Monday, December 13, 2010

What is Fantasy?

This semester, I've been taking a YA lit class. It's been a fun semester as we've read a wide range of books.  Every week the class had discussions, did book talks and came away with a list of books about a topic or in a genre.

Every one is responsible for a final project about a topic or genre in young adult literature.  For my final project, I thought it would be fun to look at contemporary fantasy - books that have been published in the past 5 years or so.  I've enjoyed reading fantasy books since middle school and I have fond memories of curling up with The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander and of course, Lord of the Rings. 

I've noticed that in the past few years there has been an explosion of new fantasy.  In working on this project, I wanted to really examine the books that are being published and where they "fit" on the fantasy spectrum.

First, the challenge was to come up with a definition for fantasy. My personal definition is a story (or book) that contains magical elements or takes place in another world. It's a pretty simple definition that leaves a lot to be desired. 

So, here are some other more official definitions I've found:

"Fantasy refuses to accept the world as it is, so readers can see what could have been, and still might be, rather than merely what is was or must be." (Literature for Today's Young Adults, p216)
Fantasy - Stories that take place in an imaginary world created by the author. The author creates the rules by which said world operates and must be consistent to them. The author must also make the world believable enough that readers will be able to suspend belief when they enter it. (From Cover to Cover p. 142)
Fantasy is a literary genre that is an imaginative or fanciful work, especially one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters.

I decided that it would be helpful if as I read each book, it was put into a category or type of fantasy.  I chose five that seem to be popular and prolific right now:  Urban Fantasy, Epic or "High" Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Fantasy, and Fairy Tale Retellings.

So, every day this week, I'll be taking a look at a different subgenre (or type) of fantasy. Of course many books can be in more than one subgenre and for the most part it's very subjective; what one person thinks belongs in paranormal, someone else thinks is urban fantasy.  I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on the lists I've come up with.  Mixed in will be reviews, a look at what's being published in 2011, and some guest posts.

This is what's coming up:

Monday: Epic or "High" Fantasy

Tuesday: Paranormal

Wednesday: Urban Fantasy

Thursday: Historical Fantasy

Friday: Fairy Tale Retellings

How would you describe fantasy?  And what are some of your favorite fantasy books?

*Image borrowed from


  1. I think fantasy usually involves either magic, supernatural, or paranormal elements. I agree with the definitions you mention except for the part about it taking place in another world. Science fiction also takes place in other worlds and some fantasy is set in our own world(urban fantasy for example).

    My favorite fantasy books include The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Silver Phoenix, and anything by Juliet Marillier. I love her Celtic fantasy (her books would likely fall under your Historical fantasy category except for Heart's Blood which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and Wildwood Dancing which is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses).

    Great project! I look forward to reading your posts.

  2. @ Christina - I agree that fantasy doesn't necessarily have to take place in another world, lots of paranormal books don't and like you said urban fantasy doesn't either.

    I discovered Juliet Marillier's books while doing this project and have included Wildwood Dancing on my Retellings list. I haven't read Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, but I'll have to add it to my holiday reading list.

  3. Here's something about fantasy -- from Ray Bradbury, who said: "Science-fiction balances you on the cliff. Fantasy shoves you off."

    Not sure if that helps, but it's something I sometimes think of. Science fiction has elements that could be possible, through technology, and fantasy usually relies on things like magic to make things possible.

  4. Oooh Jo, I love that quote! And, your reason supporting it. I really can't say it better myself.


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