Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Capturing High Fantasy

One of Murf's screenshot categories of his Screenshot Safari challenge had me scratching my head: High Fantasy. What is High Fantasy? The first thing I thought of was that it might be a synonym for "real fantasy", as in, "Lord of the Rings is real fantasy because Tolkien invented the genre - everything after that is lesser fantasy". Murf doesn't strike me as someone being into fantasy elitism (if such a thing even exists), though, so I googled it:

What is High Fantasy?

According to Wikipedia (emphasis mine):
    "High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional ("secondary") world, rather than the real, or "primary" world. The secondary world is usually internally consistent, but its rules differ from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterized by being set in the primary, or "real" world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements."
If we are very strict about this definition, one could argue that Lord of the Rings does not even qualify for the high fantasy category, because Tolkien intended his world to pre-date the one as we know it. In his vision, we live in the remnants of Middle-earth. However, Lord of the Rings is usually mentioned as an example of high fantasy.

Harry Potter, I would argue, would definitely fit into the low fantasy category. It supposedly takes place in the "real world": a recurring theme is that the wizards need to keep the muggles, non-magic users, in the dark about the existence of magic.

It seems like the difference between low and high fantasy is not always crystal clear, even when you take additional characteristics as explained here on TV Tropes into consideration (other world setting, epic scale, great evil, unconventional methods). Guild Wars 2, however, doesn't have any connection to the "real world" I am aware of and thus clearly fits in the High Fantasy category.

Why is this High Fantasy?

Two elements in particular cry out "High Fantasy!" to me in this picture:

1) The Sylvari mesmer
My plant character is featured prominently in the picture. In case you missed the memo: plants in our offline world do not walk, so my mesmer is a living (albeit digital) example of a highly fantastic creature that can only exist in another world. 

2) The fantastic background
The picture is taken in the Dreamdark Enclave. I was stunned by the unexpected beautiful and surrealistic view of this hidden valley I had found. I had no idea of the existence of jumping puzzles in the game, but after taking this screenshot I jumped from toadstool to toadstool out of pure curiosity and eventually managed to find a chest. 

And lastly, although it isn't clearly visible, the screenshot also quite literally shows high fantasy, because I'm standing on a toadstool living on a root somewhere high up in the air. You can tell by the position of the trees you can vaguely see far in the distance.

My 2015 Screenshot Safari contributions:

1) Juggernaut Neserys: hero or villain? (hero or villain)
2) The Republic wants YOU (selfie)
3) Capturing High Fantasy (High Fantasy)
4) The scariest place... for a hungover Elf (the scariest place)


  1. In all likelihood, this will be the ninth entry in this particular category. By far, it is one of the least entered and admittedly one of their more challenging ones to engage.

    I am definitely not a fantasy elitist. I think that'd be hard to do. If this were 'True Science Fiction', however, I'd personally throw away every single Star Wars entry given to me. To me, Star Wars is fantasy (and sometimes quite good fantasy), though I may allow someone to argue it is science fantasy, but that's a stretch.

    In general, it is all speculative fiction and I don't break it down much further than that.

    In other words, the phrase 'high fantasy' isn't limited in its definition or scope. Like any of the categories, if you want to step outside the box a bit on what you expect the limitations are, then please do so, just give me a little reasoning so I can follow along.

    You've done just that here and it is an excellent entry. I agree with your interpretations too. To me, Lord of the Rings is just fantasy and something like Harry Potter is magical realism (with a lot of focus on the magic). I've always considered true high fantasy to be a hard thing to maintain over an entire work. To me, the high fantasy are the most fantastical parts of a fantasy story where things begin to feel truly alien to our own world and to the world it is set in too. Balrogs and Treants, for example, are high fantasy to me, despite the fact that the rest of the Lord of the Rings is pretty much magical realism for a medieval age.

    Always fun to debate though!

  2. I love that screenshot might be one of the best ones you took so far. :)

    And that is a strange definition about fantasy from Wikipedia. The way I learned the definition of high fantasy was that high fantasy was where magic and fantastic elements were pretty common in a setting. For example, a lot of the D&D and fantasy games would fit into that category since if you throw a stone in an inn it wouldn't be too hard for it to hit a wizard. Then the wizard would counter with a fireball and destroy the entire inn. :p

    Low fantasy is the opposite, it is where magic and fantastic elements are extremely rare and more subtle. I am trying to think of an example in fiction and I guess the Last Unicorn would qualify. In the entire book you only meet one magician there and even the unicorn, the main character of the book, is considered such a myth that many people end up confusing her with a horse much to her indignation. :)

    1. The funny thing is that this screenshot probably would've been rotting in my collection if it wasn't for Murf's choice of screenshot categories. I have trouble coming up with things to write about for GW2 posts lately. I'm still enjoying the game a lot, but I'm playing it so casually... somehow SWTOR comes up as a topic more naturally.

      I'm glad you like the picture, though. I really loved the place in-game but wasn't so enthralled with the screenshot itself. One more of those cases that proves that tastes differ. ^^

      Oh, and the Last Unicorn sounds fantastic in its own way!

  3. great screenshot - love the misty greys and greens :)

    I prefer the first definition that wikipedia page gives: "High fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its setting in an imaginary world or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot"

    So, the magic and 'other' nature of the high fantasy setting can almost be secondary to the issues and themes explored and illustrated in the story.

    eld :)


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