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Getting to Know Fantasy Fiction

by on November 24, 2012

The world of fantasy fiction is immense, complicated, and contains something for most every reader.  However, many library-users do not know where to start when considering tackling this genre. For those unfamiliar with this type of literature, it can seem unwieldy and obtuse. That’s where I come in. As an avid reader of the genre, I am familiar with the varieties of fantasy fiction that exist, and am here to help you find fantasy books for your patrons or yourself to enjoy, and to satisfy those literary craving for magic, mayhem, and sword-play.

Any discussion of fantasy should begin with the basics, and in this case that is the many sub-genres that comprise the whole of the genre itself. I have broken it down into six basic types to start (though some die-hard fans might argue with my choices): Epic, Historical, Fairy Tale, Dark, Modern, and Sword & Sorcery.

Epic/High Fantasy When people think of fantasy, with its casts of thousands, lush locations, and serious attention to detail (sometimes several books worth!), epic fantasy is what they are thinking about. Epic/High fantasy can last for many books, has complicated, in-depth plots and literally thousands of characters. If you love high levels of detail, sweeping storylines, and complicated plots, Epic or High Fantasy is for you. Notable authors in this sub-genre include Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, J.R.R.Tolkien, and Stephen R. Donaldson.

Historical Fantasy Mixing real world history with fantasy, this sub-genre typically takes place prior to the 20th century and can include many elements like alternate timelines, magic, and technology and is closely related to the Sword & Sorcery sub-genre. Important names in the sub-genre include authors like Mary Robinette Kowal, Jean M. Auel, C. J. Cherryh, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

Fairy Tales This sub-genre of fantasy deals with many of the traditional aspects of the children’s tales, only written in smart, engaging new ways for adults. Here you will find all the old favorites: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, along with a host of fairy tales from hundreds of cultures.  Mercedes Lackey, Pamela Dean, Neil Gaiman, and William Deen are authors to look for.

Dark Fantasy Mixing elements of horror with fantasy, supernatural events, and a dark and brooding atmosphere, this sub-genre contains many names that readers of the horror genre will find familiar, including Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and Anne Rice, as well as new favorites like Poppy Z. Brite and Laurel K. Hamilton.

Modern Fantasy Consisting of stories set in the real world during the modern era, these stories often contain magic, magical creatures, and alternate worlds that exist concurrent with the “real” world of the story. Important names in this sub-genre include Phillip Pullman, Mercedes Lackey, Charles de Lint, Mary Norton, and J. K. Rowling.

Sword and Sorcery (Also called Heroic Fantasy) Unlike Epic Fantasy, this sub-genre has a tendency to avoid end of the world scenarios and focus more on personal conflict. Usually containing a romantic element as well as the supernatural and magic, these stories are often fast paced with many episodes of violent conflict. Major names in this sub-genre include Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

There you have it, a brief introduction to fantasy fiction. In the coming weeks I will be discussing each sub-genre in more detail, so be sure to bookmark this site and watch this space for more inside scoops on magic and mayhem from me in the near future! Thanks for reading, and until next time, may all your stories be epic.