Do you love reading fantasy books? Fantasy stories are escapism from reality and take you to another world where all the supernatural elements hook you to the books.
I love the fantasy genre, and it is my escape to an unknown place that I can be a part of. Among all the fantasy books I’ve read, my all-time favorite is Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and it will forever be one of my most loved book series.
But, initially, I didn’t know that the fantasy genre has various other subgenres. Learning about the types helped me to choose the books more precisely.
The most common subgenres are high and low fantasy, which everyone should know and also understand their differences. This article on ‘High fantasy vs low fantasy’ will state the meaning and differences in separate sections.
First, Let’s Understand the Genre, ‘Fantasy’
Most readers are already familiar with the fantasy genre; however, I want to explain it briefly before proceeding to the main topic.
Fiction writing is based on a person’s imagination, and when this imagination goes beyond the walls of our real world and explores a different world that does not exist in reality, it is called fantasy.
In the fantasy genre, writers create another world filled with magic, supernatural elements, unrealistic plots, and more. However, fantasy fiction can also be based on the real world with supernatural elements.
Fantasy also has subgenres, each with its own characteristics. Learn more about the subgenres, ‘High and Low Fantasy’ below!
What is High Fantasy and Low Fantasy?
Now that you have an idea about the fantasy genre, let’s start with the meanings of High and Low Fantasy.
But before that, let me explain the difference between primary and secondary worlds. The primary world is the world we live in, the real world, whereas the secondary world is the unreal world created by the author, a different realm.
A high fantasy story is based on the secondary world. Authors create a different fictional world where they incorporate magical elements and supernatural aspects to develop a plot that is beyond imagination but enthralling to read.
It is also called ‘epic fantasy’ or ‘traditional fantasy.’ High fantasy books are usually lengthy, with many characters and storylines such as saving the world, good vs evil, a heist, etc. It can include mythological aspects, folklore, historical stories, and more.
Unlike high fantasy, low fantasy is based on the real world. Authors write stories about the world we live in, but they incorporate magical and supernatural aspects within the story, which makes it fantastical.
It is also called ‘intrusion fantasy,’ which signifies the inclusion of fantasy elements into the real world. Low fantasy books include urban, historical, dark, paranormal, and contemporary fantasy, along with magical realism or superhero stories.
Characteristics of High Fantasy and Low Fantasy
Before diving into the comparison, let’s see some of the characteristics of both the subgenres. Learning the characteristics will help you to understand the concept more!
First, I will start with the high-fantasy genre:
- High fantasy is based on a fictional world, a realm far different from the real world (secondary world)
- It includes magic, witchcraft, supernatural creatures such as vampires, werewolves, monsters, etc.
- Lengthy book with a lot of characters
- High stakes such as saving the world, good vs evil, war, or more
- The fashion, lifestyle, and foods are according to the structure of the fantasy world
Now, let’s see some characteristics of the low fantasy genre:
- Low fantasy is based on the real world
- Although the story is set in reality, it includes magical and supernatural aspects to create a fantasy world
- Either it has a high-stakes plot or a simple plot filled with fantastical elements
- The book-length depends on the storyline
High Fantasy Vs. Low Fantasy
High fantasy and low fantasy are two different subgenres of fantasy, and there are a few similarities as well as dissimilarities between the two, which I will be discussing in this section.
The setting of the story is a big difference between high and low fantasy. Both worlds include fantasy but in a distinctive manner.
High fantasy is set in a different world, an alternate dimension, a realm created by the author that does not exist in real life. It is called a secondary world, where the writers have the freedom to build a world of their choice.
Low fantasy is set in the real world, maybe a city we know, a small countryside village, or any place that is similar to the world we live in. It is called a primary world, where the inclusion of supernatural elements shows the combination of fantasy mixed with reality.
The number and type of characters vary between the two.
High fantasy novels have more characters than low fantasy. The number of characters is larger as the worldbuilding is vast. Writers create new kinds of species and creatures with unique names. The magic used is high, with a lot of unreal powers.
Low fantasy has fewer characters as the world might not be huge and is similar to reality. The magical elements used are subtle and can blend into everyday life. Stories that have a connection to the real world come under low fantasy.
Even when it comes to the plot, they both slightly differ.
High fantasy includes high-stakes plots such as saving the world, good vs evil, war, etc. These plots make the book more interesting.
Low fantasy includes character-driven plots, personal journeys, small quests, etc.
These are some differences between high and low fantasy. They both narrate fantastical stories, with only a few varied elements as differentiation.
I’m sure you guys have read many fantasy books, but maybe you didn’t know they can be further differentiated into subgenres. I have provided some examples of books under both categories. Have a look!
Below, I have provided two popular examples of high fantasy books, which everyone must be aware of.
- Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien
Known as the father of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien has delivered one of the best fantasy series to the public. Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy series with themes like good vs evil.
- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
We all are familiar with the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. Within the series, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is a high fantasy novel with so many themes incorporated.
Let’s look at the examples of low fantasy series!
- Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is another book that comes under low fantasy. The book is about a woman’s unnaturally long life. It is a good read with a blend of reality, fantasy, and romance.
Fantasy is a really interesting genre that allows readers to experience different worlds and unnatural things, making them crave more. I, as a reader, love fantasy stories and devour them happily.
I hope this article was helpful in clarifying the topic of high and low fantasy, and now it will be easier to differentiate while picking a read.
Do you like high fantasy or low fantasy? Name some of your favorites in the comments below.