Explained: What is the Difference Between High Fantasy and Low Fantasy?

 

Most of the new fantasy books of 2019 fit into one of two categories: high fantasy or low fantasy. High fantasy is not just a book on the top shelf, and low fantasy isn’t for readers feeling a bit gloomy. Each of these sub-genres has unique elements that help fill the world with different but both equally enjoyable types of fantasy fiction.

But what is the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy? This blog provides a brief explanation.

What is High Fantasy?

High fantasy is typically what you associate with the crazy, sword and sorcery idea of modern fantasy fiction. Some of the best fantasy books, such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, will immediately spring to mind, but essentially high fantasy is any story set in its own unique world.

When you fantasy short stories here on The Azrian Portal, you’ll find examples of high fantasy; a world that is set within a place that follows its own rules. It’s a universe separate from our own. You’ll find that it clearly isn’t the real world, be it filled with creatures, Gods, monsters, magic or anything else that definitely isn’t part of normal world constructs.

High fantasy will also have its own history and mythology. Fairy tales are often high fantasy, as our own examples of mythology, such as Ancient Greek Gods and Norse Mythology. Another famous example of high fantasy would be Star Wars.

Jedi. Magic. Bizarre creatures. No Earth in sight. Rules of physicals and nature that go beyond our own. High fantasy doesn’t have to be something akin to Middle Earth, although you’ll find it typical is in most cases.

What is Low Fantasy?

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Low fantasy is a combination of the real world and fantasy elements. It takes what we know, places we are familiar with, and intertwines them with fantastical elements that totally change how the world actually works.

Twilight is a very popular example of low fantasy, as is Conan the Barbarian and Marvel movie franchise. All of these -- well, most of the Marvel movies -- are set on Earth but introduce some form of fantasy.

What is the Difference Between High Fantasy and Low Fantasy? Is There a Grey Area?

If high fantasy is a new and epic world, low fantasy is a world in which we know populated by a finite amount of things that aren’t what we’d consider normal. They differ in that one is entirely out of somebody's own mind, and the other is taking new ideas and combining them with reality.

Both have exciting options for storytelling and both are insanely popular brands of fiction. On The Azrian Portal, all fiction is set with Azra, so I guess you could call every story high fantasy. However, many of the tales don’t involve out-of-this-world elements, but instead focus on subtle changes to an easily recognisable world, which might be considered low fantasy. In this way, the line can become blurred. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate low fantasy from high fantasy.

This is why many argue that Game of Thrones could be considered low fantasy, as a lot of it is very character driven. However, the existence of dragons, an ice wall, walking dead and other elements make it difficult to place in this category. However, there are other more uncertain examples.

Ever heard of this fellow called Harry Potter? Thought not.

Harry Potter is considered low fantasy, sort of. It’s set in the real world, but a wizarding world also exists, which is high fantasy. This is similar to works like Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia and so on, where both reality and a false-reality exist.

Sometimes fantasy stories are both low and high fantasy.

Is that confusing? Yes.

Does it alter our enjoyment of the story? Hell nah.

At the end of the day, fantasy is perhaps the most complicated branch of fiction, and that’s probably why it’s so popular and engaging. So, in summary, often there are differences between high fantasy and low fantasy, and sometimes they are one-in-the-same.