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Exploration in the Genre of Fantasy

Updated August 26, 2021
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Exploration in the Genre of Fantasy essay

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What is the genre of fantasy? The genre of fantasy is like a door. In every human subconscious this door exists, separating reality from the world of fantasy. The fantasy world is a dream-like, beautiful, mystical place seen by those with an open minded. All the elements of fantasy such as dragons, witches, heroes, fairies, are floating throughout ones most passionate desires. This imaginary world is an illusion, full of bliss ignorance, and a never-ending longing of man. On the other side of this door is reality. Reality is the blunt, truthful relative of fantasy.

Reality will show one right from wrong. It shows the aftermath of one’s decisions and their effects. Reality and fantasy could not be more opposite. It is like trying to attach the north pole of a magnet to the north pole of another. No matter how hard a person tries they will not connect. Reality symbolizes the hardships of man, who strive to recover, and find purpose in life. While fantasy is a liar, in a utopian world.

When considering the fantasy genre, one must take a holistic approach. The genre of fantasy has been around for hundreds of years. When considering its impact, one must understand its history, icons, tropes, real world relevance and sociological impact. Fantasy has spread beyond literature and is one of the most well-known genres today. This genre provides readers with a creative mindset, endless possibilities, and a throwback to their youth.

Fantasy has always been around in the sense of myths and folktales. However, in literature, European Romances of chivalry and tales of the Arabian Nights was of the first official literature. Arabian Nights was a middle eastern and South Asian novel full of stories and folktales by Arabist Richard Francis Burton. Traditional fantastic tales take place in our world, past, present, or future. George MacDonald created the first explicitly fantastic works. Some of his well-known works include Phantastes, David Elginbrod, At the Back if the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin and Lilith (“Popular George MacDonald Books”). Fantasy has continued to develop over time. In the fifties and sixties, the genre of fantasy primarily affected children’s literature.

Fantasy novels had gone “without notice for decades” (Attebery). However, the genre took a turn for the best. In the nineteenth century fantasy became increasingly popular, when society was undergoing rapid changes in society, class, education, and economy (Campbell). As we progress into the twentieth century Lord of the Rings largely influenced the genre of fantasy. Fantasy by design is fictitious. In traditional tales supernatural consists of legends taken as reality to myths understood as describing understandable terms more complicated to reality. The fantasy genre has also progressed in modern fantasy. Modern fantasy is created by an author(s), who use traditional elements in novel arrangement and with individual interpretation (“What Is Modern Fantasy”).

Fantasy consists of numerous subgenres. There are nineteen total subgenres in fantasy. These include high fantasy/epic fantasy, low fantasy, portal fantasy, urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy, paranormal/paranormal romance, fantasy romance/high fantasy romance/ young adult fantasy, children’s fantasy, fairy tale retellings, sword and sorcery/ heroic fantasy, medieval fantasy/ Arthurian fantasy, historical fantasy, comic fantasy, science fantasy, grimdark fantasy, gothic fantasy/dark fantasy, and the new weird. The five most common genres include high fantasy, urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, sword and sorcery, and alternate-history fantasy.

High fantasy usually takes place in a unified fictional fantasy world, usually in a “quasi-medieval or Renaissance” (Shearin). This subgenre is often lengthy and epic, including many characters and large quests where the fate of the world rest on the protagonist’s shoulders. Some typical elements in high fantasy consist of lengthy journeys, dragons, magicians, assassins, legendary swords, royalty, medieval societies, battles, a hero or heroine of humble origins, and exotic names (What Is Fantasy?). High fantasy has a recurring theme of good versus evil, and high stakes. An example of a high fantasy novel is Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Campbell).

Urban and contemporary fantasy generally takes place in an urban environment or society in the present or future. Some key elements in include cities, secret supernatural underworld, hidden passageways, modern weaponry, interference from human institutions, contemporary slang, colloquial language and pop culture references (Shearin). The more popular creatures that inhabit urban fantasy are monsters, fairies, vampires, angels, and demons (What Is Fantasy?). In the short story This Is Not a Wardrobe Door, the main character Ellie is trying to break the curse, allowing the gatekeeper to open the doors to all who imagine the unlikely. This short story illustrates the fantasy world verses the real world.

It really illustrates the underlying message of loss of innocence, as humans grow up and mature. They no longer have their creativity or imaginary friends. As children become adults, they develop a more realistic mindset. In this short story, the opposite happens and shows how creativity and imagination are never truly lost. Ellie’s closet door is a secret passageway to another world. She writes the gatekeeper everyday asking it to open the passageway once more, to allow everyone in. However, the gatekeeper believes that should not be done because too many humans are suspected to not believe in the passageway (Rustad). Some more popular examples in urban and contemporary fantasy include City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and Angelfall by Susan Ee (“Fantasy Subgenres Guide”).

Sword and Sorcery focuses primarily on heroic adventures. This subgenre includes a quest, adventure, and danger (Shearin). Some typical elements include mighty heroes, battles magic, swordplay, medieval societies, romance, moral ambiguity, action, and conflict. The novel Renegades is about superheroes, adventure, danger, and betrayal. Renegades are humans with unique abilities and powers. The Renegades emerged from a crumpling society saving humans from chaos and establishing order and peace back into the community. The Renegades represent hope for those around. Nova, our main character, despises the Renegades because they were not there when she needed them the most. Nova is on a mission for vengeance. However, as she gets closer to her goal, she meets Adrian. Adrian is a sweetheart who believes in justice. Both have extraordinary abilities (Meyer). This novel illustrates the quests and danger Nova faces with just a hint of romance. A few other books that fall into swords and sorcery include Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard and The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (“Fantasy Subgenres Guide”).

Alternate fantasy takes historical events and asks “‘What would happen if?’” (Shearin). Historical fantasy takes place in a historical period of the world. It is an alternate version of history where magic and supernatural creatures exist. There is a strong emphasis on historical accuracy, excluding the supernatural elements. A few essential elements include dragons, magicians, mythological influences, key battles and historical events, and time travel. Some examples include Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and His Majesty’s Dragon written by Naomi Novik (“Fantasy Subgenres Guide”).

For the sake of literature, one can not not mention Dark and Romanic Fantasy. Dark fantasy incorporates darker and more frightening themes into the world of fantasy. It includes elements of horror, dread, cinematic works, and a dark atmosphere. Famous works of Dark Fantasy include The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe and Vathek written by William Beckford.

Romance is in almost every book these days. Whether it is two people falling in love, love for an object, or self-love. Fantasy romance is considered a high fantasy because it takes place in a fictional world, with the exception of romance being the core element. Some key elements in fantasy romance include medieval societies, royalty, cruelty, betrayal, badass warrior females, and sexual encounters. A few popular novels among young adults include Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (“Fantasy Subgenres Guide”).

Finally, fantasy meets science fiction. Science fiction and fantasy often fall into the same category. Science fiction novels include technology and nonfiction characters and common tropes. It “incorporates both magic and science” (Campbell). Science fantasy displays that the often fantastical things can be disguised under scientific credibility. Planets and aliens, magical technology, and supernatural forces at work are common elements in the science fantasy subgenre. Well known examples include Cinder written by Marissa Meyer and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.

The connection between fantasy and the real world may be difficult to decipher at first glance. The best way to accurately explain the connection is through relationships. Humans always have this idea of a perfect relationship. Society is full of those who claim they have literally fallen “in love” with celebrities, movie stars, and singers. The one they see in the movie, guy sweeps girl off her feet, and they live happily ever after. Therefore, females and males have these fairytale expectations that are unrealistic. Humans can become fixated on fantasy so much that it can become normal to them. Those with this perspective can become so caught up in the hope of finding that type of love they may become unhappy or even caught up in a relationship that is toxic in hopes of that ideal love.

In addition, celebrity’s lifestyle is another example of how fantasy can relate to the real world. Many teenagers are watching YouTube videos for a source of entertainment. These youtubers make millions on their productions. As a viewer one sees their fancy cars, big house, and exotic lifestyle. Children slowly start to dream of becoming a millionaire, thinking they will be handed money, similarly to the persona celebrities give off. In the real world humans have to work for what they want. Football players are talented sure, but they are consistently working out and practicing for the sport they love, money, and fame. Fantasy is a facade, a liar leading those to believe in unrealistic goals and lifestyles. Dreaming is good in small dosages. There is a thin line between dreaming for the greater good and dreaming too much. These images celebrities portray to the general public are unrealistic. Celebrities are people too and have their own problems.

In literature, fantasy often incorporates the real world and includes pretend elements or vice versa. In the short story The Super Man and the Bugout, a spin-off of the traditional Spiderman, our main character Herchie lives in a present day world but is a superhero. Herchie faces the obstacle of letting the public know his real identity for tax purposes and his ability to survive in the city like a mortal or keeping his identity hidden in order to keep his family safe. Herchie works for the United Nations government and patrols the streets for the safety of the public. He faces a small hiccup when a police officer is wrongfully beating a teenager and Herchie allows the teen escape (Doctorow).

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