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For other meanings see Fantasy (disambiguation).

Synonyms: the fantastic
See also: Horror, Original Fantasy, Science Fiction, Survival Horror
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Fantasy is a genre defined by an interest in magic or the supernatural, as opposed to realism or a focus on science/technology. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy defines fantasy as follows:

A fantasy text is a self-coherent narrative. When set in this world, it tells a story which is impossible in the world as we perceive it; when set in an otherworld, that otherworld will be impossible, though stories set there may be possible in its terms.[1]

Fantasy is considered to be closely related to the science fiction and horror genres, with a certain amount of overlap between the three. Fantasy and supernatural horror share magical elements such as werewolves, vampires, and ghosts, but in horror, the magical/supernatural elements exist solely to be a threat to the mundane world. The main difference between science fiction and fantasy is that the worldbuilding in sf (particularly "hard" sf) ostensibly requires plausible extrapolation of current scientific knowledge, whereas fantasy does not have this limitation; in practice, many common elements in science fiction (e.g. faster-than-light travel) are just as implausible as the staples of fantasy (e.g. elves), and some tropes appear in both (e.g. telepathy). Debra Doyle described the overlap during a panel at a convention like this:

If there's a zeppelin, it's alternate history.
If there's a rocketship, it's science fiction.
If there are swords and/or horses, it's fantasy.
A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix.

If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.[2]


The fantasy genre, and it's antecedents, have a long history, seeing as the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its very beginning. What distinguishes the "modern" genre of fantasy from earlier tales are the logic of the fantasy workings and the acknowledged fictitious nature of the work rather than their source in folklore.

Modern fantasy

An important factor in the development of the fantasy genre was the arrival of magazines devoted to fantasy fiction in the early 20th century. The pulp magazine format was quite popular at this time and was instrumental in bringing fantasy fiction to a wider audience. Science fiction also started spreading through the use of such magazines, and the two genres began to be associated with each other. Several of the genre's most prominent authors began their careers in these magazines, most noticeably H.P. Lovecraft, who became one of the most influential writers of fantasy in the 20th century with his Cthulhu Mythos.

It was through J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings which finally brought fantasy into the mainstream. Tolkien's works had been successful in Britain since their publishing, but it took until the late 1960s for them to become popular in America. It's wild success, even long after it's publication, made the books a huge influence on the field, and helped establish the genre as a marketable category. It's also usually stated as the establishing of the sub-genre of epic fantasy, or what's sometimes called High Fantasy.

For a more thorough history of the fantasy genre, there is Wikipedia's History of fantasy.

Some Common Subgenres and Themes

Fantasy Elements in Fanworks

Fantasy AU depiction of Han Ji Sung of Stray Kids by melz0019, 24 April 2021

In addition to fanworks for fantasy canons (e.g. Bleach, Harry Potter), fan creators like to incorporate fantasy elements into fanworks that weren't in the original source.



Archives & Links


  1. ^ The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. Edited by John Clute and John Grant. 1997. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999. p. 338.
  2. ^ Teresa Nielsen Hayden, quoting Debra Doyle on Making Light. accessed 15 October, 2008