Friday, May 30, 2008

Understanding Fantasy Genres - Part 2

In Understanding Fantasy Genres - Part 1, we looked at epic fantasy, high fantasy, adventure fantasy, comedy fantasy, heroic fantasy, and urban fantasy in an effort to aid the fantasy novelist in pitching their book to publishers interested in specifics. In part 2, we'll continue to define popular fantasy sub genres.

Sword and Sorcery

This genre tag is self-explanatory. Sword and Sorcery involves tales of high adventure in a medieval setting. Stories involving King Arthur, Merlin, or the Knights of the Round Table (Arthurian Fantasy) are included within the Sword and Sorcery genre in which sword-wielding heroes battle the bad guys.

In Joanne Hall's Hierath Trilogy, young King Alex fights various enemies throughout the kingdom, but each battle links to the same villian. The one who ripped the kingdom from Alex's hands and kidnapped his child. With his sword, trusty steed and a handful of friends this sword and sorcery fantasy hero fights his way through three novels.

Dark Fantasy/Horror

Dark fantasy/horror involves supernatural beings or monsters. Vampires falls into this category. The supernatural element is what makes it fantasy.

Stephen King's dark fantasy works include the nightmarish, darker side of magic creatures, evil and demons. In his dark fantasy novel Thinner, his main character, Billy, wanted to lose a few pounds. It's something many readers relate to in the real world. He has an accident, sideswipes a car belonging to a gypsy's daughter. This results in the old gypsy cursing him with one word--thinner. The curse works as the agent of change. That one-word topples Billy into to the realm of dark fantasy. Six weeks later and ninety-three pounds lighter, he becomes terrified. Desperate choices lead him to a nightmarish showdown with forces responsible for dwindling body mass.

Magic Realism

In Magic Realism, magic (although it isn't always referred to as magic) is an expected part of the culture and belief system. The setting itself can be modern or not, with an element of change such as technology or unexplained science which instills a new set of parameters as to how things work. It may even involve an alternate or parallel world.

In Alice Hoffman's The River King, division splits the small town of Haddan, Massachusetts, separating those born in the village from those who attend the prestigious Haddan School. The "magic" agent of change is an inexplicable death which unravels the town's complex history.

Often these stories can be referred to as thrillers or action/adventure. The realism aspect involves limitations and consequences to 'the magic' cure, fix or discovery which in the real world rests beyond the realm of possibility.

Romantic Fantasy

A romantic thread can run through any of these sub genres. If the central theme is romance and your main character learns they possess either magical or psychic powers, then your novel is Romantic Fantasy.

In Kelley Heckart's first book, Of Water and Dragons, she weaves together Roman history and Celtic lore of ancient Britain, creating an unforgettable story of love and sacrifice. One of the main characters is a faery woman, which adds the fantasy element to the novel.

What About Speculative Fiction?

What about speculative fiction? Does it fit into the fantasy genre?

Speculative fiction is often set in a distant future-but not always. Because of high-tech futuristic technology some would place this in the Science Fiction genre-and that would be right--sometimes. But what of time travel fantasy?

Light at the Edge of Darkness presents a collection of Spec Fiction written from a Christian perspective. Within these pages, futuristic characters travel across time or within time. This ability provides the magical agent of change allowing someone in the future to return to biblical times. This is only one among several scenarios presented in this unique, controversial book. Not all speculative fiction is fantasy, but some fantasy is speculative fiction.


hierath said...

I think I'm going to have to check out "The River King", sounds interesting!

Ironically, I've sold a lot of short stories that gently mock the conventions of sword and sorcery, while writing S&S novels at the same time. Do you think that's allowed? ;)

Donna Sundblad said...

Oh I'd say that's allowed. With all the readers and interests out there, the boundaries of fantasy related articles and stories are as endless as the imagination.