High fantasy is a valuable genre and it’s also a multi-channel genre that succeeds across many markets. Originating as stories in books, most notably J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series (first published in 1937 as a sequel to his first book, The Hobbit), high fantasy stories take place in an entirely fictional world with characters who exist in another universe, something that is alternate to the human experience and transcends the boundaries of what is humanly possible – high fantasy is deeply spiritual. It can also teach us a lot about humanity and explores themes typically of good versus evil and dark versus light.
This is tantalizing to consider: what is so wondrous beyond the human experience? A lot, actually. It’s our own mortality that makes us consider what is beyond it, and in that respect, I think high fantasy engages readers in considering a world beyond their own: it’s imagination and our dreams coming to life through media. Now that I have established the premise of how high fantasy goes beyond the realistic and pushes boundaries in how we think, I’d also like to consider how incredibly successful it has been and continues to be.
There are books, television shows, movies, video games… Even Walt Disney World recreated a section of their amusement park and named it “Fantasyland” (pictured above), for amusement park visitors to envision what the lives of characters like Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and the Beast would be like if they were to exist. Interestingly, The Little Mermaid is a depiction of high fantasy and Beauty and the Beast is a depiction of low fantasy as the Beast and the characters in the castle are elements of magic, but the setting is the real world. While Princess Ariel is a mermaid who exists under the sea, the plot is set in an alternate universe, thereby making Ariel part of a “high fantasy” tale. Harry Potter is another example of the “low fantasy” genre as it has elements of the real world mixed with a magical world. It’s arguable though that both Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast are quite rooted in magic.
I think every generation will have a remarkable franchise for high fantasy. My generation’s is Game of Thrones, which just wrapped eight seasons. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was first published in 1996, and the book series was adapted by HBO and the first season of the hit television series was released in 2011. The series wrapped this week.
Being an English major entailed my exposure to all genres of literature, and yet, I was never pulled into the high fantasy genre, until now. I think this is mainly because my education in English was centered around studying the Western canon formally, and I had unfortunately not stumbled into the beauty that is high fantasy. I am delighted to say that I understand now why fans are engrossed in the world of high fantasy, as it’s a highly valuable genre to humanity.