Roundtable: Fantasy Genres

Paul Witcover

From the Encyclopedia of Fantasy:

“In 1961 Michael Moorcock requested a term to describe the fantasy subgenre featuring muscular heroes in violent conflict with a variety of villians, chiefly wizards, witches, evil spirits, and other creatures whose powers are–unlike the hero’s–supernatural in origin.  Fritz Lieber suggested ‘Sword and Sorcery,” and this term stuck.”  The entry goes on to equate Sword and Sorcery with the mode of Heroic Fantasy, about which John Clute says: “There may be a useful distinction between heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery, but no one has yet made it.”

Of course, that was some time ago.

Other definitions:

High Fantasy:  “Fantasies set in Otherworlds, specifically secondary worlds, and which deal with matters affecting the destiny of those worlds.”

Epic Fantasy:  “Any fantasy tale written to a large scale which deals with the founding or definitive and lasting defence of a Land may fairly be called an EF.  Unfortunately, the term has been increasingly used by publishers to describe heroic fantasies that extend over several volumes, and has thus lost its usefulness.”  Thus sayeth Clute.

Gardner Dozois

You could also make a distinction between “urban fantasy” and “paranormal romance,” and it might actually mean something.  The tone is not the same.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

This was the mistake publishers made with horror fiction in the 1980s and ’90s. The popularity of Stephen King with a mass audience was interpreted by publishers as the reading public’s thirst for horror. They flooded the market with a lot of horror fiction to slake that perceived thirst. Only belatedly did they realize that most readers liked Stephen King because they liked how Stephen King wrote, and had no interest in horror fiction by other writers.

Gardner Dozois

Sometimes–often, in fact–you’re better off saying “This didn’t click for me” than trying to come up with an explanation WHY it didn’t.  It can be very difficult to articulate sometimes, even when your decision is clear.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

We murder to dissect. This year, Tachyon Books published two anthologies, one of Urban Horror edited by Joe Lansdale, and one of Urban Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe Lansdale. Both are chock full of excellent stories, but I suspect a lot of people in this group will find some of the stories don’t seem to fit the stated thematic orientation of their books. Meanwhile, Otto Penzler has a zombie anthology coming out this year with a lot of stories that feature no zombies in the traditional or modern sense. I almost want to believe books like these have a secret agenda to explode our notions of tidy genre categories.

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