Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Fantasy: The Unreality

By Kayla LH
© 2005, Kayla LH

As far back as anyone can remember, and probably even farther than that, people have dreamed. In the beginning, these dreams were spun into stories, told around a blazing fire. Audiences would become utterly enthralled by tales of bravery, of magnificent and horrifying creatures, and of strong characters shoving past obstacles that stood in their way. The vigorous, the frail, the bitter -- each had backgrounds to unfurl.

Magic eventually added itself into the brew, resulting in wizards, spells, potions, and gods of old. As these stories engraved themselves into a history all their own, they became the building blocks known as legends, myths, folklore -- and what we now consider fantasy.

The realm of fantasy cannot be stuffed easily into a manila folder and labeled. There are several subgenres, each stretching the invisible boundaries of this unreality. Some of the more popular subgenres are often cited as contemporary, high, sword and sorcery, and dark. Each has individual characteristics that distinguish it from the others, creating a jewelry box of carved, pristine gems for readers and writers to pick from as they desire.

Contemporary fantasy, also known as modern or urban fantasy, frequently takes a current-world character and plunges her headfirst into a surreal land, such as in the Chronicles of Narnia. Just as common are mythical creatures living on Earth; Charles de Lint has written several urban fantasy books which feature a North American city called Newford and its mythical mysteries. Holly Black’s Tithe is another such book. Faeries, goblins, kelpies; the beautiful and the wicked are continuously greeted with Human-presence, be it in their world or ours.

Possibly the most widely written subgenre, high fantasy draws on both pre-written and original folklore. Races such as the “kender” of the Dragonlance series serve kindness and quirky humor, while the vicious personalities of the Fae from Anne Bishop’s Tir Alainn series startle the reader -- right after they exhale that breath of fresh air upon the realization that not all fantasy works spew the same tales over and over again. The dreams of every writer are spurred on by something written before them, to be changed and altered into something similar but irrevocably new. Unlike low fantasy, where magic is not the focus of the world, high fantasy is driven by characters attuned to their magic. If nothing else comes from such a genre, it is the creation of the original while celebrating the old.

Sword and sorcery, often associated with Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game, is set in the imagined world of the creator, much like high fantasy. The key difference lies in that while high fantasy focuses on that magic of the world, sword and sorcery, according to Wikipedia, “is more concerned with immediate physical threats.”  Also known as epic fantasy, it focuses on the darker side of the often cliché too-good-to-be-true realms other fantasy genres might present. In Pool of Radiance by James M. Ward and Jane Cooper Hong, three aspiring adventurers travel through graveyards and mage towers, each on his own personal quest, seeking a way to clear the area around their beloved city of Phlan. Michael A. Stackpole’s The DragonCrown War Cycle highlights a group of unlikely heroes, such as is the genre’s trademark, who travel to defeat their world’s biggest threat. Thieves can become martyrs, elves can lose their ancestral homes, and dragons are not dolls in which to stick pin-sized blades. In sword and sorcery novels, even with their realms full of magic, it is realized that blades are needed just as much as spells, and vice versa.

Brimming with the crueler side effects and adventures in life, dark fantasy deals in twisted tales of blood, murder, and deception. Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels trilogy reveals the inner workings of dangerous deceivers, fierce but loyal “demon-dead,” and a fair-haired but powerful child called Witch. In this subgenre, the horrifying walk the streets, whole-scale slaughters may ensue; or maybe there will be just a few small sacrifices that have the reader shaken by the time she finally closes the book. The unusual comes to light, the nightmares no one wants to remember written in crimson ink. Darkness lurks around every corner, kisses might have a bite behind them, and one must never discount rumors entirely.

Fantasy bends the rules of reality, creating beings and things that none can see in the normal world. Unlike science fiction, it is a realm driven not by technology, but by magic. What is there might not be the next time you look -- because it fluttered away on tiny, incandescent wings...

Tithe by Holly Black, publisher Simon Pulse, ISBN:  0689867042

 Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, publisher Harper Collins, ISBN: 0066238501

War of Souls Trilogy (Dragonlance) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, publisher Wizards of the Coast , ISBN:  0786930020

Shadows and Light (Tir Alainn) by Anne Bishop, publisher Roc, ISBN:  0451458990

Fortress Draconis (DragonCrown War Cycle) by Michael A. Stackpole, publisher Spectra, ISBN:  0553578499

The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop, publisher Roc, ISBN:  0451529014

The Pool of Radiance by James M. Ward and Jane Cooper Hong, publisher Wizards of the Coast, ISBN: 0880387351

The Sword and Sorcery quote is courtesy of