High fantasy  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

High fantasy, or epic fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy, defined by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, or plot. The term "high fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance," which was originally given at the New England Round Table of Children's Librarians in October 1969.



High fantasy is set in an alternative, fictional ("secondary") world, rather than the "real" or "primary" world. This secondary world is usually internally consistent, but its rules differ from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterized by being set in earth, the primary or real world, or a rational and familiar fictional world with the inclusion of magical elements.

The romances of William Morris, such as The Well at the World's End, set in an imaginary medieval world, are sometimes regarded as the first examples of high fantasy. The works of J. R. R. Tolkien—especially The Lord of the Rings—are regarded as archetypal works of high fantasy. Also, Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain, Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and David Eddings' The Belgariad are good examples of high fantasy series.

Many high fantasy stories are told from the viewpoint of one main hero. Often, much of the plot revolves around their heritage or mysterious nature. In many novels the hero is an orphan or unusual sibling, often with an extraordinary talent for magic or combat. They begin the story young, if not as an actual child. In other works the hero is a completely developed individual with a unique character and spirit.

The hero often begins as a childlike figure, but matures rapidly, experiencing a considerable gain in fighting/problem-solving abilities along the way. The plot of the story often depicts the hero's fight against the evil forces as a bildungsroman.

The progress of the story leads to the character's learning the nature of the unknown forces against them, that they constitute a force with great power and malevolence.


Good versus evil is a common theme in high fantasy, and the character of evil is often an important theme in a work of high fantasy, as in The Lord of the Rings. The importance of the concept of good and evil can be regarded as the distinguishing mark between high fantasy and sword and sorcery. In many works of high fantasy, this conflict marks a deep concern with moral issues; in other works, the conflict is a power struggle, with, for instance, wizards behaving irresponsibly whether they are "good" or "evil".

There is often some evil that must be defeated, sometimes, a mysterious Dark Lord, often obsessed with taking over the world and killing the main hero. The evil character is sometimes an evil wizard or sorcerer, or sometimes a kind of god or demon. The antagonist usually commands a large army or a group of highly feared servants, and the protagonists appear outmatched.

Game settings

Role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons with campaign settings like Greyhawk by Gary Gygax, Dragonlance by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis and Forgotten Realms by Ed Greenwood are a common basis for many fantasy books and many other authors continue to contribute to the settings.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "High fantasy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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