by Lee Masterson
Speculative fiction is a difficult genre to categorize
neatly. For example, some authors might argue that most
speculative fiction is pure fantasy - and yet a
fantastical tale set in a far distant future would be
more likely classified as 'science fiction'.
In recent times, the term 'fantasy', when regarded as
part of an individual genre, generally brings to mind
tales of dragons and castles and knights in shining armor
- but in truth, the genre as a whole encompasses so much
Below, I have tried to separate some purely 'fantasy'
Fantasy = Encompasses stories about King Arthur,
the Knights of the Round Table or Merlin etc. Marion
Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon" is
a fine example of this sub-genre.
Fantasy = Tales designed specifically as spoofs of
other serious fantasies, or containing humorous elements
to a light-hearted tale. Robert Asprin's 'Myth' series is
a good example of this.
Fantasy = Encompasses the nastier, grimmer side to
the usual fun of the fantasy genre. Dark fantasy includes
the nightmarish, darker side of magic, creatures, evil
Fantasy = Generally tales of a young nobody, thrown
unexpectedly into a massive "Good vs. Evil"
struggle, where he must learn to uncover his own latent
heroism to save the day. Often also includes a
"grail-finding" quest - regardless of whether
the 'grail' is an icon, a person, a magical talisman or
any other form of symbolic token. Usually involves a very
large cast of characters and spans a vast area of a
fantastical world. J.R.R. Tolkien is undoubtedly the
father of this sub-genre, with his sweeping Lord of
the Rings trilogy
Tales and Mythology = Fairy tales are not just for
kids! The original versions of many fairy tales and myths
were often violent stories set in mystical lands,
sometimes with strange creatures and sometimes even
Fantasy = Fantastical worlds with an almost
'middle-ages' feel, peopled with wizards and sorcerers,
communing with dragons and riding pet unicorns to tame a
battalion of wild orcs and goblins. Heroes are generally
muscle-bound sword-wielding types, determined to rescue a
true damsel in distress. Magic is an accepted part of
life, although the workings of such are usually left
unexplained within this sub-genre.
Fantasy = High Fantasy is the type of fantasy that
most people expect when they regard 'fantasy' as a genre.
Includes lords and ladies, medieval styles and settings,
kingdoms and castles, and dragons and knights. High
fantasy, while generally rooted in classical mythology
and medieval European legends, focuses its themes on Good
versus Evil. Sometimes called "Epic fantasy".
Often plotted to encompass three or more books.
Realism = Stories where magic is an accepted part
of the system and of the culture. There must always be
consequences to the use of magic, or involve some form of
'prop' to get the magic working, like an amulet, potion,
talisman or incantation. Australian author, Ian Irvine,
manages to combine several fantasy sub-genres into his
massive four book series "The View From the
Mirror". Most notably, though, his use of
'magic realism' and the nasty consequences that come from
its use give his characters an extra dimension that makes
the series truly worth reading.
Fantasy = Tales of magic and wonder set in modern
and Sorcery = Good old-fashioned 'Sword &
Sworcery'. Rollicking tales of high adventure in almost
medieval settings. Designed to follow the exploits of the
'hero' as he battles to overcome all the bad guys by use
of his trusty sword and some really huge muscles. Robert
E. Howard brought about the rise in popularity of this
sub-genre with his creation of 'Conan: The Barbarian'
Copyright Lee Masterson. All rights reserved.