What is Fantasy?

Since May is all about fantasy, it has gotten me thinking.  What is Fantasy?

I have always thought that fantasy had to contain magic, or magical creatures, but lately I’ve noticed that Sky in the Deep and The Selection are considered fantasy, and neither one has magic.  I have also seen reviewers classify books as “non-magical fantasy.”

If non-magical fantasy books exist, then obviously books don’t have to contain magic to be considered fantasy.

If fantasy doesn’t require magic, then what is fantasy? (Yes, these are the types of questions I ask myself!)

I figured the best place to start was with the definition:

fan·ta·sy (/ˈfan(t)əsē/)
noun

  • a pleasant but unlikely situation that you enjoy thinking but is unlikely to happen (Cambridge Dictionary)
  • a story or type of literature that describes situations that are very different from real life, usually involving magic (Cambridge Dictionary)
  • the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing (Dictionary.com)
  • The faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things (Oxford Living Dictionary)
  • A genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world (Oxford Living Dictionary)
  • fiction with a large amount of imagination in it (Vocabulary.com)
  • a story or situation that someone creates from their imagination and that is not based on reality (Collins Dictionary)

The first thing I noticed that, when thinking about the fantasy genre, I completely forgot about the act of fantasizing.  I have fantasized about famous actors falling madly in love with me.  I have fantasized about making crazy sports plays.  I have fantasized about being super rich.  All of these situations are fantasies that don’t include magic.  They probably aren’t going to happen, but its fun to think about.

Since my fantasies rarely contain magic, why did I think the fantasy genre had to have magic?  Well, it could have something to do with MOST fantasy books containing magic? Also, the Oxford Living Dictionary definition straight up says fantasy involves magic, however the Cambridge Dictionary definition contradicts that saying fantasy usually involves magic.  So which one is it?

Next I googled the Fantasy Genre and here is what I found:

  • Fantasy is a form of literary genre in which a plot cannot occur in the real world. Its plot usually involves witchcraft or magic, taking place on an undiscovered planet of an unknown world. (Literary Devices)
  • Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore. (Wikipedia)
  • An identifying trait of fantasy is the author’s use of narrative elements that do not have to rely on history or nature to be coherent. (Wikipedia)
  • Fantasy is often characterized by a departure from the accepted rules by which individuals perceive the world around them; it represents that which is impossible (unexplained) and outside the parameters of our known, reality. (Find Me An Author)

It appears that Cambridge Dictionary’s definition is the right one.  Fantasy usually involves magic, but it doesn’t have to.  These definitions have convinced me that Sky in the Deep is more fantasy than historical fiction.  Yes, it is loosely based on Vikings, but pretty much everything is made up, including the location.  I feel like if you were to have a historical fiction book on Vikings you would have to pick a location that actually existed and was inhabited by Vikings.

These definitions have also convinced me that The Selection is more dystopia than fantasy, but it could technically be considered fantasy. Goodreads has “dystopia” listed above “fantasy” as the genre, so this makes sense!

I know that there isn’t a definitive answer to “what is fantasy?” but, for me personally, I am going to define fantasy as:

A genre of speculative fiction that does not rely on history or nature to be coherent, and it often departs from the accepted rules by which we perceive the world around us. Fantasy is usually set in a fictional universe and usually contains magical aspects, but neither is required.

What do you think of my definition? (yes I know I stole verbatim parts from the definitions above, but I cited my sources!) What do you define fantasy as? Let me know in the comments!

23 comments

  1. Wow I never thought of it that way. Fantasy for me “only me” has some element that does not exist in this world whether it be magic or something paranormal. It can be set in our world **cough** steampunk. Or exist in another world completely

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  2. I think that definition is a pretty good one, especially since it specifies that a Fantasy book might not be set in a fictional world or it might be non-magical. Urban Fantasy definitely still classifies as Fantasy, but it takes place in the real world.

    But yeah, I too am typically guilty of thinking that Fantasy mostly involves magic or fantastical creatures or beings. I think that’s why Fantasy ends up being split into so many sub-genres.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks 😀 And exactly! I was thinking about Urban fantasy when I added that part 🙂 I didn’t even think about all the sub-genres, but I agree that that is why there are a ton of them! That could be a whole post in itself 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love how you were trying to hone in on exactly what Fantasy represents in of itself without complicating it by sub-niches of focus within it. You are definitely right about being able to spend more time on sorting through the sub-genres as than you’d have to peel back what constitutes each individual one and the perception of readers of what each of them are meant to keep inclusive which re-establishes their own unique voice & presence within the umbrella of Fanasy.

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  3. Interesting! I tend to subgroup fantasy – epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, etc.

    A part of me still feels the need for something like magic (or something so unrealistic that it cannot be plausible) – else sci-fi could be considered fantasy as well, and these two genres read very differently to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yea I am still super iffy on what the difference is between sci fi and fantasy. One of the sites I looked at it made a great point, they said that the two genres often overlap but the terms are not interchangeable. Which totally makes sense. It makes me think of Star Wars which is usually considered sci fi with space travel and everything, but Jedi powers are more fantasy, in my opinion!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Haha I was thinking of Star Wars too! I remember someone saying that in fantasy, the powers are completely unrealistic, but in sci-fi, we can see them happening as technology advances. But I don’t really see this applying for The Force 🙈

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And, then of course is one of my favourite multi-layered and equally complex morphs between the two: Sci-Fantasy which re-bends the genre back into the other side of #SpecFic! I love how there are compelling reasons to keep the two separate but also why there are equally compelling reasons why they are sometimes duel layered, transitional and being seen where there are equal halves of both within the whole of a presentation of the genre (depending on the medium explored and how the story evolves through its own portal).

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  4. There are certainly books out there that are set in a different world where there is litle to no magic. I consider those fantasy too. 🙂 But defining genres is hard when so many people have voiced their opinions over the many years it has existed.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Equally true! 🙂 I love genre-bent literature but I also love classifying the stories I’m reading which is how I developed my Story Vault to begin with as I wanted a ready guide to see which types of stories I was evolving my bookish wanderings to include whilst having a built in knowledge of the vast and equally ecelectic definitions of those stories.

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  5. Hallo, Hallo —

    Finally able to re-join the discussions now that my head is leaving me be and I can once again read/blog/tweet migraine-free! #Blessed we had a 5wk event this year! 🙂 Overall for me – I simply want the immersive experince the worlds of the fantastical can provide me – I read a rather keenly eclectic and variantly scoped slice of Fantasy Lit – to where, it depends on both my mood for which kind of story I want to soak into inasmuch as the type of story I’ve picked up to read at any given moment – honestly, I suppose that could be said of everything I read!? lol

    The wiki definition hones in on what I love but it is hard to pin down everything which motivates me into Fantasy… maybe I should ruminate on this before the close of the event and put that in my wrap-up post as it is a rather insightful subject to broach! What do we all individually seek out of Fantasy and what are our expectations once we journey into those fantastical worlds which interest of us most to be reading? (or watching, etc)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! I’m glad you are feeling better! I hope your migraines stay away, I love your comments!

      I am the same way reading haha I am a total mood reader and I can be in the mood for some very random stuff, though usually I stick in fantasy.

      I would be super interested in what motivates you into Fantasy, that would be a great topic 🙂 I read a post where the author doesn’t like “Adult Fantasy” and she gave a bunch of great reasons why. Her definition of Adult fantasy tended toward Epic Fantasy, but it was a fun read and it got me thinking about what I like in fantasy (which loops back to the fact that I like all kinds of different things and it just depends on my mood)

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  6. Great discussion! I definitely don’t define fantasy by how much magic is in them – Game of Thrones, for example, is a fantasy show but there’s very little magic in it when we compare it to the political intrigue – so for me it’s whether or not a story is based in the real world. As a huge history nerd, it actually annoys me a little when I see books inspired by history but not set in our world being referred to as historical fiction, because for me a book needs to be set in a set place and time that we know exists to be considered historical fiction, or even alternate history such as Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books. It’s still clearly set in early 19th century Europe, but with dragons, whereas books inspired by history aren’t really historical fiction because they’re set in a different world with different customs. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks 😀

      And that is a great point about GOT, but the problem with saying if its a story based in the real world would then hinge on your definition of “real world” For example Urban Fantasy is set in what I consider the real world but they add magic. Which I guess could make it fake world that looks exactly like ours 😂😂 I can talk myself in circles!!

      I am sure I am guilty of mixing up “history based” versus “Historical fiction.” Is “Historical Fantasy” a genre? if not it should be! (I’m sure it is haha)

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  7. I always see Fantasy more as a synonym to Speculative Fiction, a giant umbrella term that encompasses Fantasy, science fiction, and some horror. Because the lines between those blur a lot anyway. This is a great post, loved seeing your take on this!

    Liked by 1 person

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