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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Why is the word so synonymous with sword and sorcery type stuff?  Isn't anything that couldn't happen in real life technically "fantasy?"    If someone were to write a book set in modern times with a fantastical storyline that had nothing to do with elves, trolls, knights and quests and labeled it fantasy, would that annoy people?  Would they get all defensive and say, "That's not fantasy?"  If so, what would you call such a book, if its not sci-fi, not horror, not fantasy? 
 

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I think there are two answers here -- one is the "real" answer and one is the "expected" answer.

The "expected" answer is that most people think of Lord of the Rings or Conan the Barbarian when they hear the word fantasy. Just as they also think Star Wars or Star Trek when they hear Science Fiction. But the fact is that in those genres there is a wide, wide, wide range of stories and types.

The "real" answer -- when I come across somebody who say "I don't like fantasy," I usually tell them "yes, you do, you just don't it". I then point out that The Lovely Bones is fantasy -- the book is told from the viewpoint of dead girl. The classic Beloved by Toni Morrison is fantasy -- unless you can prove the existence of ghosts (maybe someday this won't be fantasy, but for now it is). Anything labelled "magic realism" is fantasy. Usually after a few examples, the person gives me a "Hmmm. I hadn't thought of it that way."

Now, I don't expect this person to go pick up the latest China Mieville new weird fantasy, but then again, Mieville's last few books are being sold under the all-encompassing Fiction instead of Fantasy where he used to be sold.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
S Jaffe said:
I think there are two answers here -- one is the "real" answer and one is the "expected" answer.

The "expected" answer is that most people think of Lord of the Rings or Conan the Barbarian when they hear the word fantasy. Just as they also think Star Wars or Star Trek when they hear Science Fiction. But the fact is that in those genres there is a wide, wide, wide range of stories and types.

The "real" answer -- when I come across somebody who say "I don't like fantasy," I usually tell them "yes, you do, you just don't it". I then point out that The Lovely Bones is fantasy -- the book is told from the viewpoint of dead girl. The classic Beloved by Toni Morrison is fantasy -- unless you can prove the existence of ghosts (maybe someday this won't be fantasy, but for now it is). Anything labelled "magic realism" is fantasy. Usually after a few examples, the person gives me a "Hmmm. I hadn't thought of it that way."

Now, I don't expect this person to go pick up the latest China Mieville new weird fantasy, but then again, Mieville's last few books are being sold under the all-encompassing Fiction instead of Fantasy where he used to be sold.
I tend to think of Star Wars as fantasy, myself.
 

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The "real" answer -- when I come across somebody who say "I don't like fantasy," I usually tell them "yes, you do, you just don't it".
Lol! I'm going to have to borrow that line.

There are so many different kinds of fantasy nowadays. I used to think of fantasy in strictly Lord of the Rings terms, but there is urban fantasy, paranormal romance, magical realism, etc.

I think you're right...fantasy comes in all shapes and sizes.
 

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Patrick -- Yes, Star Wars is fantasy (I've heard some call it Science Fantasy) but the perception of those who aren't genre fans is that it is SF.

Mscott -- Borrow away.  I figure the more people out there who realize they actually like some types of fantasy, the better for those of us writing it.
 

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To me words, especially labels of things like genre, are utterly useless if they don't have very clear meanings/narrow definitions.

A genre label is only useful if you hear it and know exactly what types of stories fall in that genre.  So I like that fantasy is used to mean elves/dragons/dwarfs sword and sorcery stuff.  And other things like stories with ghosts get called "paranormal fiction" or whatever the current genre label for that type of stuff is.

Specific labels are an easy way to tell right of the bat if a book is in your area of interest or not.
 

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Tolkien-style fantasy is usually called high fantasy, isn't it?

I'm reading the Fantasy Masterworks edition of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers at the moment. It's got a bit of low-key magic knocking around, but it mostly reads like a sci-fi time travel story. Magic is generally the mechanism for the fantastical elements, but its used to achieve fairly science-fictional ends.

Still counts as fantasy, but it's an entirely different animal to high fantasy.
 

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Sean Cunningham said:
Tolkien-style fantasy is usually called high fantasy, isn't it?

I'm reading the Fantasy Masterworks edition of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers at the moment. It's got a bit of low-key magic knocking around, but it mostly reads like a sci-fi time travel story. Magic is generally the mechanism for the fantastical elements, but its used to achieve fairly science-fictional ends.

Still counts as fantasy, but it's an entirely different animal to high fantasy.
Aaah! Gimme gimme! Tim Powers is one of my favourite authors, but I've never been able to get hold of Anubis Gates. Not in the library, not anywhere. I once saw it for sale at a second hand shop but it was too expensive. In retrospect, I should have bought it. Sorry for the Off Topic comment - could not resist.

Edited: Oh I've just found that same Masterworks edition on Amazon Kindle Yay! It was not available in my region last time i checked :)
 

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PatrickWalts said:
If someone were to write a book set in modern times with a fantastical storyline that had nothing to do with elves, trolls, knights and quests and labeled it fantasy, would that annoy people? Would they get all defensive and say, "That's not fantasy?" If so, what would you call such a book, if its not sci-fi, not horror, not fantasy?
Urban fantasy. Setting "fantastical" creatures or situations in modern setting.
 

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Amyshojai said:
Urban fantasy. Setting "fantastical" creatures or situations in modern setting.
Agreed. Calling something urban fantasy or contemporary fantasy is generally good enough to indicate that it isn't all elves and swords and people with apostrophes in their names.
 

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For me, the simplest answer (since I like sci-fi and alternative histories) is the inclusion of 'magic.' Things that are not supported by at least imagineable science (like the technologies in sci-fi) or the behavior of real people in alt. histories.

Of course it's not a black and white line, but that's what does it for me....that's one reason I'm not into horror....not that interested in stuff people can just 'make up.'

The Stand by Stephen King is my favorite book and the entire Randall Bragg character could easily have been just as relevant for me if he had no mystical 'powers.' He could have been written as just a bad guy with a great cult of personality, IMO. For me, I practically skimmed over stuff like that in the book....
 

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This is exactly why I love Shelfari and GoodReads. Instead of relying on a generic idea of what 'fantasy' is, I can reference a book I'm interested in by who is reading it (and what's on their bookshelves, and what else they've read, etc.)

I'm not a huge fan of high fantasy, but at the same time, I don't want to skip over a potentially good book because it was labeled as high fantasy.
 

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mashadutoit said:
Edited: Oh I've just found that same Masterworks edition on Amazon Kindle Yay! It was not available in my region last time i checked :)
/cheer.

I struggled with and failed to finish a couple of syndicated fiction novels before this, so it was nice to hit a book of genuine quality. The Kindle sample grabbed me very quickly.

It's interesting too to read a book that might sort of sit with urban fantasy these days, but isn't cheesy like a lot of modern urban fantasy. There's humour in it and it's put a smile on my face several times so far, but it's humour of the kind where the characters don't know it's humour. I like me some cheese, but this is a much more satisfying meal.

On the subject of not high fantasy fantasy, I think Charles De Lint was writing urban fantasy before there was much out there and the term came into common usage. (Correct me if I'm wrong on that one. For a long time, the only urban fantasy I knew of was him.) My copies of his books are back in Australia so I can't check them, but I remember one having a former Mafia hitman and the forest god Pan in it.
 

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I myself is a little confused about the different fantasies and the rules around them. I was wondering must all fantasy writing deal with a bad guy good guy theme. What if you have a setting in another world and there is no real villain character to say. I like to read fantasy too. I just called anything fantasy that had a virtual look to it fantasy. :) Well, I'm lost.  ???
 

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Yes I would agree that de Lint is Urban Fantasy.  I only discovered him recently - another favourite.

But Tim Powers is one of a kind.  He had me believing that Edison invented the telephone so he could communicate with ghosts.  I made myself a  "Dinner at Deviant's Palace"  T-shirt, I'm that hooked. :)
 

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msdanielle28 said:
I myself is a little confused about the different fantasies and the rules around them. I was wondering must all fantasy writing deal with a bad guy good guy theme. What if you have a setting in another world and there is no real villain character to say. I like to read fantasy too. I just called anything fantasy that had a virtual look to it fantasy. :) Well, I'm lost. ???
There is a lot of what I would call fantasy that totally does not have a clear bad / good guy split. In fact, a lot of it is actually about how difficult it can be to distinguish one from the other. Ursula le Guin, Charles de Lint, Jonathan Stroud, and so many others use this as a way to drive their stories.
 

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Harry Potter books are fantasy and they don't fit any of the descriptions in that article about how to classify your fantasy book.

I always thought that fantasy covered anything that couldn't happen in normal life.  Any type of magic woven into a book makes it a fantasy in my mind.
 

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SSantore said:
Harry Potter books are fantasy and they don't fit any of the descriptions in that article about how to classify your fantasy book.
Actually, it fits Epic Fantasy pretty well:

"Typically a series of books that revolve around a quest." - This is definitely Harry Potter - a series of 7 books over which his ultimate quest is to defeat Voldemort. In each book, he faces different individual quests that are linked to his ultimate one. That's a very classic element of fantasy.

"Think sword fights, medieval weapons, and damsels in distress." - Okay, there might not be a very traditional sword fight from what I can remember but Gryffindor's Sword is used more than once as a crucial part of the plot. Damsels in distress aren't a common theme but Ginny definitely serves as one of them in the second book (Chamber of Secrets).

At the same time, it could also be High Fantasy - even though the magical world co-exists along side the "muggle" world, Rowling has created a whole fictional world that is completely separate from our own. Although it is not a parallel universe, it's quite similar.

So I'd say Harry Potter has elements of both.

Wikipedia has info on distinguishing between High Fantasy and Low Fantasy in which Harry Potter is specifically mentioned as an example of "world within a world" High Fantasy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_fantasy#Distinguishing_between_subgenres

But Wikipedia defines High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy as the same: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_fantasy while listing "Sword and Sorcery" separately: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_and_sorcery (while the other article linked it with Epic Fantasy). Probably because these sub-genres commonly overlap so they are all related anyway.

They also list several other subgenres of fantasy the other article doesn't mention like Historical Fantasy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_fantasy
 

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Long ago, far away, the debate that raged in literature was whether fiction should reflect real life or be used as an opportunity to expand beyond that.  The two big shots in that debate were from the upper crust of literature at the time, H.G. Wells and James Joyce.  These were the days before "genre" anything.  Oh how I long for those days :)  With regards to 'fantasy', there is a reason many people have started using 'speculative fiction' as a term for books like Lovely Bones, Life of Pi, The Road, and Year of the Flood.

Cheers --- Larry
 
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