High Fantasy vs Historical Fantasy

Brian G Turner

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#1
I really liked the point made here in another thread:

Brandon Sanderson is really the only author in fantasy keeping the true spirit of the genre alive and kicking. "Gritty fantasy" which has taken over the shelves, and is in the rage right now, is nothing more than historical fiction with a small dab of fantasy thrown in to make it a "fantasy" novel.
Certainly "low fantasy" stories seems much more common these days, but are still put under the banner of "epic fantasy".

Is it time we classed these works solely as Historical Fantasy and keep Epic Fantasy reserved for High Fantasy stories full of magic?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, is the fantasy genre simply growing in size and appeal to overlap with the best in Historical Fiction?

Just a discussion starter. :)
 

alchemist

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#2
Is it time we classed these works solely as Historical Fantasy and keep Epic Fantasy reserved for High Fantasy stories full of magic?
Yes!

Much of modern fantasy appears to be Fantasy without the fantastical. They may still be excellent stories, set in made up countries on made up worlds, but if the same rules of physics apply, it isn't fantasy in my book.
 

Freya Robertson

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#3
Great topic! The fantasy genre does seem to encompass a variety of different sub types. I thought it was interesting while watching Game of Thrones (I read it afterward) that the first series is pretty much purely historical, with the fantastical element only really entering right at the end and into the second series. But does "epic" fantasy mean only "high" fantasy in terms of a large percentage of magical element, or does the "epic" refer to scope, in terms of a vast landscape, numerous plot threads and a wide cast of characters, in which case the magic can be secondary or almost non existent? If there is no fantastical element at all then it should be pure historical fiction, but what do we call fiction that has a medieval (or other era) feel but is set in a fictional world? No idea. Good topic though.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#4
Is it time we classed these works solely as Historical Fantasy and keep Epic Fantasy reserved for High Fantasy stories full of magic?
That would imply that most low fantasy works are more true to the historical periods in question than perhaps they are. And if something takes place in an imaginary world with it's own history quite different from our own, I wouldn't, personally, call it historical fantasy. For me, it would have to take place in our own world, at some period in our past, with mythology or magic appropriate to the period added to make it fantasy.
 

Brian G Turner

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#5
Yeah, I think I'm going off on a tangent here - I do find historical fiction is no guarantee of historical research, though!
 

Jonathan C

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#6
That would imply that most low fantasy works are more true to the historical periods in question than perhaps they are. And if something takes place in an imaginary world with it's own history quite different from our own, I wouldn't, personally, call it historical fantasy. For me, it would have to take place in our own world, at some period in our past, with mythology or magic appropriate to the period added to make it fantasy.
Pretty much this. History isn't fantasy without the fantastical stuff.

Plus, historical fiction tends to be very, very simplified, even the best and most complicated works, to make it more novel-like. In some respects, historical fiction is more like fantasy than fantasy.
 

Erin99

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#7
Moggle said:
Brandon Sanderson is really the only author in fantasy keeping the true spirit of the genre alive and kicking. "Gritty fantasy", which has taken over the shelves and is in the rage right now, is nothing more than historical fiction with a small dab of fantasy thrown in to make it a "fantasy" novel.
I've often said this! YES! Except, I'm with Teresa - the term "historical fantasy" should only apply to fantasy set in our history, like Anne Lyle is doing. Maybe a slightly different meaning would work. Fantasy Realism, Second-world Realism, or something?

But yes, I'm very keen to try Brandon Sanderson after I've finished Robert Jordan. He was huuugely inspired by Jordan, and Jordan, for me, is the best epic fantasy (with exceptionally well-done magic, tons and tons of magic - yaaaay!) author ever, with AMAZING plots (I'm on book 5 now, and OMG!!!).

I love it when a fantasy actually is, well, fantastical. That, for me, is what it's about. If I wanted to read history, I'd look up one of the many varied and interesting history books out there on a different country - the truth often is stranger than fiction - or I'd look up historical fiction if I wanted a tale loosely based on history. :)

That's why my partner and I ARE writing "fantasy", after all. We love the fantastical. Fantasy should provide what precious few other genres do - show other worlds and peoples that leave readers astounded and awed by what goes on, that leave a sense of breathless wonder as readers close the book. It doesn't even have to have much magic - indeed, magic is only one small part of what makes a fantasy - if the world is so vastly different to anything I've seen and the places look and feel real and astounding. That, for me, is why I love fantasy.
 

randomfromamber

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#9
Is it time we classed these works solely as Historical Fantasy and keep Epic Fantasy reserved for High Fantasy stories full of magic?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, is the fantasy genre simply growing in size and appeal to overlap with the best in Historical Fiction?
I think the fantasy genre is becoming more porous and more mixed up (not just with Historical Fiction). That's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned, but I can see why some people might not like it. Then again, maybe that variety has always been there, just maybe not getting as much attention?
 

alternatesanity

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#10
Does fantasy have to have high magic and strange beasties in it?
Fantasy implies an unreal world compared with that of our own, an imaginary world and if it is set in an historical type context, being fantasy it does not have to be historically accurate to retain credibility.
Epic fantasy is something I think of as involving a complex plot and requiring several volumes such as with Tolkien or Donaldson, not because it is full of magic and fantastical creatures/beings. Perhaps there is some validity to including several sub-genera but the fact the story is 'fantasy' must be made clear. I don't think the term 'historical' is suitable, it implies some link to actual history, perhaps 'pre-industrial' or something similar.
 

Nerds_feather

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#12
I find a lot of the sub-genre labels overlap and crosscut in confusing ways. Low/high fantasy; epic fantasy; sword & sorcery; historical fantasy; military fantasy; mythic fantasy, etc.

Most series I can think of fit into more than one of these boxes, which begs the question: why do we have so many and how useful are they, really?
 

Jonathan C

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#13
We have so many genres because we have so many books, and they are useful to fans who liked one book and want to read something similar afterwards, and useful to sellers and publishers in order to cater to that. An explosion of sub-genres just means that there has been an explosion of works. Plus, it means more people are reading.
 

Nerds_feather

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#14
We have so many genres because we have so many books, and they are useful to fans who liked one book and want to read something similar afterwards, and useful to sellers and publishers in order to cater to that. An explosion of sub-genres just means that there has been an explosion of works. Plus, it means more people are reading.
I'd agree if there was a rational set of categories that neatly split the genre into easily understood sub-segments.
 

Jonathan C

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#15
Rationality is not the same thing as neatness. You might as well say that Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi and Romance should all be classified as the same genre, since they all blur at times. Most things in life fit into several categories.
 

Connavar

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#17
Nah this doesnt make sense at all to me who prefer Low fantasy/S&S or whatever you want to call down to earth heroic fantasy. Most authors that are good with it dont use historical setting. Gemmell,Kearney and co use invented fantasy world that is only inspired by history just like High/Epic fantasy.

High Fantasy use history as much.
 

Gumboot

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#18
I think the problem is really that fantasy shouldn't actually be a genre. I mean, think about it? What defines fantasy? Can anyone think of a single characteristic of fantasy that isn't a characteristic of some other genre?
 

Gumboot

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#19
I really liked the point made here in another thread:



Certainly "low fantasy" stories seems much more common these days, but are still put under the banner of "epic fantasy".

Is it time we classed these works solely as Historical Fantasy and keep Epic Fantasy reserved for High Fantasy stories full of magic?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, is the fantasy genre simply growing in size and appeal to overlap with the best in Historical Fiction?

Just a discussion starter. :)


In my opinion "epic" denotes the scale of the story, not whether it has magic or fantastical elements. For example I would describe Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles as epic historic fiction because it spans several lives, and deals with the survival of an entire culture at the cusp of world-changing events (the collapse of the Roman Empire).

By contrast a fantasy novel could be about a student of magic training and then learning his craft and graduating to become a magician, and though it would be crammed full of magic and the fantastical I wouldn't call it "epic" at all.
 

Brian G Turner

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#20
Is it time we classed these works solely as Historical Fantasy and keep Epic Fantasy reserved for High Fantasy stories full of magic?
A casual remark by a chronner some time ago came back to haunt me recently - they said they were unlikely to read anything from my Chronicles of Empire series because they didn't read fantasy - though they do enjoy historical fiction as well as science fiction.

Which came back to me while having another binge-read on historical fiction books, because there's no magic - or anything supernatural - in Chronicles of Empire. In fact, the chronicles series was always written to be secondary world historical fiction, so it's probably better classed as Historical Fantasy.

Now I've just got to figure a way to communicate this, aside from sticking it in the Historical Fiction category on Amazon - and calling it so. :)
 

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