High Fantasy/Low Fantasy/Power Fantasy

Starfox

Adventurer
I looked at the Wikipedia definitions of High Fantasy and Low Fantasy and found that they differ significantly from the meaning these words have in gaming circles.

Wikipedia on High Fantasy said:
High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, entirely fictional ("Secondary") world, rather than the real ("Primary") world. The secondary world will normally be internally consistent but its rules are in some way different from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterised by being set in the primary world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements.

By this definition, almost all role-playing games are high fantasy.

Being unfamiliar with the Wikipedia usage, I wonder if these terms are well established in fantasy (literature) fandom?

It is quite confusing to see the terms used so differently in different circumstances. Perhaps a more unified usage is to be preferred? A better term for what gamers call high fantasy would be Power Fantasy. What gamers now call low fantasy would be low-power fantasy.

Or you could argue that Wikipedia, as a dictionary, should refer reality and real-world use of language, not shape it. if you agree with this, the Wikipedia articles on high and low fantasy should be amended.
 

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jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
Being unfamiliar with the Wikipedia usage, I wonder if these terms are well established in fantasy (literature) fandom?

The Wikipedia definitions reflect the way that those terms have been used in the literary community for decades (or at least how I first heard those terms used in school several decades ago). It is my experience that role players have adopted many literary terms (including those in question) and applied them in a manner entirely different than originally intended.

Edit: Here's a link to an older article (1999) describing High Fantasy in the manner consistent with Wikipedia (it also mentions "long involved plots" for what it's worth).
 
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Hussar

Legend
I was under the understanding that the primary difference between high fantasy and low fantasy wasn't the setting per se, but the size of the plot. High fantasy stories are characterized by epic plots that affect the entire setting - Lord of the Rings being a prime example here - while low fantasy is characterized by local plots that center on one or a small group of characters - Conan being a good example.

I've never heard the difference as being one is set in a totally fantasy world while the other is a "almost" real world. To me, Harry Potter fits into High Fantasy - you have a huge wizarding war that covers the entire series - even though Harry Potter is set in a mostly real world. By this definition, Harry Potter would be considered Low Fantasy.

I'm not sure I agree with that.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
To me, Harry Potter fits into High Fantasy - you have a huge wizarding war that covers the entire series - even though Harry Potter is set in a mostly real world. By this definition, Harry Potter would be considered Low Fantasy.

I'm not sure I agree with that.

Actually, Harry Potter is addressed specifically in the Wikipedia entry — you should have read it. ;) Hogwarts, the primary setting of the books, is not the real world, but the secondary world (i.e., an alternate magic world). Therefore, Harry Potter is High Fantasy.
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
"Low fantasy" implies little/no magical or fantastic influence. "Grim and gritty" style adventures (Lankhmar and Conan come to mind) also fall into this category, I'd imagine.
 

TheNovaLord

First Post
always went on the line of 'fantasy' v 'magic'

High Fantasy / High magic: is your D&D type worlds, palladium
High Fantasy / Low magic: LOTR
Low Fantasy / High Magic: harry potter
Low fantasy / Low magic: Conan, whfrp
 

Aust Diamondew

First Post
Actually, Harry Potter is addressed specifically in the Wikipedia entry — you should have read it. ;) Hogwarts, the primary setting of the books, is not the real world, but the secondary world (i.e., an alternate magic world). Therefore, Harry Potter is High Fantasy.


By that definition then Howard's Conan would be High Fantasy, as would his Kull of Atlantis. But Bran Mak Morn and Solomon Kane would be low fantasy.
Which just seems odd. The tone of the worlds of these fantasy hero's is similar.
Howard's writings and stories also make clear that Conan, Kull and Bran Mak Morn all at least share the same world (living millenia apart).

This seems odder when one considers that within one story a character can change from high to low fantasy, even though in the mind of the author it might all be the same setting. Consider for instance the Odyssey where Odysseus moves from his adventures about the Mediterranean to the Underworld and back again.


It seems that the wikipedia definitions use low and high fantasy to define something within the story (the setting which can change within the story or between stories) whereas many posters in this thread (myself included) want to use the terms to define an attribute of the story itself.
 

Hussar

Legend
As I said, I've always read the difference between high and low fantasy being the focus of the plot. Setting and trope don't enter into the definition by and large.

It's kinda like the difference between SF and space opera. Space opera is a specific subset of SF which deals with vast, sweeping scales, massive empires, huge story lines and casts of thousands. In the same way, high fantasy is the fantasy equivalent of Space Opera.

The level of the magic in the story doesn't really matter. I mean, there isn't a huge amount of difference in the level of magic between Tolkien and Conan when you get right down to it. Yet, something like Elric is also considered Low Fantasy as well, despite the fact you have a guy with an artifact sword. But, the stories are very personal in scope - it's all about Elric. It's not about empires, or casts of thousands.
 

Krensky

First Post
As I said, I've always read the difference between high and low fantasy being the focus of the plot. Setting and trope don't enter into the definition by and large.

Then you need better sources. The world thing is the main criteria, they stuff you list is typical of the genre, but not necessary or sufficient.

It's kinda like the difference between SF and space opera. Space opera is a specific subset of SF which deals with vast, sweeping scales, massive empires, huge story lines and casts of thousands. In the same way, high fantasy is the fantasy equivalent of Space Opera.

There have been several definitions of space opera over time. Until the 1970s it was a pejorative for bad science fiction. In the early 1970s it slowly changed meaning to "the good old science fiction adventure story" as opposed to the then ascendant, more philosophical style. Staring in the very late 1970s and the 1980s it morphed again into it's current form, which is closest to your definition, but scope and scale are again neither necessary or sufficient to make something a space opera. The primary component of the definition is a focus on characters and romantic (in a literary sense) or melodramatic plots over technology and it's effects and is largely or entirely set in space and other worlds. Large scales, sweeping plots, and such are typical, but not essential. Farscape is space opera, Galactica is space opera, Mass Effect is space opera, John Carter and Eric Stark are space opera.

Similarly, Kim Stanly Robinson's Mars trilogy spaces two centuries, several wars, massive changes to society, and a cast of thousands. It's hard science fiction though, not space opera.

The level of the magic in the story doesn't really matter. I mean, there isn't a huge amount of difference in the level of magic between Tolkien and Conan when you get right down to it. Yet, something like Elric is also considered Low Fantasy as well, despite the fact you have a guy with an artifact sword. But, the stories are very personal in scope - it's all about Elric. It's not about empires, or casts of thousands.

That's a distinguishing line between epic fantasy and (in this case) sword and sorcery. The high and low terms refer to the amount of fantasy in a work, not to it's tone, character, or size.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
Doesn't look like people here agree with the Wikipedia definitions. So, do gamers use other definitions, should we challenge the ones from fantasy fandom?

Or are gamers just uninformed of the fantasy fandom terms?
 


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