By Sierra Tufts-Sicard
As a reader, my favorite genre by far is fantasy. In the beginning, I didn’t care about the different categories of fantasy; I just wanted to read a book with magic. Now, I am a fantasy writer, and I’ve found that the two main categories of fantasy dictate the broad guidelines of the stories I write. First, let’s begin with a basic definition of fantasy. The most important thing to remember is that fantasy is a genre filled with magical and supernatural components that do not exist in this world. This is what separates it from science-fiction, as science-fiction could theoretically, although it’s unlikely, happen in our world since the components of this genre are based on actual science.
Now, onto the reason we’re here. You may have heard the phrases “high-fantasy” and “low-fantasy” in literary conversations before, but if you’re anything like I was, you might not know much about the differences between them. Still, you may gravitate to one or the other without even realizing it. Just answer this, would you rather read a novel about an entirely new world of fairies, or a novel about the existence of fairies in our world?
High-fantasy, also called epic fantasy, refers to stories that are based in a fictional world separate from our own. This type of fantasy takes writers a lot of time and effort because they are creating entirely new worlds just from their imagination. I’m talking religion, economy, magic, politics, language, and so much more (Lord of the Rings is a great example of this!). No two fantasy authors will ever create the same world; that’s what makes worldbuilding so fun. However, from an author’s perspective—specifically, mine—worldbuilding can also be terrifying. I’ve spent years building the world of my work-in-progress high-fantasy novel, and I still find holes that need to be filled in. From a reader’s perspective, though, a thoughtfully crafted world can be just as interesting and alluring as a novel’s plot.
On the other hand, low-fantasy is the subcategory of fantasy novels that are based in our world. These stories will frequently share similar characters, creatures, and magic (things like fairies, vampires, and witches to name a few), but the general idea is that these things have always existed in our world with or without humans having knowledge of their existence. Despite the fact that an entirely new world is not being created, authors of low-fantasy still have to do quite a bit of worldbuilding. How do these magical creatures interact with humans? Do they interact with humans at all? If humans don’t know about them, how do they stay hidden? These are just some of the many questions these authors have to answer.
As a reader and writer of both categories of fantasy, I see the merits of both. They each have their own set of challenges for the authors writing them, but this also means that they can easily have a corresponding level of intrigue for readers. Ultimately, the success of a story always comes down to how the author approaches and attempts to master their genre of choice.
Edited by Jackie Morgan