, Jordan, and that ilk. Immortal elves, bold heroes, brave warriors, dark tyrants, epic quests, a certain flowing language and a deeply magical, beautiful, grand scheme to things. The shiny is shinier, the pretty prettier, the magic magicaler, the evil eviller... High fantasy is a world unto itself, where nothing is small. Except the hobbits.

Sword & Sorcery/Low fantasy: Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard. More down to earth. Grim and gritty. Flawed heroes and anti-heroes. Mighty-thewed barbarians stalking the land in search of adventure, ale, and whores. Good versus evil on a smaller, more visceral scale. Chain mail bikinis, tentacled horrors, maidens in need of rescuing.

Urban Fantasy: Things of magic set in a familiar setting, i.e. the here and now (for the most part.) Science meets superstition, technology meets magic. Wizards, witches, elves, vampires and werewolves dwell among an often-unknowing humanity. Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Holly Black are all fine examples of this rapidly growing sub-genre.

Paranormal Romance: See urban fantasy, but add in a strong emphasis on the romantic relationships and matters of the heart - and sometimes sex - between the main characters. There's a broad overlap between the two, but no one's find the exact line of divide. Paranormal romance bleeds into romantic fantasy.

Science Fantasy: If I ever figure that one out, I'll let you know. I suppose that dwells out in the realm of "any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic" and vice-versa.

The great thing about all of these genres is that they overlap, and there's a space in the middle where they can all meet.

Sadly, for all that, I can't think of any high fantasy short fiction offhand that really calls to me at the moment.

It was well-recieved over there. Any thoughts?

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)
Well, since I consider what I write to be science fantasy, I'd define it as speculative/futuristic fiction that contains both swords AND FTL starships...
[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2008 12:59 am (UTC)
My apologies for forgetting about the Keltiad books. They're definitely a prime example of science-fantasy... sufficiently futuristic to allow for the trappings of SF, but still hewing to various fantasy standards.

Someone else brought up The Book of the New Sun.
I think there's a fine line, or an overlap, between science-fantasy and space opera, since some of the other candidates I'd bring up - Simon Green's Deathstalker series or Doyle & MacDonald's Mageworlds books - seem to be more space opera than otherwise. And of course there's that little thing called Star Wars ... some might see the Force as magic, lightsabers as magic swords, and Jedis as wizards.

It's hard to really pigeonhole some of these things. I think that's the fun in some ways.
[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
I might also stick a lot of Anne McCaffrey's stuff in the science fantasy group, though it tends to get classed as science fiction, rather than fantasy. But I really think it more properly belongs in the fantasy realm, even if there is a science fiction explanation for most of it.
[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2008 12:30 am (UTC)
can't think of any high fantasy short fiction offhand

Might that be because you just got through defining high fantasy as epic - that would be the exact opposite of short.

Actually, I believe Sir Gowain and the Green Knight would fit the description in spite of being a short story.
[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2008 01:03 am (UTC)
The discussion actually started out as an essay about short fiction in high fantasy. And so far, every example I've come up with is really just part of something larger, or set in an already established world. I can't think, offhand, of any short stories that give off that high fantasy feel and stand alone. But heck, I can't remember what I had for breakfast some days.
[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
Thank you. (Or thabk you, as I originally typed...)

I don't read much modern fantasy or science fiction, unless I know the authors and can be sure I won't be influenced (and by "influenced" I mean "tempted to steal").

But for short high fantasy from a Founder, I submit for your consideration Edward Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany. Many, many short stories; only a handful of full-length books. And pure gold, all of it.

I recommend the short stories "The Sword of Welleran", "The Bride of the Man-horse", "How One Came, As Was Foretold, to the City of Never", "Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon"...oh, and a whole bunch more.

Of books, there's the famed "The King of Elfland's Daughter", but I prefer "Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley" and "The Charwoman's Shadow." But he was really a short-story master, and the pieces are well worth looking into.

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