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Discussion: My Pros and Cons of High Fantasy

Introduction: Defining High Fantasy

So before I dive into this, let’s begin with a quick and dirty definition of High Fantasy. HF is what we traditionally call to mind when thinking of the fantasy genre altogether. It usually involves an invented fantasy world populated by humans but also fantasy races. The traditional ones are elves, dwarves, halflings (hobbits), dragons, goblins, and some sort of evil adversary that may be just magically twisted versions of a core race or it may be its own thing altogether. There are generally magic users who’re more powerful than anyone else in the world, and either have little involvement in the story as a result or are involved in a minor way so as not to take care of all the main character’s problems at the drop of a hat. The world is usually portrayed as being incredibly old, but technologically underdeveloped compared to modern standards–there’s a lot of pseudo-medieval influence on High Fantasy clothing, talk, and technology.

My Pros

  • I enjoy a lot of traditional fantasy elements from HF such as dragons, elvish communities, and magic wielders
  • I’m always down for an unusual spin on the traditional HF world
  • when the characters are well written I find them incredibly compelling
  • dragons
  • magic systems that are complex or interesting always appeal to me
  • I like when the author implies the fantasy world actually sprang out of our own in a weird post-apocalyptic future
  • dragons
  • witches
  • curses

My Cons

  • male fantasy authors; you know the type
  • a lot of HF stories tend to have super clear cut black and white moral dilemmas that I just don’t agree with
  • there’s some racial coding issues in fantasy we shouldn’t be glossing over
  • there’s some misogynistic tendencies in fantasy we shouldn’t be glossing over
  • there’s some ablest tendencies in fantasy we shouldn’t be glossing over
  • (seeing a pattern there?)
  • I am very tired of unnecessary rape, coerced marriages, gratuitous torture of women, and all the shit that comes with those

Final Thoughts

Fantasy has a very special place in my heart. But unfortunately, High Fantasy has long since lost is appeal to me. I generally avoid High Fantasy unless something in particular has called me to a book–such as an author of color, or a unique approach to world building. The rest of the fantasy genre has its issues too, but as a whole High Fantasy has been stuck in a Tolkein-inspired fever dream of strict rules and specific morals. Today it is also partially dominated by the desire to be “the next GRRM” which is a misguided desire at best. I find that the majority of new ideas, interesting storylines, and well written worlds come from outside the parameters of High Fantasy. There are absolutely elements of the subgenre I love to see, and I wish I could just take those things sometimes and give them to another genre.

Do you read High Fanasy novels? If so, let me know in the comments some of the things you love and some of the things you’re frustrated with!

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By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

2 replies on “Discussion: My Pros and Cons of High Fantasy”

Great post! I read high fantasy mainly because I love magic, fairytale retellings and dragons, but I agree there’s definitely problems in some of them. The misogyny I think probably stems partly from the ‘pseudo-medieval’ influence as well as the misogyny internalised within our own society today. I think I’ve been lucky in that most high fantasy I’ve read there hasn’t been much in the way of offensive racial coding, misogyny, ableism (though this could be due to disabled characters just not being present…), gratuitous violence against women etc. but that may be because almost all have been YA and by women. My favourite high fantasy novels are probably ‘Strange the Dreamer’, ‘The Goose Girl’, ‘The Book of a Thousand Days’, ‘The School for Good and Evil’, ‘Six of Crows’ and ‘The Priory of the Orange Tree’.

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YA and women written fantasy is definitely my preference as well! I struggle with YA sometimes, so I do tend to seek out adult fantasy writers I find I enjoy and stick to their books for a while. Right now I’m chugging through A.E. Rayne’s epic fantasy series Furyck Saga, but it’s very Viking inspired and doesn’t have the full fantasy feel that I’m craving. I’m trying to read a high fantasy book right now but it’s so purple prose-y that I might have to DNF 😦

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