Fantasy literature has long been a staple of the literary world.
From the works of J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis to George R.R Martin and Neil Gaiman, fantasy has become one of the most popular genres in books, films, television shows, and games.
But what is the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy?
In this article, we will explore the differences between the two.
What is High Fantasy
High fantasy is a type of fantasy genre that typically features epic themes, quests, grand adventures, and often includes elements of magic and mythical creatures. This type of fantasy often takes place in alternate worlds with their own unique cultures and histories. It typically involves a hero or group of heroes who embark on an epic journey to defeat an evil force or reclaim a lost land or kingdom. The stories tend to be more complex and imaginative, as they involve a great deal of world building and character development.
Low fantasy is a type of fantasy genre that typically features more realism and down-to-earth themes. It often takes place in the contemporary world or in a recognizable historical setting, and does not usually involve the same level of magical elements as high fantasy.
This type of fantasy often centers around stories of everyday life, and tends to focus on characters dealing with issues of identity, morality, and relationships. The stories tend to be more relatable and character-driven, as they often involve human protagonists dealing with realistic situations and conflicts that can be found in our own world.
Differences between the two
The main differences between high fantasy and low fantasy lie in the level of world building, the type of themes, and the scope of the stories. High fantasy often involves a great deal of world building to create a detailed alternate universe with its own cultures and histories.
On the other hand, low fantasy typically takes place in a recognizable historical setting or in our contemporary world. Additionally, high fantasy tends to focus on grand adventures and epic quests, while low fantasy stories are often more character-driven and down-to-earth.
Characteristics of High Fantasy
High fantasy typically involves a great deal of world-building to create a detailed alternate universe with its own cultures, histories, and unique creatures. The settings in high fantasy stories are often heavily influenced by medieval Europe, with castles, knights, kings, and queens being common elements. The characters embark on grand adventures and epic quests to defeat an evil force or reclaim a lost land or kingdom. Magic and mythical creatures are also often featured.
Magic and supernatural elements
Magic and supernatural elements often play a major role in high fantasy stories, with characters having access to magical abilities or items. These magical elements can range from spells and potions to magical artifacts and creatures. Additionally, many high fantasy stories feature mythical beings such as dragons, elves, dwarves, fairies, and other creatures of legend. These elements add a layer of excitement and mystery to the story.
Epic battles and quests
High fantasy stories often involve epic battles and quests. The characters embark on grand adventures as they face powerful enemies, dangerous obstacles, and mysterious forces. These battles and quests are essential to the story, as they help to create a sense of suspense and excitement. Additionally, the characters often must use their wits, courage, and strength in order to overcome these challenges.
High stakes and grandeur
High fantasy stories often have a grandeur and high stakes element to them. The characters are often faced with daunting challenges that have the potential to change entire worlds or kingdoms. Additionally, victory is usually associated with great rewards and benefits, such as wealth, power, and glory. This creates an exciting sense of tension and anticipation as the characters strive to achieve their goals and battle against seemingly insurmount able odds.
Examples of High Fantasy
The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is one of the most renowned works in the high fantasy genre. It tells the story of a quest to destroy an evil force, known as The Dark Lord Sauron, and save Middle-earth from destruction. The story follows a fellowship of nine companions, including hobbits, wizards, men, dwarves, and elves. Along their journey, they must face powerful enemies, dangerous obstacles, and mysterious forces. The story is full of epic battles and quests, magical creatures and items, and high stakes.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is an iconic work in the high fantasy genre. It tells the story of a civil war for control of the Seven Kingdoms, with multiple families vying for the Iron Throne. The story follows a large ensemble cast and features grand battles, epic quests, and dangerous obstacles. Magic and supernatural elements also play a major role in the story, as characters have access to magical abilities and items. Additionally, the stakes are high, as the fate of entire kingdoms hangs in the balance.
The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time is an acclaimed work of high fantasy by Robert Jordan. Set in a land called the Westlands, it follows a group of characters as they journey to save their world from an ancient evil known as the Dark One. Along their quest they must battle powerful enemies, face dangerous obstacles, and unravel mysterious forces. Magic and supernatural elements are also featured prominently throughout the story, with characters having access to magical abilities and items.
Characteristics of Low Fantasy
Realistic and familiar settings
Low fantasy stories often take place in a more realistic and familiar setting. These stories typically focus on the everyday life of its characters, exploring themes such as morality, personal identity, and social justice. While there may be supernatural or magical elements present in these stories, they are usually kept to a minimum and remain rooted in some form of reality. This creates an atmosphere that is both relatable and believable.
Little to no magic or supernatural elements
In contrast to high fantasy, low fantasy stories often feature little to no magic or supernatural elements. These stories typically focus on more realistic themes and settings, such as morality, social justice, and personal identity. The characters are usually grounded in reality and their struggles are often of a more mundane nature. This creates an atmosphere that is both relatable and believable for readers. Low fantasy stories may still feature elements of fantasy, such as mythical creatures and magical items, but they tend to be more subdued than in high fantasy stories.
Characters with relatable flaws
In low fantasy stories, characters often have relatable flaws and imperfections that readers can connect with. These characters are not always heroic or perfect, but instead possess human qualities and weaknesses that make them easily identifiable. Low fantasy stories often explore themes such as morality, personal identity, and social justice through the struggles of its characters. They may have to confront difficult moral dilemmas or battle against social injustice, making them more relatable and believable to readers.
Plots based on personal struggles and conflicts
Plots based on personal struggles and conflicts are a common element of low fantasy stories. These stories often focus on the struggles and conflicts of its characters, rather than grand epic battles or magical quests. The themes explored in these stories are usually more realistic and relatable to readers, touching on topics such as morality, social justice, and personal identity. Characters often have flaws and imperfections that make them more identifiable and their struggles are often of a more mundane nature. This creates an atmosphere that is both believable and relatable to readers.
Examples of Low Fantasy
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is a classic example of low fantasy. Set in the fictional wizarding world, the story follows Harry Potter as he discovers his magical abilities and battles against the evil Lord Voldemort. While there are many magical elements present in the story such as spells, potions, and mythical creatures, these elements remain rooted in some form of reality. The characters in the story are all flawed and have human qualities that make them relatable to readers. The struggles and conflicts faced by these characters are often of a more mundane nature, such as dealing with bullies or facing difficult moral dilemmas.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another great example of low fantasy. Set in the fictional nation of Panem, the story follows Katniss Everdeen as she battles against an oppressive government regime and participates in a deadly game designed to keep its citizens in line. While there are some fantastical elements present in the story, such as the Hunger Games themselves, these elements remain rooted in some form of reality. The characters in the story have relatable flaws and imperfections that make them identifiable to readers, and their struggles are often of a more mundane nature. This creates an atmosphere that is both believable and relatable to readers.
The Witcher is a great example of low fantasy. Set in the fictional world of The Continent, the story follows Geralt of Rivia as he battles monsters and navigates the political landscape of a war-torn kingdom. While there are many fantastical elements present in the story, such as magical creatures and powerful weapons, these elements remain rooted in some form of reality. The characters in the story have relatable flaws and imperfections that make them identifiable to readers, and their struggles are often of a more mundane nature. This creates an atmosphere that is both believable and relatable to readers.
Differences in Writing Style and Tropes
- Writing style for High Fantasy combines archaic and modern language whereas Low Fantasy uses modern language.
High fantasy stories often combine elements of both archaic and modern language in order to create a sense of grandeur and mystery. This combination of old-fashioned and contemporary words creates an atmosphere that is both magical and realistic. High fantasy stories tend to focus on grand epic battles, magical quests, and fantastical creatures, which can often require a more stylized writing approach that utilizes complex sentence structures and elaborate descriptions to bring the world to life.
Low fantasy stories, on the other hand, typically utilize modern language that is more relatable and accessible to readers. Low fantasy stories tend to focus on more personal struggles and conflicts, which are often rooted in reality. This requires a writing style that utilizes simple language and clear descriptions that bring everyday life into sharp focus.
- High Fantasy uses stock characters whereas Low Fantasy focuses on exploration of different shades of grey for protagonist and antagonist.
High fantasy stories tend to feature stock characters that are archetypal and represent good or evil. These characters are often presented as either black-and-white figures, with no room for exploration of their moral complexities. On the other hand, low fantasy stories tend to focus more on exploration of different shades of grey for both protagonist and antagonist. Characters in these stories are often flawed and relatable, allowing readers to empathize with their struggles and moral dilemmas.
- High Fantasy is known to have well-built worlds with great complexity and internally consistent whereas Low Fantasy creates stories that focuses more on relationships and dialogues rather than world building.
High fantasy is often known for its well-built worlds that contain a great complexity and internal consistency. These fictional universes come with their own intricate rules and systems, which are meticulously crafted to create a believable and immersive setting for the story world. Low fantasy, on the other hand, focuses more on relationships and dialogue than world building. Instead of focusing on expansive landscapes and complex rules, low fantasy stories focus on character development and interpersonal conflicts, creating a more intimate atmosphere.
High fantasy and low fantasy are two distinct genres of literature that have impacted the literary landscape in different ways. High fantasy stories often emphasize grand adventures, epic battles, and fantastical worlds, creating an atmosphere of grandeur and mystery. These stories often inspire readers to escape into a world of their own imagining, full of impossible creatures and magical creatures. Low fantasy stories tend to focus on more relatable and believable elements, creating an atmosphere that is both familiar and intriguing. These stories often focus on more personal conflicts and struggles, allowing readers to connect more deeply with the characters they are reading about. Both genres have had a lasting impact on literature as a whole, inspiring readers to explore new realms of imagination and creativity.
The popularity of high fantasy and low fantasy has grown tremendously in recent years, particularly due to the rise of popular television shows, films, and books. High fantasy stories have been adapted into some of the most successful movies and television series in history, such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, low fantasy stories have gained a large following due to their more intimate settings and focus on character development. As a result, both genres have become increasingly popular in recent years, with no signs of slowing down in the future.