Comprehensive Guide: Understanding Fantasy Definition
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 12 min read


  1. What is Fantasy?
  2. Brief History of Fantasy Genre
  3. Characteristics of Fantasy
  4. Sub-genres of Fantasy
  5. How to Identify Fantasy Fiction
  6. Why Fantasy Matters
  7. Famous Fantasy Authors and Their Works
  8. How Fantasy Influences Culture
  9. Fantasy in Modern Media
  10. Fantasy Resources for Further Reading

If you've ever found yourself lost in a book, entranced by a world full of dragons, wizards, and enchanted lands, you've experienced the magic of fantasy. By its very nature, this genre invites us to step outside our reality and journey into the extraordinary. But what exactly is the definition of fantasy, and why does it captivate us so? Let's take a closer look.

What is Fantasy?

The definition of fantasy can seem as elusive as a unicorn in a dense forest. But don't fret—when you break it down, it's not so mystical. Here's the straight-up truth: Fantasy is a genre of literature. It's a type of storytelling that uses magic, otherworldly settings, and fantastical creatures to weave tales that transport us beyond our everyday world.

Now, you may wonder, "But aren't all stories a form of fantasy since they're made up?" Well, yes and no. While all fiction is indeed a product of imagination, fantasy stands apart because it often involves elements that are impossible or highly improbable in our known world. This means that while you may find a love story in both a contemporary novel and a fantasy novel, only the latter might have the lovers crossing a sea of stars on the back of a winged beast. It's the magic, the impossible, and the improbable that make fantasy, well, fantasy.

And oh, the fun doesn't stop there. The definition of fantasy can stretch and bend to include a vast array of sub-genres. From epic fantasy that spans multiple books and complex world-building, to urban fantasy that brings the extraordinary to our everyday cityscapes, this genre is as diverse as the creatures it hosts.

It's important to note that while fantasy often breaks the rules of reality, it doesn't discard them entirely. Good fantasy still sticks to its own set of rules—laws of magic, cultural norms of its otherworldly societies, and so on. These "rules" give a sense of consistency to the fantastical elements. So, while you may encounter a talking mouse in a fantasy story, the mouse won't suddenly sprout wings and fly unless that's established as possible in the story's world.

There you have it—a basic definition of fantasy. But don't be fooled by the term "basic"; there's nothing simple about this genre. It's a world full of wonder, danger, and above all, the freedom to imagine the impossible. So, the next time you pick up a fantasy book, know that you're holding a ticket to a world where anything can happen. And isn't that a thrilling thought?

Brief History of Fantasy Genre

So, now that we've got the definition of fantasy nailed down, let's take a leap back in time to see where it all began. You might be surprised to learn that fantasy isn't a modern invention. It has roots reaching far back into the annals of human storytelling—yes, we're talking thousands of years!

From ancient myths and legends to folklore and fairy tales, humans have always loved stories that transport us to magical realms. These stories often served purposes beyond entertainment—they explained the unknown, taught moral lessons, and instilled a sense of wonder and awe.

Fast-forward to the 19th century, and we see the birth of what we now recognize as the fantasy genre. It was during this time that authors like George MacDonald penned tales of magic and adventure, setting the stage for the genre's future evolution.

Then came the 20th century, a golden era for fantasy. This was when J.R.R. Tolkien, with his Middle-earth saga, and C.S. Lewis, with his Chronicles of Narnia, expanded the boundaries of the genre. Their works not only introduced intricate world-building and complex plot structures but also gave fantasy a respected place in literature.

In the decades that followed, the genre continued to evolve and diversify. We saw the rise of dark fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism, and more. Today, authors like J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman continue to push the genre's boundaries, introducing new generations to the wonders of fantasy.

And there's our whirlwind tour of fantasy's history, from ancient myths to modern masterpieces. It's clear that while the definition of fantasy may be straightforward, the journey of the genre is anything but. It's a testament to our enduring love for stories that let us dream the impossible. So, here's to fantasy—may it continue to enchant us for centuries to come!

Characteristics of Fantasy

Now that we've been on a journey through time, let's get back to the present and explore some common features that define fantasy. If you've ever asked yourself, "What makes a story a fantasy?", then this section is for you.

First and foremost, fantasy stories often take place in an entirely different world from our own. Think of the mystical lands of Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings, or the magical realm of Hogwarts in Harry Potter. These worlds are usually filled with magical elements and supernatural creatures—dragons, unicorns, wizards, you name it!

Another key characteristic of fantasy is the presence of a hero who embarks on a quest. This could be anything from saving a kingdom to finding a magical artifact. Along the way, they often face numerous challenges and obstacles, testing their mettle and pushing them to grow.

Next comes the element of good versus evil. In many fantasy tales, there's a clear distinction between the forces of light and darkness. Our heroes usually find themselves pitted against powerful villains, leading to epic battles and dramatic showdowns.

Last but not least, fantasy often incorporates elements of mythology and legend. It borrows from age-old tales and infuses them with a fresh twist, creating a rich tapestry of lore that enhances the storytelling.

Of course, not all fantasy stories have these exact characteristics. The beauty of this genre lies in its limitless possibilities. Each story is a unique exploration of imagination, pushing the boundaries of the definition of fantasy.

But these common features offer a starting point, a roadmap to the magical landscapes of fantasy. So, next time you pick up a fantasy book, see if you can spot these characteristics. You might just discover a new appreciation for this wonderful genre!

Sub-genres of Fantasy

Alright, we've got a handle on the overall definition of fantasy. But did you know that fantasy itself has various sub-genres? It's like a magical tree with many different branches, each one unique and exciting. Let's explore some of these sub-genres and see how they add to the richness of fantasy.

High Fantasy: This is probably what most people think of when they hear the term "fantasy." High fantasy stories are set in alternative worlds filled with magic and wonder. They often follow epic quests and feature clear lines between good and evil. A classic example of high fantasy is J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings."

Low Fantasy: This sub-genre brings the magic closer to home, placing fantastical elements in our own world. "Harry Potter" is a prime example of low fantasy, with the magical world hidden within modern-day England.

Dark Fantasy: Here, the line between fantasy and horror blurs. Dark fantasy stories often have a gloomy, eerie atmosphere and include elements of fear and terror. Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" falls into this category.

Urban Fantasy: This genre is a mix of fantasy and city life. It typically features magical incidents occurring in a city setting. Think "The Mortal Instruments" series, where shadowhunters and demons mingle in New York City.

Historical Fantasy: This sub-genre blends magic with real historical events. For example, in Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series, dragons are a part of the Napoleonic Wars.

These are just some of the many branches of fantasy. Each one brings something unique to the table, stretching the definition of fantasy in exciting ways. So, whether you prefer your magic mixed with modern city life, historical events, or in a world entirely its own, there's a sub-genre for you.

How to Identify Fantasy Fiction

So, you've picked up a book, and you're wondering if it fits into the fantasy genre. What should you be looking for? Here are a few key elements to help you identify fantasy fiction.

Alternative Worlds: The first thing to look for is the setting. In fantasy fiction, the story usually takes place in an alternative world — a place that's different from our own reality. This can range from a completely invented realm to a familiar world with a twist, like our own Earth but with magic.

Magical Elements: This is a big one. The presence of magic is a clear sign that you're dealing with fantasy. This can take many forms, such as spellcasting, mythical creatures, or even magical objects like the enchanted ring in "The Lord of the Rings."

Heroic Quests: Many fantasy stories revolve around a quest of some sort. This can be anything from a journey to a far-off land, a search for a magical artifact, or a mission to defeat a powerful villain.

Otherworldly Characters: Fantasy fiction often features characters that you wouldn't encounter in real life. This could be talking animals, like in "The Chronicles of Narnia," mythical beings like elves and dwarves, or wizards and witches.

Remember, not every fantasy story will have all of these elements. But if you spot a few of these in your book, you're likely holding a piece of fantasy fiction. So, get ready to dive into an exciting world of magic and adventure!

Why Fantasy Matters

Okay, so now we have a pretty solid understanding of the definition of fantasy, but why does it matter? Why should we care about these magical, fantastical stories? Well, as it turns out, fantasy has a lot more to offer than just a fun escape.

Expanding Our Horizons: One of the most significant benefits of fantasy is its ability to broaden our perspectives. It introduces us to new concepts and ideas, from magical realms to complex moral dilemmas. By stepping into a completely different world, we can see our own in a new light.

Boosting Our Creativity: The creative nature of fantasy is contagious. It encourages us to think outside the box and imagine the impossible. After reading about a dragon or a wizard, who wouldn't feel a spark of inspiration?

Teaching Valuable Lessons: Despite being set in fictional worlds, fantasy stories often convey universal truths and valuable lessons. They teach us about courage, friendship, and the importance of staying true to ourselves. These lessons can prove just as relevant in our everyday lives as they are in the story.

Providing a Safe Space: Finally, fantasy serves as a safe space for us to explore difficult topics and emotions. The distance provided by the fantastical setting allows us to confront fears and challenges in a less intimidating way.

So, the next time you pick up a fantasy novel, remember — you're not just stepping into another world. You're expanding your mind, fueling your creativity, learning important lessons, and finding a safe space to explore your feelings. Now that's the power of fantasy!

Famous Fantasy Authors and Their Works

Let's face it, the definition of fantasy would be incomplete without mentioning the authors who have shaped this genre. They are the ones who breathe life into the imaginary worlds we love. Here are some of the most influential fantasy authors and their notable works:

J.R.R. Tolkien: Tolkien is often considered the father of modern fantasy literature. His epic tale, "The Lord of the Rings," along with "The Hobbit," continues to captivate readers with its intricate world-building and memorable characters.

J.K. Rowling: Rowling's "Harry Potter" series has become a global phenomenon, enchanting readers of all ages with its magical school, quirky characters, and compelling plot. It's a prime example of the definition of fantasy at its best.

George R.R. Martin: Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, better known as "Game of Thrones," is renowned for its complex characters and intricate plotlines. It's a perfect blend of fantasy, politics, and drama.

C.S. Lewis: Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia" series is a staple of children's fantasy literature. The magical land of Narnia, with its talking animals and epic battles between good and evil, has left a lasting impression on generations of readers.

Neil Gaiman: Gaiman's work, such as "American Gods" and "The Graveyard Book," showcases fantasy's versatility. His unique blend of myth, folklore, and modern life has earned him a place among the genre's greats.

These authors, and many more, have used fantasy to transport us to new worlds, challenge our perceptions, and tell stories that resonate long after the last page is turned. Their work defines what fantasy is and continues to shape its future.

How Fantasy Influences Culture

Now, you might be thinking: "How does the definition of fantasy fit into our everyday lives?" The truth is, fantasy has far-reaching effects that extend beyond the pages of a book.

Think about it — where would Halloween be without the witches, wizards, and mythical creatures popularized by fantasy? Or consider the impact of fantasy on our language. Phrases like "barking up the wrong tree" or "the boy who lived" have their roots in fantasy literature.

Costume Play: The rise of cosplay, a hobby where fans dress up as their favorite characters, is a testament to fantasy's influence. Fans put in hours of work to recreate intricate costumes and props. It's a vibrant demonstration of how fantasy sparks creativity.

Art and Design: Fantasy has its fingerprints all over the art world. From book covers to movie set designs, fantasy inspires artists to push the boundaries of their imagination. The visually stunning worlds they create are a key part of the definition of fantasy.

Video Games: Fantasy video games like "The Legend of Zelda," "Final Fantasy," and "World of Warcraft" offer immersive experiences that draw millions of players worldwide. These games demonstrate the power of fantasy to create engaging, interactive stories.

Music: Fantasy has inspired countless musicians. Bands like Led Zeppelin have written songs about Middle Earth, and entire genres of music, such as "wizard rock," owe their existence to fantasy.

In essence, fantasy seeps into every corner of our culture, shaping the way we play, create, and express ourselves. It's not just about far-off lands and magical creatures; it's about exploring new ideas and pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

Fantasy in Modern Media

Our journey through the definition of fantasy wouldn't be complete without a stop in modern media. How, you ask? Let's break it down.

Ever watched a movie with an impossible creature or a world unlike our own? That's fantasy at play. Fantasy elements are everywhere in films - from the mystical lands of "Avatar" to the wizarding world in "Harry Potter". And let's not forget about "Game of Thrones", a television series that captivated audiences worldwide with its dragons and intricate, fantasy-driven plotlines.

Then there's digital media. Fantasy web series and podcasts have become incredibly popular in recent years. Shows like "The Adventure Zone" and "Critical Role" take listeners on thrilling fantasy adventures, proving that this genre is not limited to just books or screen.

And let's not overlook social media. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok give fantasy fans a place to share their love for the genre, from fan art and book recommendations to cosplay tutorials. They also give authors, like Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, a platform to connect with their readers, providing a new dimension to the fantasy experience.

Finally, fantasy has also found a home in the world of virtual reality. Games like "The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim VR" allow players to step into a fantasy world in a more immersive way than ever before. Imagine actually stepping into a dragon's lair or casting a spell with your own hands!

So, as we can see, the definition of fantasy isn't limited to just print media. It's a vibrant, living entity that continues to evolve and adapt to the changing media landscape, weaving its magic across all platforms.

Fantasy Resources for Further Reading

Now that we've explored the definition of fantasy, you might be eager to dive in and experience the magic for yourself. But where do you start? Well, I've got you covered. Here's a list of resources to help you begin your adventure in the realm of fantasy:

  • Books: If you're new to the genre, start with classics like "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien or "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis. For a more modern twist, try "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" by Rick Riordan or "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman.
  • Online Forums: Websites like Goodreads and Reddit have active fantasy communities. These platforms offer book recommendations, reviews, and lively discussions about everything fantasy-related.
  • Podcasts: "The Fantasy Inn" and "Fantasy Book of the Month" are great podcasts for fantasy book reviews and author interviews. Listening to these can give you a deeper understanding of the genre.
  • Magazines: Publications like "Fantasy & Science Fiction" and "Clarkesworld Magazine" offer a mix of fantasy short stories and articles, perfect for those who want to explore a variety of fantasy styles and themes.
  • Writing Guides: If you're interested in writing your own fantasy story, check out "Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction" by Orson Scott Card and "The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe" by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier. These guides offer valuable insights into creating compelling fantasy worlds and characters.

Remember, the definition of fantasy is as vast as the worlds it creates. There's no right or wrong way to explore it. So, pick up a book, join a forum, or listen to a podcast, and let the magic of fantasy whisk you away to places you've never imagined.

If you're fascinated by the world of fantasy and want to delve deeper into the process of creating your own fantasy worlds, we highly recommend checking out the workshop 'Visual Development for Fantasy World-Building' by Kit Buss. This workshop will provide you with essential techniques and insights on how to visually develop and conceptualize your fantasy world, making it an immersive and engaging experience for your audience.