This month's Amazing Fantasy Round Table examines the question of whether modern fantasy comes in shades other than grim and gritty.
Warren Rochelle: Fantasy: How Many Shades of Grey?
All right. I’ve been browsing in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. I googled “different kinds of fantasy—and, for the most part, found similar lists and similar terms. I doubt most of those who write for this blog would be surprised at the terms and definitions I found, such as:
Ø high fantasy: immersion, set wholly in the secondary world, “with its own set of rules and physical laws,” (no connections between here and there). Think Middle-earth.
Ø low fantasy: “a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur. Low fantasy stories are set either in the real world or a fictional but rational world, and are contrasted with high fantasy stories (see above)… The word "low" refers to the level of prominence of traditional fantasy elements within the work, and is not any sort of remark on the work's quality” (Wikipedia contributors. "Low fantasy." (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 2 May. 2013.) Examples include The Borrowers, Tuck Everlasting, The Five Children and It, Edward Eager’s novels, and so on.
Ø epic fantasy, which is centered on the quest, relies on a heroic main character, stresses the battle between good and evil, heroes, legendary battles—often called heroic fantasy. A portal-quest or portal fantasy could be a variant, with a prime example that of the Chronicles of Narnia.
The lists go on to include contemporary/urban fantasy, anthropomorphic, historical, dark, science fantasy—you get the idea. Fantasy, all about good vs. evil, the light versus the dark, heroes and heroines, magic, dragons, and their ilk, comes in many shades of grey. (50? That’s another essay—see the blog on sexuality in fantasy, okay?) Then, there is immersive vs. intrusive and liminal or estranged and … But instead of defining each and every one, and dredging up examples (which is something I like to do when I teach fantasy lit—English 379, this fall, 3:30-4:45 TTh, come on down), I want to talk about the shade of grey I write and why (and yes, grey, the British spelling, and not the American gray. Grey just looks …. well, grey, and it’s prettier… I digress).
So. What’s my shade of grey? I have two published fantasy novels, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon, 2007) and its sequel, The Called (Golden Gryphon, 2010). A third is being edited, The Golden Boy, and a fourth in progress even as I write, The Werewolf and His Boy. They are all, I am thinking, low and intrusive fantasies. True, The Golden Boy is sort of pushing the above definition of low, as it is set in an alternate reality, that of the Columbian Empire. Magic is real, but it is illegal, and the Empire is definitely meant to be a rational country. Magic, does, however, intrude, according to the Columbian political and religious authorities. But, the others: this world (more or less), and then magic returns (thus intruding), or is disclosed in some fashion, voluntarily and otherwise. Harvest and The Called are set in North Carolina; Werewolf, in Virginia. Complications ensue—lots of complications. Bad things happen. The good guys are in serious trouble. Yes, there are forays into Faerie from time to time, but on the whole, things happen here, not there.
The question of the moment is why, to what end. Part of me has always wanted to believe in magic (oh, all right, part of me does believe in magic) and that it is real and if we just knew—the right people, the right words, where to look—we could find it. It’s always been here. There has to be a reason for all these stories. So, I create fictional worlds that satisfy this longing. In these worlds the magical and the mundane intersect, overlap, come into conflict—and I find these encounters fascinating. As do their real-world counterparts (encountering the unexplainable), such meetings pull back the veils and reveal us as who and what we really are. They are meetings in which we are forced to ask the question of what it means to be human. That some of these encounters are fraught with peril is also part of this question. To be human is, sometimes, to be in danger, to be facing great evil, and to have to confront that evil, albeit the evil is a monster, another human, or a personal darkness. To be human is to undertake the quest. As Le Guin says in her essay, “The Child and the Shadow,” “fantasy is the natural, the appropriate language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul”(Language of the Night 64).