I’ve often been asked to describe into which genre The King’s Own fits. At first, I thought this was an easy question. I consider it to be both low fantasy and dark fantasy. This, of course, was based on my own perception of what defines each genre and sub-genre, which may not necessarily fit with “accepted” definitions.
For example, my own definition of a nerd versus a geek is far different from the “accepted” stance. I say nerds are bookish and geeks are techish, and I fit squarely in the middle of both. When I explain that, I’ve been told it makes sense.
Back to the topic at hand!
What made me pause and think was when one reader called my book “high fantasy”. This was in sharp contrast to my thought of what it meant. What? High fantasy? I don’t have any elves in my book! There’s hardly any magic at all! How could it possibly be high fantasy?
Turns out, it very well could be.
Let’s discuss. Okay, I’ll discuss. You read and comment. ;)
My definition of high fantasy is a setting that is far apart from our own “real world”. Magic is commonplace, and there are often other races, such as elves and dwarves. I also include epic storylines, usually good triumphing over evil, in this category. The Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and Final Fantasy are all settings that I’d include in high fantasy.
For low fantasy, I’ve always viewed it as closer to our own “real world”, where there is little magic, and humans are generally the only race (or at least the predominant one). Stories are generally less epic in scope, and often deal more with personal (or at least, humanly relatable) trials and tribulations. A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) and The Witcher are two settings I’d include here. Interestingly enough, I’d also include The Hobbit, but not The Lord of the Rings, as the Hobbit focused mostly on Bilbo’s personal journey rather than an epic battle of good and evil. (Yes, I know there was the Battle of the Five Armies, but that was more of a backdrop in the book than the focus.)
Finally, almost as an aside, I want to briefly describe dark fantasy. In my view, this is more of a tone description, where things aren’t always happy and the good guys don’t always win. Once again, I’d put The Witcher and A Song of Ice and Fire here. Another way of looking at it is the world is less black and white, and more shades of gray.
Now that I’ve demonstrated some of what I think fit each definition, let’s see what the Internets have to say. Brace yourselves!
Low fantasy is described as a setting where magic intrudes on an otherwise normal world, or a realistic environment with elements of fantastical. An alternate definition is where the story is more realistic and less mythic in scope.
Okay, so The King’s Own seems to fit well enough into the low fantasy definition here. But let’s continue!
High fantasy takes place in a fictional world with its own set of rules and physical laws, and usually includes an epic good versus evil theme. Also common is the bildungsroman, or coming of age story of the protagonist, and a powerful mentor to guide and train the hero.
Well, dang. The King’s Own fits in here, too, with the bildungsroman, having a mentor, and, to a degree, the good versus evil.
Dark fantasy seems to be mostly described as a setting meant to instill a sense of dread or horror. Definitely not my vision of dark fantasy, but there it is.
So, if we take a look at all of these definitions, we can’t really shoehorn most works into one category. Let’s look at Harry Potter. It’s the “real world”, but also a “world within a world”, so it could fit into both categories. The Death Gate Cycle is at first glance high fantasy, but thanks to a very interesting twist in the overall story (which I won’t spoil!), it could very well be seen as low fantasy.
In the end, it seems there really is no easy definition, and it all comes down to personal opinion. Let’s not get started on authorial intent versus reader interpretation! Maybe another blog entry for that one. Some might even say lines were meant to be blurred, and some of the most well-received works are those that are difficult to describe. A unique spin on traditional motifs can make for some very engaging storytelling, after all.