Genre Talk: High Fantasy

I’ve neglected this blog. Whoops. I blame the executive dysfunction on top of trying to do well in school/make money freelancing and the executive dysfunction when trying to write to get published. It’s a problem. Like a grade A genuine problem. Not much of an excuse, I know, but here I am.

That’s not really what I want to talk about today, though, because while I usually work in alternate histories, my (sub)genre of choice is high fantasy. Like so many others. Like almost every other amateur fantasy writer out there. So what exactly do I have to bring to the discussion?

Maybe just an opinion. Or another view on the genre at large. I’m not wholly too sure where I’m going with this, but I do, ultimately, have one topic I want to hit on.

High fantasy has one, simple requirement: a magical, secondary world. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. And yet, within this one (sub)genre, we see so much of the same kind of worldbuilding. And just so I’m not talking out of my ass, I went into a chain bookstore and made a tally of how many medieval Western European high fantasy stories there were (I didn’t include all works within a series to be the separate ticks nor did I include the really big books like Prachett’s, Sanderson’s, Martin’s, or Tolkien’s works).

I got 25 in one bookshelf and frankly didn’t feel like going through the rest after that.

Let that sink in for a moment.

There were 25 different medieval Western European high fantasy stories, published by different publishers, not including each book in a series as a separate mark.

I don’t want to spend the rest of this post talking about why this might be, but rather explore what else could be done within the (sub)genre of high fantasy. After all, by definition, there should be plenty of different options.

The roots of high fantasy are no doubt within Western Europe and Norse mythology, thanks to J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, but that doesn’t mean that all secondary worlds need to be clones of Middle Earth. Especially so, if you’re a writer who wants to include some sort of fantastical racism into your worldbuilding (I won’t stop you from doing this, but I feel as though you should be made aware of the fact that using fantastical races while all your humans are white as a metaphor for racism further encourages real world racism).

Running themes of high fantasy tend to be pre-modern technology, pre-democracy, and pre-civil rights. These aren’t requirements for high fantasy, though. These are just some trends that writers use, so why do writers restrict themselves to this? Why don’t more explore tensions that come with new technology, or changes in government and civil rights movements. If the answer is that you want to free yourself from the restrictions of these eras, you’re only shoehorning yourself into a very restrictive setting to begin with.

High fantasy is high fantasy, it’s a completely different, secondary world. Let your imagination go wild, do some research to add depth, and don’t be afraid to do what hasn’t already been done.

This one’s been short, and I apologize. The topic ended up having less to actually discuss than I had originally thought. I at least hope that 1) it gets you thinking, and 2) I’ll get to writing more soon.

As a minor update, I’m between rejection letters for publishing a short story of mine (lol) and attempting to freelance. I don’t know if anyone would at all be interested in my ramblings about trying to get published, but if there is, let me know 😡

Who’s the artist?

Sara Kipin is an undergraduate illustration student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her subject and colouring style really made me think high fantasy and especially so in her suit of swords deck. While it’s still in the Western European style, it has a very regal feel to it that I’ve long grown to associate with high fantasy.

Full piece:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s