1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    High Fantasy expectations

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Lea`Brooks, Nov 10, 2015.

    My current WIP is a fantasy. But I struggle to call it "high fantasy" because I'm not entirely sure it fits the mold.

    So it just made me wonder. When you hear a book described as "high fantasy," what elements do you expect it to have? Different races? Intense magical system? Medieval type setting? Old English dialogue?

    No right or wrong answer. I'm just curious. :)
     
  2. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    To be defined as high fantasy I'd expect it to be predominantly set in a secondary world other than Earth. Though portal fantasy where a protagonist starts on Earth is allowed.
    Technology level I'd expect to be pre- industrial revolution. Some Renaissance level technology,like the printing press, wouldn't push it out of high fantasy for me.
    It'd either have fantasy races or magic. Not necessarily both. The magic doesn't need to be particularly systemised.

    Language wouldn't be Old English (Look up what Old English means. No one writes fantasy in Old English because it'd be incomprehensible to most modern audiences). It wouldn't even be written in Shakespearean English, but it'd try to avoid modern slang and idioms.

    To be distinguished from swords and sorcery, I believe it needs to have a fairly grand scale plot. The heroes facing a threat to an entire kingdom. (Or several kingdoms if you prefer.)

    The edges of genres and sub genres are somewhat blurred, so I expect others to have different expectations.
     
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  3. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not a fantasy reader but I am a little sci-fi so I kind of pick up the taxonomy, and I usually hear the term "High Fantasy" used interchangeably with "Epic Fantasy". Honestly I hear "Epic Fantasy" more often.
    That's counterbalanced against "Urban Fantasy" which I've heard very occasionally referred to as "Low Fantasy."

    Urban/Low Fantasies take place in the real world in mostly real settings with magical intrusions, and they tend to be more standard length books. Epic/High Fantasies are generally longer books with lots of worldbuilding and entirely out of out world.

    That said, Brandon Sanderson breaks down modern adult Fantasy into three subgenres - Epic Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, and Urban Fantasy. See video below . Of those I'd say that both the Epic and Heroic subgenres might both be considered High Fantasy in the traditional sense.



    It's worth pointing out that Sanderson writes mostly Epic but some Heroic - and not always in a medieval setting. Some of his newer stuff is high-fantasy based in a 19th century American-esque setting (he took his medieval fantasy world from his Mistborn trilogy and booted it forward 300 years to the industrial revolution)
     
  4. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    The term "High Fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance". Today high fantasy is recognized as a sub-genre of fantasy and is defined by its setting in an imaginary world and/or the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot. Authors in this genre tend to create their own worlds where they set multi-tiered narratives. The typical format is for a multi-volume narrative surrounding a quest. Coming of age themes are common. Some authors in the genre also construct languages for the purposes of the story. The works of J. R. R. Tolkien are regarded as the archetypal works of high fantasy.

    These stories are often serious in tone and epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural evil forces. High fantasy worlds may be closely based on real world milieu. Themes, plot structure, characters, and setting are often derived from ancient mythology, legends, and traditional folktales. When the resemblance is strong and real-world history is used, high fantasy shades into alternative history.

    There are three distinguishable sub-types of high fantasy:
    • Primary world does not exist. The primary world is either separated from the setting entirely, or is separated from it by a great distance in space and/or time. Where the primary world does not exist, detailed maps, geography, and history of the fictional world are often provided. The secondary world often is based on, or symbolically represents, the primary world. Lovers of this form should note that Tolkien often denied that his work was set in a place where the primary world didn't exist. He suggested that Middle-earth was the primary world, but in the past. This is outlined in excerpts from some of his letters.
    • Secondary world is entered through a portal from the primary world. In some novels, a contemporary (real world) character is placed in the imaginary world through framing devices or even via subconscious travel.

    • A setting in which a distinct world-within-a-world is part of the primary world. The case of a world-within-a-world, also known as a wainscot, occurs when the secondary world co-exists with the primary world. However, the inhabitants of the primary world are unaware of the secondary world.
    Some typical characteristics of high fantasy include fantastical elements such as:
    • elves

    • fairies

    • dwarfs

    • dragons

    • demons

    • magic, sorcery, wizards or magicians
    High fantasy story-lines are often told from the viewpoint of one main hero. Much of the plot tends to revolve around his or her heritage. The hero/heroine is often an orphan or unusual sibling, with some extraordinary talent (ex. magic or combat.) He or she typically begins the story young, if not as an actual child, though it is not uncommon to have a hero/heroine that is a completely developed individual with their own character and spirit. The hero/heroine often starts as a childlike figure, but matures rapidly, experiencing huge gains in skill/fighting/problem-solving abilities along the way. This often comes from receiving mentoring from some form of mystical character, generally a formidable wizard or warrior who provides help and advice.

    Good versus evil is a common concept in high fantasy. The plots of high fantasy often revolve around the hero's fight against the evil forces. In many books, there is some form of dark lord obsessed with taking over the world and killing the hero/heroine. This character maybe an evil wizard, god, or demon. This character often commands an army or group of highly feared servants. In some cases the villain may have a predecessor who is either superior or inferior to them. Over the course of the story, the hero/heroine learns the nature of the unknown forces against him/her and that they constitute a force with great power and malevolence. The protagonist may also be engaged in a struggle against internal temptations or weakness. The importance of the concepts of good and evil can be regarded as the distinguishing mark between high fantasy and sword and sorcery.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
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  5. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alright, nevermind. I either worded my question incorrectly, or no one understands what I mean. Whichever reason, I don't feel like clarifying.

    Thanks though.
     
  6. plothog
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    Hmm now you've got me wondering what you did mean and if I'm being thick. :p
    Some people will hear the phrase high fantasy and have tighter preconceptions about how close it is to Tolkien or Dungeons and Dragons fan fiction.
    I think modern high fantasy audiences hope for a bit more innovation than that. If anything fantasy writers seem to get more criticism than most if they stick to the same old tropes. - but maybe that's just on writing forums.

    Maybe you were expecting a discussion more along those lines, or maybe I've found a different wrong tree to bark up.

    I can see why you might not have been interested in a copy and paste from a Wikipedia page ;)
     
  7. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I apologize, you were on the right track, and I enjoyed reading your response.

    I was hoping for a discussion on modern high fantasy. I have a hard time believing that all high fantasies have the exact same elements as LotR. So I was just looking for opinions on what expections are these days. How far can someone stray from the traditional LotR high fantasy and still be considered high fantasy?

    Thanks for contributing. :)
     
  8. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    A Lord of the Rings ripe off.
     
  9. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    And that's kind of my point for starting this topic. Where are the boundaries of high fantasy and where are you able to play with it a little? What elements does a high fantasy absolutely have to have to be high fantasy and what can be tweaked a little?

    For example, if LotR didn't have elves or orcs, just humans... Would it still be high fantasy? If the characters didn't talk the way they did ("What shall I do?") and instead spoke in a more modern way ("The fuck am I gunna do now, man?"), would it still be high fantasy?

    Or is high fantasy that rigid? Does it have to have all of those elements to be considered high fantasy?
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why does it matter? :\
     
  11. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    For me, High Fantasy requires a separate secondary world that is not Earth. It does not require fantastical races or anything, but it should not be a rip off of an established culture. Also, the technology level does not matter so much as it evolved and works within its own framework. The way characters talk and such is not a marker of "high fantasy". It is the immersive setting.

    Now do not mind me, but I have sudden urge to go kick a bucket-girl around and make fun of a hell crow.
     
  12. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well that's kind of a silly question. Most people on this forum are constantly preaching about being original and doing something different. So I wanted to know what high fantasy could lack and still be high fantasy so that I could write my own some day. How am I supposed to do that though if I don't know the proper boundaries? It may not matter to you, but it matters to me.

    Take my WIP for example. I created my own world for it. Does that automatically make it high fantasy? Everyone uses magic, but they're all human. The only other creatures I have are large birds that can communicate telepathically and use magic. Is it still high fantasy?
     
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  13. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think 9! is suggesting just write the story you have in mind to write and not worry about its categorization. It sounds like you want your story to fit in to a specific genre which is a somewhat different goal than most on the forum I believe. I am not a fantasy reader so I have no useful comment or thought on what is high or low fantasy.
     
  14. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    I would consider it High Fantasy, a deep and complex created world is part of the definition, but also having magic and such are other marks which make it so.
     
  15. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    In my opinion, you perfectly stated the "problem" with these classifications by starting out with "for me". I mean, it's a really shady area. Some books seem to cross the boundaries of multiple subgenres. According to many criteria found, HF has to be set in a different world and has to have some form of magic. It is often said that it also has to have a clear good vs evil overarching plot and moral. But what about a different world without any magic whatsoever? What about a different world without any magic and very greyish characters which aren't really good nor evil? What about a grandly thought out alternate world without some epic plot taking place in it?

    I once found a list of subgenres of fantasy containing some 40 of them, and found it really hard to group all of the fantasy books I know into a single one of them. I think this urge to classify books into subgenres is way overstretched and the fact that a book can fit into more than 1 of them makes them a bit obsolete imo.
     
  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's automatically fantasy. Is there a reason you want to qualify as high fantasy?
     
  17. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    This is much like classifying music, because at some point it is no longer about classification, but trying to tie parts of a diverse spectrum to a simple tag. It is an exercise in futility and has failed the moment one needs to consult a definition of the genre to verify it. Why not just label the genre "Tolkien" or "Dragonlance" while you are at it and be done with it.

    High Fantasy certainly can have overarching themes of good vs evil, but is it not a requirement. Without magic? I suppose it still is High Fantasy - after all, the development of a different world with its own history is the base requirement - though you might be moving to a different genre at this point because the fantastical is part of fantasy. On a strict sense, explainable magic is not "magic" - though it still applies by theme.

    You can keep cutting finer and finer, but what is wrong with simply labeling it "fantasy"? This is sort of the nature of a lot of my guilty pleasure novels - ones set in epic settings as players, explorers and such. Such things might fall under sword and sorcery, but they are not. I do not know of a definition which applies though I know what it is when I see it.
     
  18. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    This thread wasn't supposed to be a "how should I categorize my novel" thread. I'm perfectly okay with calling it just fantasy, and I have been. I just wanted to have a discussion.

    If a novel is categorized as paranormal, you expect ghosts or something along those lines. If it's romance, you expect romance. But if it's high fantasy, some people expect elves and magic and epic worlds and cyclops and other such things. And it seemed like a lot of qualifications to me. So I wanted to discuss what the bare minimum was to call something a high fantasy. No ulterior motives. Just a discussion.

    But apparently that's too difficult for some people... :superwhew:
     
  19. Inks
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    It is not about categorizing your novel - it is about you trying to find arbitrary genre limits on a spectrum.

    This is not something which can be handled by trying to find a bare minimum and you are better off using a three word description instead of a single tagline. I would not be worried, let publishers handle such trivialities. It is not as if Tolkien or Dragonlance is a genre.
     
  20. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Again, this isn't about me. I'm not worried. I don't care if I call my novel high fantasy or fantasy. I just wanted to have a bloody discussion about high fantasy. But apparently, that's too much to ask for.

    So nevermind! :superhello: I'm done. Thread's done. Bye bye. :blowkiss:
     
  21. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Another idea that most people would expect is a lot of magical stuff in a magical world. If the story isn't a typical epic, it should be about a complete imagination without realism. For example, Dark Crystal can be considered as high fantasy. Everything in it was made up and put us in an unfamiliar, but curious world. Of course the world can still be a typical medieval like world, but it needs a lot of magic.
     
  22. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    I must admit I kind of lost you here. You say you wanted to know what people think the requirements for High Fantasy were, and when a discussion starts about HF you close it down. I don't think anyone here wanted to sabotage this threat with their replies :)
     
  23. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Though the question was essentially: "So I wanted to know what high fantasy could lack and still be high fantasy..." and later clarified with "I wanted to discuss what the bare minimum was to call something a high fantasy. No ulterior motives."

    Now, my response is that High Fantasy is a spectrum - you will find a range of opinions on what constitutes High Fantasy. Though if you know Tolkien then you'd know he was fairly adamant that the series was set on Earth albeit in the past. Still... good luck with that.

    Essentially: The genre itself is more of a marker for a serious and epic focus in an alternate or fantastical world. The good vs evil aspect has fallen away some with author's like George R. R. Martin so the definition is changing and while there is magic - it is not as prevalent as many others. I doubt that either of those two aspects will remain necessary for the "High Fantasy" label in the coming decades.
     
  24. plothog
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    While I don't think prevalent magic probably is necessary to define something as High Fantasy, if you strip away too many of the fantastical elements then it becomes Low Fantasy.

    George R. R. Martin I don't think is so much changing the definition of High Fantasy, as positioning his work in the grey area between where high fantasy stops and Low Fantasy begins.
    This page actually classifies A Song of Fire and Ice as low fantasy.

    http://bestfantasybooks.com/low-fantasy.html

    I'm not sure I'd go that far. If you were to view High Fantasy to Low Fantasy as a spectrum, then it's not clearly at either end of the scale. - Calling it either doesn't seem useful in making it clear to readers what sort of thing it is.

    If I'd written something similar to Game of Thrones, I'd be more inclined to try and sell it as Epic Fantasy or Gritty Fantasy, (or Epic Gritty Fantasy), subgenres which it more clearly falls into.
     
  25. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Oi! Get back here you scabby squire! How dare you leave your post without the King's permission? <clouts you in the ear> Now listen up, 'cause I'm only going to say this once, boy. Or girl -- y'know what, I don't care. Women can join the blood army if they want, not a problem for me.

    <clears throat>

    Now, a 'high fantasy', as me eyes understand it involves a few crucial things:

    - Kingdoms and rivalry. Politics and feuding noblemen vying for control. A strict class system where you are what you're born in. I'm a knight, see, like my pappy and his pappy before him and so on. Very rarely do you see peasants taking up swords and becoming knights; they'd have to prove their worth to someone of nobility...or to our King. Oh, and you swear loyalty to the King or whoever you serve under and he (or she) gets to make all the laws and judge you accordingly. Best hope they're at least somewhat reasonable.

    - A war is optional. Usually there, but optional.

    - Deities who are, of course real and They do whatever They wish to us mortals. Some of us may or may not actually be able to speak to them or be their champion/avatar for the rest of us, but yes, Deities are real and you'd best watch out for them. Oh, and all sorts of religion and the like.

    - Critters born from our worst nightmares. Lots of them. Lost me pappy to a dire bear when I was but a wee lad. <sniffles>

    - Magic. Magical races. A ton of them. The whole world revolves around magic. This is optional, methinks, but that's what I've read. <shrugs> The races can be whatever you want, or they can be the elves, dwarves and the like.

    - Set in a world of tunics, swords, and horses. No, there is no stick that explodes when you pull a trigger and makes someone yards away fall down. The closest we got are bows, crossbows and the big boys like catapults and the like. Oh, and that stuff about 'steam' or freaky eye cups that cover the eyes? That's...that's not here. I don't know what that is. But it's not this world.

    Any other questions, young Squire Brooks?

    - - -

    Sorry, sorry, I couldn't resist. :p That's basically my idea of what a high fantasy novel is like.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2015
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