Fantasy is a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.
These plots include magic, imagined creatures, talking animals, other worlds, and the unknown. Various genres, like science fiction and horror, often also play a role in the creation of fantasy stories. Some fantasy stories are suited for children, like The Ugly Duckling, while others, like the series A Game of Thrones, certainly not.
Definition and Explanation of Fantasy
Fantasy can be divided into various types. These include modern folktales, animal and toy stories, alternative worlds, magical fantasy, heroic fantasy (also known as high fantasy), mystery/supernatural fantasy, and more. The latter includes terrifying elements that are often referred to as the “supernatural.” These might be negative or positive forces. Heroic fantasy includes The Lord of the Rings and The Hero and the Crown. It follows a character on a long journey, usually to save the world.
Alternative worlds are one of the most popular subgenera of fantasy. Great examples include Harry Potter and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In magical fantasy, stories like Charlie and Chocolate Factory come to life. There are characters with unusual powers and strange objects that might become the center of the story. Modern folktales are often the basis for many of the more popular stories today. Readers likely came into contact with these stories when they were young. Some examples include Thumbelina and The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Examples of Fantasy Novels
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
One of the most popular series of books, and films, ever written in the genre of fantasy, The Lord of the Rings follows humans, elves, hobbits, dwarves, wizards, and more, and they fight for and against the greatest of all evils.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
A Game of Thrones is now a popular book and television series. It includes many of the staples of the fantasy genre, kings and queens, as well as magic and dragons. The characters in these stories go through great ordeals, lose their lives, families, kingdoms, and more. These novels are notoriously complex due to the number of characters and locations involved.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
American Gods are considered to be one of Gaiman’s best novels. It focuses on Shadow, an ex-convict whose wife is killed in a car accident. He takes a job as a bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, who takes him across American. Eventually, it’s revealed that Wednesday is an incarnation of Odin from Norse mythology.
Examples of Fantasy Short Stories
“The Truth is a Cave in the Mountains” by Neil Gaiman
“The Truth is a Cave in the Mountains” was published in Gaiman’s collection Trigger Warning. It is inspired by Hebridean myth and was commissioned for the Sydney Opera House for the Graphic Festival. It taps into themes of greed, deception, and even murder as the story follows a dwarf searching for gold in the Black Mountains.
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is a strange story published in 1973. It is generally considered philosophical fiction but also has fantasy elements. It describes a summer festival in a utopian city that prospers based on a child’s misery.
“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Story for Children” by Gabriel García Márquez
Márquez is the best-known writer in the magic realism genre. His stories usually include fantastical elements, magic, and folklore. This particular story, which was published in 1955, involves a homeless older man who has enormous wings sprouting from his back. A couple takes him in, deciding that he has to be an angel there to take their child to heaven. They decided rather than clubbing him to death that they’re going to keep him in their chicken coop. Although directed at children, this story is quite dark and disturbing.
Examples of Fantasy Films
The Seventh Seal (1957)
This film is a classic that’s provided inspiration for filmmakers for decades. It depicts a knight, played by Max von Sydow, who comes up against the personification of Death in a chess match. The knight believes he can survive as long as the game goes on.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz is an almost universally known film that’s been incredibly influential since it first came out in 1939. It follows Dorothy into a magical, and sometimes dark, world in which she encounters a talking lion, tin man, and more. They set out on a journey for that which they most desire. For Dorothy, that means getting home to her normal life in Kansas.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A more contemporary film, Pans’s Labyrinth is a dark and terrifying film in which a fairytale takes on new dimensions. A child travels into a dark underworld where they encounter imaginative tasks and a creature with eyes on its palms.
Why Do Writers Write Fantasy?
Fantasy is one of the most popular genres of literature today. It allows authors, as science fiction and horror do to some extinct, to explore anything and everything they’re interested in. Anything can happen to their characters. They can go anywhere, become anything, meet creatures, travel through time, create new times, and do magic. Fantasy worlds make use of different rules than our world does. These rules allow outrageous things to happen and for no one to blink an eye.
Speculative fiction, make-believe, fairy tales, visionary fiction.
Related Literary Terms
- Science Fiction: a literary genre that focuses on imaginative content based on science.
- Antagonist: a character who is considered to be the rival of the protagonist.
- Protagonist: the main character of a story, generally considered to be the hero or the force for good.
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Folklore: stories that people tell. These include folk stores, fairy tales, urban legends, and more.