Low Fantasy

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by Brian Turner, Jan 12, 2012.

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    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    I'm under the impression there's a subgenre called "low fantasy" where you have your classic ancient/mediaeval-style world, but the use of magic is very limited - as opposed to "high fantasy" where magic drives everything.

    So far Guy Gavriel Kay's works seem to fit this bill.

    However, am looking out for suggestions of anything else that might fit this, too. :)
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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    Fletcher Pratt's The Well of the Unicorn, if my memories from reading it so long ago are correct, would fit the bill, although I don't remember ever seeing it referred to as a work of "low fantasy."

    Btw, it was paperbacked by Lancer in the Sixties as being "Tolkienian."

    [​IMG]
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    AnyaKimlin

    AnyaKimlin Active Member

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    Would Indian in the Cupboard count? I am useless when it comes to fantasy sub-genres.
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    Ellen Kushner's Riverside books (Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword) are low fantasy, in fact they have no magic at all!

    The first book in my own trilogy is pretty low fantasy as well - there's some magic going on, but most of what the characters think is magic is actually fairly advanced technology :)
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    elvet

    elvet Easily amused

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    Pretty much anything by K.J.Parker. Magic has a very low profile in her books.
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    Or his. The jury is still out :)
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    psychotick

    psychotick Dangerously confused

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    Hi,

    I wasn't aware that there was such a genre. I thought, and I could well be wrong, that high fantasy was the Tolkein style stuff. Elves, dwarves, magic and epic quests. So logically low fantasy would be the fantasy that doesn't take this road. But equally this could be traditional fantasy and non-traditional.

    Cheers, Greg.
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    AMB

    AMB Advanced Muddle Brain

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    Wikipedia says low fantasy is fantasy that involves the real world.

    It also said Indian in the Cupboard was an example, so I guess that answers Anya's question.
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    Moggle

    Moggle New Member

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    Low fantasy is just not my thing. If the magic/fantasy aspects of the story don't drive the plot I don't see the point.
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    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

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    Even in low fantasy, it's very likely that what magic there is will drive the plot. If it didn't, I agree, it would be a bit pointless it being a fantasy.
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    Some writers are drawn to fantasy because it allows them to play at worldbuilding pre-industrial cultures similar to historical ones but not constrained by historical reality. A story like that doesn't need magic. The first volume of A Song of Ice and Fire has practically no overt magic in it*, and it's one of the most popular fantasy books of the last couple of decades.

    I get that it isn't everyone's cup of tea, but as someone who grew up on soft SF I actually prefer low fantasy to the fireballs'n'dragons school of high fantasy - which is one of the reasons I've delayed reading the rest of ASOIAF :)

    * Except the prologue and the last few chapters
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    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Active Member

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    I agree with Anne.

    I clicked on this thread thinking that low fantasy would be about people who weren't mighty nobles doing stuff that didn't involve saving/conquering the world, but if it just means "not much magic" then I'm happy with that. After all, not every crime drama includes machine guns, and it doesn't have to in order to be good.
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    J-WO

    J-WO Pretentious Avatar Alert.

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    Man, and I was hoping for some kind of Tolkien-meets-Bukowski kind of thing.

    Going by your definition, have you checked out Iain M. Banks' Inversions. Absolutely no magic in that one. Sort of. But the 'magic' isn't really magic...
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    thaddeus6th

    thaddeus6th Active Member

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    Aye, I agree with Miss Lyle as well.

    Incidentally, Miss Lyle, what sort of tech level does your first book have?
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    That's Mrs Lyle to you, sonny! :)

    The humans have the level of technology you'd expect for the late 16th century. The skraylings have an aptitude for chemistry and pharmacology that gives them some highly advanced technology such as chemoluminescents, but in other respects they are at a similar tech level to the most advanced Native American civilisations who are their neighbours (basically Neolithic verging on Bronze Age). I was partially inspired in this by the Ancient Egyptians, who had some surprisingly sophisticated skills (faking precious metals and gems) early in the Bronze Age.

    I admit there's a certain amount of handwaving on the tech side - but that's one of the reasons it's fantasy, not SF. I try to make it believable but I don't poke into the scientific detail too much. I'm writing for fun!
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    thaddeus6th

    thaddeus6th Active Member

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    Sorry, ma'am.

    :p

    Cheers.
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    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    Indeed, but I've noticed books like Erikson's Malazan series being lauded as epic High Fantasy, but there are no elves and dwarfs in that - just a ton of magic that drives everything.

    As fantasy seems to be turning away from trying to mirror Tolkien, my impression is that the term High Fantasy now relates to how prevalent magic is in the world of a story.

    No idea if I'm right on any level, but "Low Fantasy" seemed a good term to start with. I'm not aware of any other genre definitions that define fantasy works with very limited use of magic/technology in a mediaeval setting.
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    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

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    Seems to me the common-sense definition is: high fantasy = very fantastical; low fantasy = not very fantastical.

    I'd suggest that a story with talking dragons, non-human races etc would be high fantasy even if it had very little magic. But I agree it doesn't necessarily indicate a cast of kings and knights.
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    True. Swordspoint has no kings or knights - in fact it makes a point of mentioning that there are aristocrats but no king any more. It's more 17th/18th century in flavour.
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    AnyaKimlin

    AnyaKimlin Active Member

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    Wish I knew the differences of the sub-genres lol

    I thought but purely gleaned from wikkipedia that High Fantasy was a lot of magic and set on different world or within a different part of our world.

    Low Fantasy was little magic and set on Earth.

    I became even more confused when recently I discovered mine couldn't be high fantasy as despite having another world, lots of races and a magic system it was set in a timeframe contemporary to our own.

    Now I don't know ...
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2012

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