What Is High Fantasy And Low Fantasy?

The high fantasy genre is one of the most popular in the world of books.

There are many distinguishing features that make it what it is, from rich and vivid fantasy worlds to the monsters and magic that inhabit them.

Below, we take a comprehensive look at high fantasy. We look at what it is, its key features, and examples of high fantasy books, as well as taking take a look at its opposite number, low fantasy.

What Is The High Fantasy Genre?

Let’s start with a definition of what the high fantasy genre is.

The fundamental cornerstone that distinguishes high fantasy is its enchanting premise—a tale of wonder unfurls within an alternate realm, woven intricately with magical threads.

High fantasy is a genre rich with fantasy elements—magic, fantastical beasts, creatures and races, like dragons and orcs, and set in a unique secondary world.

Sometimes referred to as epic fantasy, this realm possesses distinctive markers within the fantastical tapestry: sprawling narratives that stretch across abundant pages, a multitude of characters breathing life into the world, a journey of purpose that commonly takes the form of a quest, and paramount above all, a secondary world that stands apart from our own reality.

High fantasy beckons with its grandiose stakes, where cosmic forces entwine in a symphony of opposition—good entangled in a dance with evil, the fate of worlds hanging precariously in the balance. Let’s take a more detailed look at its distinguishing features.

What Is Considered High Fantasy?

Within the sub-genre of high fantasy, narratives unfurl upon tapestries of boundless imagination, weaving intricate tales in settings estranged from what we’re familiar with. Over the years, the high fantasy genre has become well-known for certain features. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common

  • Fantasy Worlds – High fantasy beckons from the threshold of reality, inviting readers to traverse landscapes shaped by dreams and draped in otherworldly hues. A meticulously crafted map guides the curious wanderer, painting vivid images of sprawling kingdoms and uncharted territories, breathing life into the fictional land.
  • Epic Volumes – Fantasy books dare to sprawl, unfurling across tomes that whisper secrets between their pages. Some high fantasy books stretch out over scores of books. Some, like Raymond E Feist’s The Chaos War Saga, go on for over 20 books.
  • The Call to Adventure – At the heart of high fantasy lies an unrelenting challenge, a quest of monumental import that beckons heroes to carve their names into the annals of destiny. A journey as perilous as it is profound, their path unfolds through trials and tribulations that test their mettle and illuminate their true nature.
  • Multifaceted Characters – Names that linger on the lips like ancient incantations populate this realm, each character bearing a tapestry of experiences, motives, and aspirations. From noble champions to enigmatic wanderers, the cast forms a constellation of diverse souls intertwined by fate’s intricate threads.
  • Mythos and Beasts – Behold the myriad creatures that roam these boundless domains, from the majestic griffins soaring on ethereal winds to the sinister shadows lurking within forgotten groves. A pantheon of monsters and races, both familiar and uncanny, weaves an intricate dance of wonder and trepidation.
  • Magic – This courses through the veins of high fantasy like an ageless river, shaping destinies and defying the laws of nature. Spells weave incandescent tapestries, enchantments awaken dormant wonders, and the arcane arts propel the narrative forward with an ethereal symphony of possibilities.
  • Clashes of Destiny – Battles erupt in thunderous crescendos, where the clash of swords and the resonance of spells echo through the ages. Adventure, an unrelenting companion, weaves its threads through every step, turning mere mortals into legends forged in the crucible of conflict.
  • Tumultuous Stakes – At the heart of this grand tapestry, cosmic stakes entwine in a dance of light and shadow. The primal struggle of good versus evil ignites the heavens, propelling heroes to stand as beacons against the encroaching darkness, their purpose intertwined with the very fate of existence.
  • Intricate Narratives – Within this realm of wonder, plots unfold with the grace of a thousand interlocking gears, a labyrinthine dance of intrigue and revelation. Each twist and turn, a revelation in its own right, weaves a tapestry of suspense, beckoning readers to follow the entwined threads to their unforeseen culmination.

High Fantasy Books To Read

what is high fantasy
a guide to the high fantasy genre

High fantasy literature, a boundless tapestry woven from threads of imagination, unfurls its enchantment without boundaries of age or gender, embracing all who dare to tread its ethereal realms. Amidst this vibrant literary realm, a constellation of modern fantasy gems glimmers with diversity and ingenuity, casting a luminous spell that eclipses even the most hallowed classics.

While the mere mention of traditional fantasy conjures echoes of Tolkien’s grand sagas, the allure extends far beyond, encompassing the intricate folds of Greek mythology and the timeless allure of fairy tales. Yet, beneath this hallowed canopy, a kaleidoscope of contemporary high fantasy works beckons, each a dazzling star whose brilliance outshines even the revered constellations of old.

Notably, high fantasy dons a regal mantle within the realm of Young Adult readership, a potent elixir that grants authors the power to delve into themes that mirror the very pulse of modern youth. The echoes of these narratives reverberate in harmonious resonance with the aspirations, dilemmas, and dreams that shape the lives of the young.

Let’s take a look at some popular examples:

  • Lord Of The Rings, JRR Tolkien – All three books fall into the high fantasy genre: The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King
  • The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien – This is another famous high fantasy book and one that’s tailored more for a younger audience
  • Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J Maas
  • Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
  • Magician, Raymond E Feist
  • The Name Of The Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Chronicles Of The Raven, James Barclay
  • The Song Of Ice And Fire Series, George RR Martin
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

High Fantasy vs Low Fantasy

Diverging from the otherworldly realms of high fantasy, the tapestry of low fantasy unfolds upon the canvas of our own familiar world, a reflection of the reality we breathe. In contrast to whisking readers away on fantastical escapades, low fantasy scribes summon enchantment to dance within the very fibers of their readers’ existence. Here, the stage is no less than the “primary world,” the theater of our daily lives, where the ordinary and the extraordinary collide.

Within this genre’s embrace, myriad facets shine forth like the facets of a gem. It weaves together subgenres as diverse as the hues of a kaleidoscope—magical realism, where enchantment threads its way into the ordinary, urban fantasy with its supernatural cityscapes, historical fantasy that drapes historical epochs in magical attire, dystopian fiction, a reflection of our fears and hopes, and the dark tendrils of horror fantasy that grasp at our senses.

In this alchemical blend of reality and reverie, the tapestry of low fantasy unfurls, beckoning readers to explore the wonders that nestle in the interstices of our own lives.

If you need any more advice on the high fantasy genre and what it is, please get in touch.


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